Time to get it in gear

Ron Paul neither helped himself nor hurt himself with his debate performance this week.  But at this late stage of the primary campaign — the Iowa caucuses are January 3, the New Hampshire primary January 8 — that's just not good enough.

Granted, the worst that some people feared did not happen.  Several people fretted to Lew Rockwell in advance of the debate that the smear machine would be out in force now that Paul's campaign has real traction.  It didn't quite play out that way.  But by the same token, it is no longer sufficient that, as Rockwell put it, "Ron is the one candidate who doesn't rehearse the debates, since he speaks from his heart and not according to a spin-consultant's advice."

Sorry, but winging it just isn't good enough when you're the last guy allowed to speak and the first issue you're asked to address is whether some of your supporters are nutjobs for buying into North American Union conspiracy theories.  If he didn't know he was going to be asked this question at some point leading up to the first primaries, then his aides should have… and together, they should have prepared a cogent response instead of the barely-adequate ramble Paul delivered.  Something like this:

There's no conspiracy to it, it's all out there in the open.  You don't see a lot of media coverage, but there are very respectable scholars, very respectable career government officials, who talk very freely about how great it would be if the United States, Canada, and Mexico got together in an arrangement similar to the European Union.  What you have with the EU is businesspeople in Bratislava having to answer to bureaucrats in Brussels, hundreds of miles away.  I don't want anything like that.  It's bad enough that businesspeople in our country have to answer to bureaucrats in Washington.  I want smaller government, bring political power down to as local a level as possible, not build up big government into an even bigger government, and that's what these North American Union proposals are all about.

I'm sure that with a little thought, Paul and his aides can come up with something even better.  The beauty of such a response is it would nip the issue in the bud for the vast number of voters hearing about it for the first time.  By the same token, how many voters were already aware that Paul gets more campaign contributions from current and former members of the military than any other candidate on that stage?  Yet in the course of responding to the attack by John McCain, this was all he could spit out:  "The real question you have to ask is why do I get the most money from active-duty officers — military personnel."

I think that went over most people's heads.

Paul and his aides need to come up with a couple dozen sound-bite friendly responses to issues likely to come up on the campaign trail, and stick to them.  Yes, it means rehearsing a bit, sharpening and refining the message.  There's no shame in that.  It's not about compromising one's principles, it's not about ducking tough questions… It's just stating one's case in the most effective way possible.

Along the same lines, Paul and his aides need to write down the following by hand and commit it to memory: "Note to self: If asked about what government agencies to eliminate, make sure to include the IRS."  Paul's failure to do so was a big fat early Christmas present to Mike "Elmer Gantry" Huckabee.  Huckabee hit that one out of the park, and it didn't have to happen that way.

And speaking of the McCain exchange, next time someone brings up Adolf Hitler, Paul ought to come right out and say, "I'm delighted my campaign is drawing so much support that my opponents think they need to play the Hitler card."  Maybe do a quick history lesson about how it was President Woodrow Wilson's decision to bring America into World War I that ultimately set the stage for Hitler's rise to power a decade and a half later, and a sensible non-interventionist foreign policy is one that won't create new Hitlers.

Paul got in a couple of good lines toward the end of the debate, but the whole affair was so tedious I doubt that viewership at the end was even half of what it was at the start.  Too little, too late.

I know I've been harsh here.  In fairness, most of the other candidates, particularly Generalissimo Giuliani, had an off night too.  (Huckabee was the noteworthy exception.)  As I've noted before, whatever criticisms I offer up are in the interest of making the message of liberty resonate with as many people as possible.  So with that in mind… it's time to get it in gear.