Jon Stewart is urging Ron Paul to become a typical Washington politician. It’s true – during last night’s “Daily Show” the comedian told GOP presidential hopeful Paul he would get a lot more attention if he just changed some of his positions by 180 degrees.
“Have you ever thought about flip-flopping?” Stewart asked a grinning Paul.
Yes, this was an elaborate joke. Stewart said he’d noticed that during GOP debates the other candidates spend lots of time yelling at each other about alleged changes on the issues, and that they ignore Paul while doing this, since he’s pretty consistent.
A flip-flop would get Paul more televised face time, said Stewart.
Failing that, Paul could gain weight so as to look like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said Stewart. (See, the GOP establishment is begging Christie to throw his belt into the ring, to compete with cowboy Rick Perry. That’s why it’s funny. And yes, comedy dies when it’s explained.)
“Have you thought about getting a tour bus like hers?” Stewart asked.
Last night’s “Daily Show” appearance was Paul’s third in recent years. Stewart’s been promoting the libertarian recently, complaining on air and in interviews that Paul’s being unfairly ignored by the media. So we have to ask: is Stewart completely in the tank for this guy?
They had a good discussion, but Stewart didn’t exactly ask tough questions. Of course, he’s a comedian, so he’s not necessarily supposed to. But still.
For instance, on the subject of health care – in the extended Paul interview posted online – Stewart obliquely brought up the incident in a recent debate when Wolf Blitzer asked Paul how he’d help a young person who was seriously ill but had no health insurance. At the time, Paul said charity would plug such holes in the social safety net.
The GOP hopeful didn’t really answer the question on the “Daily Show,” either. He said that the problem with medical care in the US is 40 years of big government allowing corporations to run the show.
“The corporations run medicine today – the drug companies and the insurance companies. So all this good feeling doesn’t stop the problem,” said Paul.
Where’s the follow-up there, Mr. Stewart?
In general, Paul is a staunch defender of his vision of individual liberty, and that includes the liberty to make bad choices as well as good ones. He thinks illegal drugs are “horribly dangerous,” he said on the “Daily Show.” But he believes the government’s war on drugs is more dangerous.
“It violates our civil liberties. That is the real danger,” he said.
Stewart then asked whether Paul would let even heroin go unregulated. (Hmm, that’s a good question – maybe we’ll take that back about Stewart being too easy in the interview.)
Paul dodged a bit by replying that he’d sold codeine over the counter when he worked in a drug store as a youth.
“I don’t remember any of my friends drinking codeine just to get high,” said Paul.
“I should introduce you to some of my friends,” Stewart replied.
Paul and Stewart then spent five minutes or so in the extended interview discussing an extended metaphor in which Paul compared the free speech context in which comedians operate to how he thinks government regulations should work.
Comedians and other public speakers face little prior restraint about what they can say in America, Paul pointed out. But if they say something truly libelous, they can be held to account.
Government regulation – or rather, non-regulation - should work the same way, with little prior restraint, said the libertarian. Companies should be free to make products the way they want. But if they cause harm to someone, or someone else’s property, there should be repercussions.
The linchpin of such a system would be strict property rights, Paul said.
For instance, “the environment would be better protected by strict property rights ... all you have to say is, ‘you have no right to pollute your neighbor’s property, water, air, or anything,” said Paul.
“The people I know in Washington aren’t capable of telling you what you ought to do,” Paul concluded.