Michelle Goldberg on Ron Paul’s Debate Points

There’s much to dislike about the libertarian upstart. But his evisceration of Gingrich as a chicken hawk Saturday night was fun to watch. By Michelle Goldberg

Saturday night’s debate was worse than most—it was dull, unilluminating, and changed the dynamic of the race not at all. We learned that Rick Perry wants to reinvade Iraq. Mitt Romney either demonstrated or feigned ignorance of Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision outlawing state bans on contraception that served as a precedent for Roe v. Wade. And Rick Santorum, who has a page on his website titled “Santorum Hopes to Rebuild Middle Class,” claimed that using the term “middle class” is a sort of divisive class warfare.

The one bright spot of the evening was Ron Paul. I’ve often been impatient with liberals who have a soft spot for Paul, given his roots in the extreme right, his crankish goldbuggery and the way his libertarianism stops short of women’s authority over their own bodies. During the debate, he said that Martin Luther King Jr. was one of his heroes, but his newsletter called the civil rights leader a “pro-Communist philanderer.” Nevertheless, watching Paul eviscerate Newt Gingrich as a chicken hawk and then, a few minutes later, give an impassioned, righteous speech about the drug war, it was tempting to forget everything that makes him unsavory.

“Look at the percentages,” he said. “The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites, and yet blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately. They get the death penalty way disproportionately. How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair?” Those truly concerned about racism, he said, should “look at the drug laws which are being so unfairly enforced.” He’s absolutely right, and no other prominent person in either party is willing to be so vocal on such a crucial issue. The fact that such views got airtime on a major network almost made the night's whole plodding exercise worthwhile. No wonder so many lefties love him despite themselves.