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Principled Paul - Opinion Column

Principled Paul

By Bill Steigerwald

Good for Andrew Sullivan.

The conservative super-blogger who writes the Daily Dish (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish) has not joined the right-wing pundits who want to kick libertarian Rep. Ron Paul out of the GOP presidential debates -- or out of the Republican Party altogether.

In fact, Sullivan is openly praising the nine-term Texas congressman, medical doctor and Pittsburgh native and urging him to stay in the race.

Sullivan contends, rightly, that Paul has been the best thing about the GOP’s otherwise ideologically predictable TV debates so far -- mainly because Paul is the only one on stage who truly believes in individual liberty and actually believes everything he says.

It was Paul’s exchange with Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday in South Carolina over the causes of 9/11 that enraged conservative pundits. Paul, who voted against the war in Iraq and wants troops brought home ASAP, merely said what any CIA agent or regular Time magazine reader knows to be 96 percent true: The attacks of 9/11 were "blowback" from 50 years of America’s vile interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East.

Throwing a fit, Giuliani called Paul’s notion an "absurd explanation" and demanded that Paul withdraw the statement that America had "invited" 9/11. (For the record, and not that anyone noticed or cared at Fox News, Paul never used the word "invited." Fox News questioner Wendell Goler did.)

Giuliani's explanation for 9/11 was the familiar Father Bush fairy tale: Fundamentalist Islamist terrorists attacked us because they hate our freedoms, our wealth, our immoral culture and our failure to publicly stone Paris Hilton to death.

In part because of his tough, albeit childish, response, Giuliani was declared Tuesday night’s big winner by many in the mainstream and conservative media. Paul was subsequently called a crackpot, a member of the left-wing "I hate America" crowd and a relic of 1930s isolationism.

Paul doesn't pretend to be a modern Republican but an old-fashioned libertarian one who puts the Constitution and freedom before politics and party. He and everyone else on Earth know he’s not going to be running against Hillary next fall. And because of the trouble he's causing his philosophically lost and troubled party, he'll be lucky if he's allowed to appear in future debates.

As Sullivan wrote, the GOP’s "apparatchiks" are scared of Dr. Paul. "We have a real phenomenon here, because someone has to stand up for what conservatism once stood for. Whether you agree with him or not … he has already elevated the debates by injecting into them a legitimate, if now suppressed, strain of conservatism that is actually deeper in this country than the neoconservative aggression that now captures the party elite and has trapped the U.S. in the Iraq nightmare."

Paul's unwavering pronouncements against unconstitutional foreign wars and for less government and more freedom at home sound quaint, alien or hopelessly naive in the Era of Big Government.

But as he proved last week in South Carolina, Paul's brave, modest mission to be a subversive, principled, libertarian presence among the career flip-floppers, pragmatists and statists at the Republican debates is working -- maybe too well for his own good.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at steigerwald@tcaglecartoons.com ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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