Ron Paul is sort of like a porcupine; a porcupine looks cuddly and cute, but if you try to step on one you're liable to wind up with a few holes in your foot.
Rudy Giuliani was the first to step. It happened in the May 15 Fox debate, when Giuliani attempted to bully Paul into retracting his assertion that interventionist foreign policy causes terrorism. Paul responded by introducing a new, desperately needed term into the presidential primary marketplace of ideas: "Blowback."
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire is the title of a 2000 book by Chalmers Johnson. In a chapter called "Stealth Imperialism," Johnson begins by asserting that "present American policy is seeding resentments that are bound to breed attempts at revenge." By now, most Americans have heard this argument many times and in many different forms, and it appears to be sinking in. But apparently nobody had ever had the guts to say anything like that with Giuliani in earshot.
"I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11," he fumed at Paul. Maybe he didn't know it at the time, but there were a few little holes in his foot. And six months after stepping on a porcupine, Giuliani netted a whopping 4% in Iowa.
The former mayor's apologists point out that Giuliani didn't visit Iowa very often, but Paul visited Iowa fewer times than Giuliani and broke into double digits with 10%.
So maybe it took six months for Paul's appeal to the national conscience to sink in. Maybe some voters did a little research and a little fresh thinking about foreign policy. Or maybe they watched something instructive, like this clip from a PBS documentary showing how our CIA deposed the legitimate political leader of Iran in 1953 and replaced him with the Shah, a religious autocrat who owed his power to D.C. and paid his debts with cheap oil.
But the Ron Paul lessons are all over for viewers of Fox News. Sunday's Fox candidate forum only featured five Republican candidates, all more or less neoconservatives, stylistically diverse but ideologically reducible into a single, imperialistic Rudy McHuckabombneyson. Fox News partisans were treated to the pleasure of watching Giuliani chat with a candidate (McCain) who says he'd be fine with keeping American troops in Iraq for another 100 years, a candidate (Huckabee) who thinks Pakistanis are pouring across our southern border, a candidate (Romney) who insists that the murder of Benazir Bhutto had nothing to do with the United States, and an actor (Thompson) who somehow keeps forgetting to act like he's running for president.
The decision to exclude Paul was so indefensible, following his record-breaking fundraising efforts and a double-digit result in Iowa, that the New Hampshire GOP withdrew as a partner in the forum.
Which brings us back to "Blowback."
It is a concept many Republicans refuse to understand, a concept many Democrats begin to understand, yet underestimate. But it's a message a growing number of American voters are ready for. Paul summed it up in the ABC debate Saturday: "We ought to treat others as we would want others to treat us, and we don't treat others so fairly... If they don't listen to us, we bomb them; if they listen to us, we give them money, and it's bankrupting this country because we don't live up to our principles."
Despite being snubbed, Paul was all smiles Sunday when he appeared at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum, an event sponsored by the Free State Project. Why?
If the rumors are true, there are an awful lot of porcupines floating around New Hampshire, and their momentum suggests that Tuesday might be a pretty tough day for the hawks.