Rand Paul’s Reading List

The neocons and other assorted interventionists clearly have Rand Paul in their cross hairs. Paul is currently leading GOP presidential primary polls, and he apparently has the interventionists spooked.

I have been critical of Paul on immigration and foreign policy from the paleo-Right, but he has the right enemies, so I find myself in the difficult position of frequently desiring to defend him against the attacks of his enemies without endorsing his approach in total.

The first volley in this latest battle was fired by Texas Governor Rick Perry in a Washington Post editorial accusing Senator Paul of “isolationism.” Paul fired back with a reply in Politico.

Now comes round two. The Weekly Standard published an article criticizing Senator Paul’s suggested reading list for the thoughtcrime of including books that don’t conform to neocon standards of acceptable opinion. Paul quickly removed the list which was a mistake, because it gives the appearance that there really was something to be ashamed of, as this gloating column from the same Weekly Standard author shows. It would have been better for Paul to defend the list and attack his enemies for thought-policing. Then perhaps the list could have been taken down later if Paul and his team judged it to be more trouble than it’s worth, but taking it down right away empowers his interventionist critics.

Now The Washington Free Beacon has jumped into the fray with a typical “point and sputter” hit piece. The Free Beacon appears to specialize in enforcing neocon hive mind Right-think. Tom Woods calls it, in his wonderfully sarcastic way, a “thought-monitoring website in the mold of ThinkProgress on the left.” You may recall that it was the Free Beacon, and this same author, Alana Goodman, that “broke” the story that Jack Hunter/The Southern Avenger had once written and said things that neocons found objectionable.

Someone needs to inform Ms. Goodman that the “point and sputter” hit piece is an increasingly tired cliché. The “point and sputter” is characterized by its practice of simply dropping statements and quotes in an article, often short and without context, as if they are self-condemning. If someone says, for example, that we are controlled by reptilian aliens that reside inside the spaceship Moon, then I’ll accept that as self-condemning and we can move on. But if someone suggests, for example, that our interventionist foreign policy plays a role in Muslim hostility to America, then you have to be living in some sort of neocon Beltway bubble to think that is self-condemning. In fact, that our foreign policy plays a role in Muslim hostility is not really a debatable assertion, as that expert in Muslim hostility, Osama Bin Laden, made clear following 9/11. It clearly does, and I dare any interventionists to forever sacrifice their intellectual credibility and say it doesn’t. So what is at issue here is not the truth of the statement but what to do with the information. Keep doing what we are doing despite the costs because it is necessary and proper or stop doing it because it does us more harm than good. Implications that such a statement of obvious fact is instead “blaming the victim” or “moral equivalence” are shameless and unworthy of anyone claiming to be a serious commentator.

neocons everywhere

I don’t have the word limit to refute Ms. Goodman’s hit piece point by point, but I’ll point to a few examples of the “point and sputter” technique to demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy of this lazy slur tactic.

First, note the title of the hit piece, “Rand Paul Scrubs Anti-Israel Reading List from Website.” The reading list was not “non-interventionist.” It wasn’t even “isolationist.” It wasn’t “dangerous” or “naïve,” also favorite interventionist charges. It certainly wasn’t “radical” or “liberal.” It was “anti-Israel.” Really Alana?

Then there’s this beauty: “One of the recommended titles, Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency by Patrick Buchanan, has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for containing ‘anti-Semitic rhetoric.’” Oh well then, if the Anti-Defamation League says it’s anti-Semitic, then I guess that settles it. It must be anti-Semitic. Again, what kind of neoconservative bubble do you have to live in to believe that the ADL deserves to be the final authority of what is anti-Semitic and to accept such an accusation at face value? The ADL supports gun control. Does that settle the issue for Ms. Goodman? The similar “hate” watchdog group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, designates the Constitution Party and the Family Research Council as hate groups? Does she accept those designations at face value?

And what is some of the evidence presented that Buchanan’s book is anti-Semitic? “In the book, Buchanan accused ‘the Beltway Likud’ of plotting the war in Iraq ‘long before 9/11.’” The phrase “Beltway Likud” was unhelpfully provocative, but that neocon hawks were itching for military intervention in Iraq before 9/11 is a matter of undisputed fact. Is Ms. Goodman not familiar with the “Clean Break” report? Is she not familiar with the Project for a New American Century? This is not obscure stuff. If Ms. Goodman is unaware of them, then perhaps she shouldn’t be writing about foreign policy.

I could go on, but here is the point. For thoughtful, reasonable, well intentioned people, it is not enough to just scatter shot a bunch of short quotes without context in an article and pretend they are self-condemning. It’s a cheap shot, it’s PC grandstanding, and it’s intellectually lazy and dishonest. It’s not how civilized ladies and gentlemen conduct a debate. If you are going to make an assertion, you have to back it up. Responsible journalists and commentators who cover foreign policy should not act like agents of Madison Avenue and make cheap appeals to emotions. They should engage in an honest intellectual debate. Articles in the Free Beacon about “anti-Israel” reading lists are not up to that standard, and discredit both the author and the website. tr favicon

Dan E. Phillips, MD is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia. His work has been published at Lew Rockwell, Chronicles Magazine, Intellectual Conservative, the Abbeville Institute blog, and several other places. He can be contacted at danphillipsmd@gmail.com.