Published: Sunday, September 18, 2011, 2:00 AM Updated: Monday, September 19, 2011, 12:07 PM
Among my least favorite clichés is that one about “speaking truth to power.” It’s easy to speak truth to powerful people. There aren’t many of them and they don’t care what you say.
What really takes nerve is to speak truth to knuckleheads. There are tens of millions of them. And they get to vote.
That is the charm of Ron Paul. I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that no politician in recent history has irritated so many knuckleheads in so few words.
The high point had to be last week at that tea party debate in Florida. A questioner asked whether the candidates favor cutting defense spending to balance the budget. Given the fact that every candidate opposes tax hikes, the only intelligent response had to be, “Of course.”
But when the Texas congressman said exactly that, he set off a sort of knucklehead revolt. Paul started with an assertion that the armed forces should be used solely for defensive purposes. Many Republicans would agree with that. But Paul felt a need to needle the knuckleheads:
“The purpose of al Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there, where they can target us and they have been doing it,” said Paul. “They have more attacks against us and the American interests per month than occurred in all the years before 9/11, but we’re there occupying their land.”
After Paul went on to ask how we’d feel if we were invaded by China, the No. 1 knucklehead in the race, Rick Santorum, got a chance to reply. He’d been standing there with his jaw open like a flounder and he rose to the bait like it was a chunk of fresh squid.
“We stand for American exceptionalism,” (Note: This term was coined by a communist; see here.) ) the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania proclaimed. “We stand for freedom and opportunity for everyone around the world.”
This got the predictable round of applause from the knuckleheads. But Paul went right back at them: “As long as this country follows that idea, we’re going to be under a lot of danger,” he said. He proceeded to point out the harsh reality that armed occupation leads to armed resistance.
All of this earned Paul a hearty round of boos, but it’s the accepted view among those who understand terrorism. The statistics Paul cited come from Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who has studied suicide terrorism extensively. Pape notes that before 9/11, only about 10 percent of suicide attacks were aimed at Americans. Now, it’s more than 90 percent.
Perhaps the leading American expert on suicide terrorism is Bob Baer, a former CIA agent who spent most of the ’80s and ’90s running around the Mideast. When I called Baer to ask his opinion of Paul’s parallel to a foreign invasion of the United States, he brought up the 1984 movie “Red Dawn.”
In it, a small town in Colorado is invaded by Russian paratroopers. The local high school kids get guns and take to the hills.
“We don’t want to be occupied,” said Baer, who’s from Colorado. “The movie was about high school kids essentially committing suicide.”
In making the documentary “The Cult of the Suicide Bomber,” Baer interviewed several would-be suicide bombers who had been captured before killing themselves, as well as the relatives of many successful suicide bombers.
“There was a guy whose cousin blew herself up in a restaurant,” he recalled. “And he said, ‘Because they’re killing us, we have to blow ourselves up. We don’t have F-16s and tanks, so we have to use suicide belts.’”
The ultimate irony here, Baer said, is that Islamic radicals may not be needing those suicide belts much longer. Thanks to the insistence by the neoconservatives — which is the polite way of saying “knucklehead” — that everyone should be freed from dictatorial rule, Islamic fundamentalists are now in a position to control much of the Mideast.
Once freed from the horrible Hosni Mubarak, Baer noted, the Egyptians promptly sacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo. If the dictatorship in Syria falls, he said, Israel will be surrounded on all sides by angry Muslims. All of them will have the freedom and opportunity Santorum and his fellow neocons wanted them to have.
“We really do have to wake up,” Baer said. “We do not have the money to play out our fantasies.”