When I saw the Tonight Show video clip of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul saying that fellow candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum “hate Muslims”, I was sure it had been taken out of a context. I figured that maybe Jay Leno had jokingly asked Paul to describe how critics would try and frame each of the candidates if they won the nomination, or something of that nature. Boy was I wrong. After watching the entire segment, it was clear that he was absolutely defining the two as bigots. I imagine even the most loyal Ron Paul supporters found themselves cringing at that moment.
For the past three years, conservatives have loudly and rightfully objected to the absurd narrative from Obama supporters that people who oppose the president’s policies are racists. Practically every prominent conservative and conservative group with a national platform has publicly lambasted and mocked the vile claim. Yet, now that a presidential candidate from their own side of the aisle has used essentially the same tactic (in front of a national audience, no less) to proclaim that fellow candidates are guilty of religious bigotry, the assertion has largely escaped meaningful scrutiny.
Paul’s apparent reasoning is that someone who supports tough action against a country that happens to be predominantly Muslim is a bigot. Of course, the irony there is that the same logic could be used to categorize someone who supports inaction in response to a nuclear attack on Israel (as Paul does) as an anti-Semite. Something tells me that the congressman would take fierce exception to that accusation.
Now, I wouldn’t expect anything less than passive analysis from the mainstream media. After all, the only thing they like more than scathing liberal criticism of conservatives is scathing conservative criticism of conservatives. They love Republican infighting, and many of them are so loathing of social conservatives like Bachmann and Santorum that they’ll condone any sort of attack on them. My guess is that they probably don’t even think Paul’s comments were all that controversial.
Of course, it would be an entirely different story if Paul had laid those claims on President Obama, Joe Biden, or Hillary Clinton. After all, the administration has presided over multiple wars and sanctions in the Middle East. CIA director Leon Panetta, in fact, reiterated just this week that the administration would take “all steps necessary” to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. This seems to meet Paul’s criteria for bigotry. But if he had directed those comments toward the administration, there would have been an absolute media firestorm. Swarms of reporters would have relentlessly followed Paul around to campaign stops, repeatedly questioning him and demanding that he clarify his allegation. It would have been a topic on all the Sunday morning talk shows. Jon Stewart would have had a week’s worth of comedic material. And of course, the ladies on The View would have been in complete hysterics.
But what I really find interesting is the lack of condemnation and scrutiny coming from the right.
Just a few weeks ago, FOX News ran segment after segment on Jimmy Fallon’s band leader blasting out a song titled “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” when Michele Bachmann was introduced on his late night show. Just about every conservative analyst on television and radio had something to say about it, and it remained in the national news cycle for days. Apologies were demanded and apologies were given.
But I ask you: Which is worse? The immature insinuation that someone is a liar and a bitch, or an outright accusation that someone is a bigot who wants to “go after” a religion? To me, the answer is simple.
Yet, over a week has gone by and the story has never exceeded that of a passing news tidbit. Most of those who have commented on it have dismissed it as a tacky “cheap-shot” in a competitive race. To me, a cheap-shot is mocking Rick Perry’s failure to remember his own talking point. Throwing out gratuitous accusations of bigotry is not a cheap-shot. It’s deplorable, and Paul’s use of the typically left-wing tactic may have been the most personal and hostile attack from any candidate on a fellow candidate in this campaign. Ron Paul has not offered an apology, and there has been no pressure on him to give one.
Why aren’t influential conservative voices coming out against Ron Paul the same way they’ve come out against Newt Gingrich over his controversial comments? After all, those same people can’t be any happier with him as a candidate than they are with Gingrich.
The default excuse used to be that Ron Paul’s candidacy was so inconsequential to the presidential race that he wasn’t worth extensive probing. But that has changed. Polls are now showing that he has a very real chance of winning the Iowa caucus. While few believe he can win many (if any) states beyond that, his candidacy certainly impacts the race.
Maybe many of those voices from the right checked out for the holiday season. Maybe Romney Acceptance has settled in, and they’re content with letting the remaining unelectables beat each other to a pulp and split the conservative vote to ensure Mitt’s victory. Maybe Ron Paul has gone to the well so many times with his provocative rhetoric that critics have grown tired of addressing it.
Whatever the explanation, I think there’s something very wrong in how inconsistent we continue to be when judging what is acceptable in our political discourse. I fear there’s no limit to how low the bar can be selectively lowered.