When Ron Paul met Piers Morgan

"Once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

Despite his poor performance in the Republican primaries thus far, Ron Paul spoke to Piers Morgan with characteristic optimism and enthusiasm. Arguably more self-assured than Rick Santorum who appeared on the show two weeks ago, Ron Paul refuted claims that he can't win the nomination, telling Piers Morgan: "I have steady growth -- once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

In his interview with Rick Santorum, Morgan referred to Ron Paul as "barking". While the Texas Congressman has been criticised for his slightly eccentric views, the one thing he cannot be accused of is flip-flopping, unlike fellow candidate Mitt Romney.

Despite being the oldest candidate in the field at 76, Paul has a significant youth following. "My principles of liberty are inviting to young people," he told Morgan. "Their minds are more open; they won't just accept the status quo."

Morgan went on the attack about health care, telling the Congressman that his view -- that if you can't afford health insurance you should essentially fend for yourself -- is uncompassionate. In his defence, Paul argued that the Soviet system wasn't actually able to medically care for its people because it ended up totally bankrupt. In this respect, for Paul, the worst thing possible would be to depend on the government. Speaking as a child of the Great Depression, he said: "You have to assume responsibility for yourself."

However, he failed to mention quite how people should afford backbreaking insurance prices without government assistance. So, what would vulnerable people have to do in Ron Paul's society to get healthcare? The Congressman dodged the question with the sweeping generalisation that "to produce the best middle class you have to do it through freedom, not through redistribution of wealth."

Morgan asked Paul what he thought about Romney's comment that he "isn't concerned about the very poor" -- a statement that has been taken wildly out of context. Refusing to take the talk show host's bait and go on the attack, which is undoubtedly what Newt Gingrich would have done, Paul said: "I don't have many agreements with Mitt on policy - not on foreign policy, spending policy, bailout policy - but I've ended up defending him on this." Unlike the other Republican candidates, Paul doesn't play dirty politics.

Paul did, however, sum up his political ideology: "Sound currency, limited government, contract rights, don't bail out anyone -- that's when the poor get benefits and jobs will come. I'm as concerned about the poor as much as anyone else, but I don't think robbing from one group works."

On foreign policy, Paul is a stark contrast to the views Rick Santorum expressed on the show a few weeks ago. He categorically denies that he is pacifist, but says he only believes in war when it's justified. "From a strict constitutional viewpoint I don't want to fight any wars that aren't declared and, since World War II, nothing has been justifiable because we haven't gone through the proper process." Paul said that he did not support US forces in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks because "the country didn't attack us -- a bunch of thugs did."

His foreign policy views stand in particular contrast to the other Republican candidates' with regard to Iran. Santorum, speaking to Morgan a number of weeks ago, said that he would have no qualms about bombing Iran. However, Ron Paul said that a pre-emptive strike would be aggression and "aggression is for dictators." His view on the pre-emptive issue has caused him to appear weak on national security. He said: "Iran is the same principle as Iraq. We were wrong to go in there and we lost 8,500 US lives."

He confirmed his isolationist philosophy by saying that the British should be the ones to "take care of Israel," not America. "Why is it assumed that we are the policemen of the world, that it's our moral obligation? Besides, we're broke!"

Paul's non-interventionist policies are certainly seen as radical and, in many ways, deeply un-Republican. Fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich said that Paul's views "are totally out of the mainstream," although this is a little rich coming from the man who is planning a moon colony.

Morgan bizarrely asked the Congressman whether he was "a spanker" with his children. Comparing his parenting and foreign policy views, Paul told him: "I reject the use of force and intimidation with children, as I do with politics."

The interview made for uncomfortable viewing as Morgan rarely let Paul finish a sentence. While his rigidity and firmness in his policy ideas has been praised, Paul did demonstrate a willingness and ability to modify his opinions and bend where necessary. However, the self-proclaimed "conservative liberal" is perhaps the man you want as your grandfather, not your president.

Getty
Show Hide image

France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt