Ron Paul gave Fox News’ Neil Cavuto the latest in a series of Republican presidential campaign advertisements, posing as interview, today as the nation waited to see Congressional leaders gather with Pres. Obama in the White House Cabinet Room. While Cavuto labored to spin the issue toward a Tea Party interpretation of reality, Mr. Paul made the astonishing claim that the least damaging outcome of the debt ceiling negotiations would be a national default.
He then went on to claim that his view represents “American tradition”. While Paul is often a credible and passionate voice in the wilderness, defending individual liberties against the encroachment of modern government and corporate tendencies, his claim that great nations “always default” when they get to a place where default is possible, or that it is American tradition to let entire government agencies collapse, for failure to negotiate a responsible solution, is unfounded and reckless.
When Ron Paul attempted to explain that part of his appeal to independent voters is related to his revulsion to departures from American civil liberties traditions, such as the so-called USA PATRIOT Act, which enabled domestic spying and other constitutionally dubious security powers, Cavuto cut him off and said bluntly he didn’t want to discuss “those issues”.
Even as Fox News ran its “Fox Facts” at the lower right of the screen, revealing its people know and understan that 44% of all government bills will go unpaid, if the debt ceiling is not raised by August 2, Cavuto made the incredible statement that the wealthy “are already paying a lot”—they are paying historically low levels of taxes—and that they have no reason “to pay more for a lousy product”. The network that wrapped itself in the flag to promote war in Iraq, and the USA PATRIOT Act, now says the United States of America is “a lousy product”.
There is an undercurrent of reveling in what some perceive as the demise of a form of government, so-called “big government”, which they believe is a threat to American democracy. There is a trend among far-right conservative ideologues that favors advocating for and trying to bring about the sabotage of the American system of electoral government, on the grounds that it is dangerously “liberal” and that it somehow disregards “traditional” values.
Mr. Cavuto and Mr. Paul today showed themselves both to be guilty of the unfortunate—and one hopes unintentional—failure to recognize when extremist far-right euphemisms penetrate into their more moderate conservative rhetoric. This crossover has been happening for too long, and is an irresponsible attack on informed discourse. It mirrors the false claim that all issues of public controversy are just “opinion”, and radical, factually unfounded smears as legitimate as sincere dealing with circumstance.
In a subsequent interview, Cavuto immediately interrupted his interlocutor, when the consensus position that responsible debt and deficit reduction requires an upward adjustment of tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Cavuto interrupted in order to shout that the wealthy are “already paying a lot”, then to state his “lousy product” blanket smear against the American government.
That there is intense logical incoherence in this method of reporting—where facts are brushed aside in favor of metaphor, hyperbole and counter-to-fact claims, designed to further a world view, not a solution—is obvious. That this logical incoherence matters to viewers or to editors is not so obvious. Mr. Cavuto’s deliberate manipulation of his interviews, to convey a biased, counter-to-fact line of argument, is indicative of the morally bankrupt tabloid culture promoted by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids in the United Kingdom.
That is not to say Mr. Cavuto is himself so unworthy of respect, but he, like any other journalist or news analyst, must earn what respect is given, by dealing intelligently with the reality of the world before him. To refute the very facts everyone at the table agrees to, to argue that the failure of the US government to pay 44% of its bills would be of negligible importance, to invite collapse as somehow courageously patriotic, is irresponsible and suggests a lack of seriousness about the responsibility of the press to foster actual understanding of events.
Whether he has been directed, by Bill Sammon—whose emails instructing reporters to slant their reporting for ideological and partisan reasons have shocked and concerned media analysts, citizens and journalists—to slant his reporting, or whether he is voluntarily doing so in order to further the culture that prevails at his network is impossible to know, unless Mr. Cavuto chooses to express his genuine thinking.
Mr. Paul, for his part, must improve the way he manages the unwieldy set of passions that inform his rhetoric. If we were to give him the benefit of the doubt, that he believes honestly that the United States of America does not need its government, or most or much of it, then he would do better to learn specifics, and to explain what, precisely, he would eliminate and how, precisely, he would secure the same services and from whom.
The right-wing doctrine, for instance, that the EPA is some sort of hostile force with no productive value does not contemplate any means of any kind to protect the air and water the American people need to survive. No one argues that function should be militarized, and the very idea that there should be an actual police component to environmental regulation is anathema to the anti-EPA hardliners.
Yet those people need clean water and clean air, in order to avoid the literally thousands of carcinogenic chemicals and compounds that are released into the environment by American industry, all the time. Their children and grandchildren will be less able to live in a nation that has the health security to function as an advanced nation, if clean air and water services are not performed by any entity, with enforcement powers. Yet they profess it is patriotic to throw caution to the wind and allow industries whose entire methodology requires them to release these chemicals into the environment, unless otherwise constrained, to “regulate themselves”.
It is this kind of gap between Mr. Paul’s words and the real world that make him a less serious candidate than he might otherwise be. It is this kind of flippant, sometimes irrational, politicking that wins him the affection of passionate supporters, but not necessarily the respect of the wider electorate or the press and the parties.
In short, Mr. Paul again revealed himself to be more of a rhetorician than a leader, more a critic than a president. After so many years of presenting himself as eligible for the nation’s highest office, he has yet to communicate a credible vision for what he wants the United States of America to be. To get a grip on administrative specifics and how they affect real people’s lives, would go a long way to making his rhetoric more credible.
Saying that default is acceptable, or that it somehow represents “American tradition” is just an astonishing failure to reason with clarity.