If nothing else, Texas Congressman Ron Paul's presidential candidacy makes it clear that the Republican Party is not a monolith. It has its ideological fringe, which marches to the beat of a very different drummer than George Bush and most GOP candidates do.
With his isolationist opposition to the war in Iraq (and to American foreign policy generally over the past half-century), Paul is the odd man out in his party. To Republican ears, his claim during last week's South Carolina debate that the United States was attacked on Sept. 11 "because . . . we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years" and that Americans ought to "listen to the people who attacked us" was blasphemous. If Rudy Giuliani hadn't pounced on it, one of the other candidates would have.
"That's really an extraordinary statement," the former New York mayor said acidly. "That we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq - I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11th."
Most Republicans regard Paul's idea of America's proper role in the world stay at home, avoid alliances, and expend no energy making the world safer or protecting human rights as eccentric. Invoking Osama bin Laden as the legitimate voice of the Muslim Middle East is the hallmark of a crank, not a conservative. No wonder Giuliani's smackdown was applauded so forcefully.
There was a time, 60 or 70 years ago, when isolationism was respectable in GOP circles. Paul insists that "the party has lost its way" since then and pines for the leadership of Senator Robert A. Taft, who "didn't even want to be in NATO."
But Taft didn't parrot the propaganda of America's enemies. He didn't advise Americans to "listen to the people who attacked us" and do as they demanded. He didn't accuse the United States of provoking Pearl Harbor, or chide President Truman for lacking the "courage" to withdraw US troops in the middle of the Korean War. Ron Paul may fancy himself a latter-day Taft Republican, but by today's standards his foreign-policy views place him among the Dennis Kucinich-Cindy Sheehan Democrats.
Paul helps illustrate what may be the most significant difference between the two major parties today: Republicans who don't take the threat of radical Islam seriously are marginalized. Democrats who don't do so constitute their party's mainstream.
At the Democratic debate on April 26, moderator Brian Williams asked the eight candidates: "Show-of-hands question: Do you believe there is such a thing as a global war on terror?" Only four Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Christopher Dodd, and a noticeably hesitant Barack Obama raised their hands. Kucinich, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Mike Gravel did not. Unlike Ron Paul, who holds no important position in the GOP, Biden is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Edwards was his party's vice presidential nominee in 2004. The man with whom he shared the ticket that year, Senator John Kerry, insisted that Islamist terror is merely "a nuisance" that "we're never going to end," like gambling and prostitution.
What explains the Democrats' unwillingness to acknowledge the gravity of the global jihad? In part, it may stem from the sense that Islamists and the left share common foes. George Galloway, the radical antiwar British parliamentarian, declared in 2005 that "the progressive movement around the world and the Muslims have the same enemies . . . . On the very grave big issues of the day issues of war, occupation, justice, opposition to globalization the Muslims and the progressives are on the same side."
But to a large extent, the Democrats' lack of seriousness about the war we are in can only be explained by Bush Derangement Syndrome. The term was coined by commentator Charles Krauthammer, a former psychiatrist, who defines it as "the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency nay, the very existence of George W. Bush."
What if not derangement can explain such fever-swamp nuttiness as the findings of a new Rasmussen poll, which asked whether Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance? Among Democrats, 35 percent believe he did know and another 26 percent weren't sure. Only 39 percent said he didn't. In other words, nearly two out of three Democrats are unwilling to say that Bush wasn't tipped off to 9/11 in advance.
In another poll recently, respondents were asked whether they personally wanted Bush's new security strategy in Iraq to succeed not whether they expected it to, but whether they wanted it to. Among Democrats, a stunning 49 percent either hope that the United States will be defeated in Iraq or can't decide one way or the other. Only 51 percent, a bare majority, want the American effort against al-Qaeda in Iraq to end in victory.
As long as the 43rd president remains in office, it seems, a significant number of Americans will be so consumed with Bush-hatred that they will be unable to acknowledge let alone help defeat the real evil that confronts us all. Will they come to their senses after Jan. 20, 2009? And even if they do, will it be too late?