After the corporate media ignored his narrow loss to Michele Bachmann in the Ames Straw Poll earlier this month, Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, the Big Government libertarian presidential candidate, and his supporters have been desperately seeking attention — primarily in the form of the same sort of claims of victimhood we hear from the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Sean Hannity and other self-righteous fringe dwellers.
In an interview with MSNBC on Friday, however, Ron Paul attempted to insert himself into upcoming coverage of Hurricane Irene over the weekend by saying provocative things about FEMA.
In the interview, Paul, 76, lambasted FEMA and yearned for the olden days when Americans and their local governments were left to fend for themselves in the wake of natural disasters:
After a lunch speech today, Ron Paul slammed the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and said that no national response to Hurricane Irene is necessary.
“We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960,” Paul said. “I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district.
“There’s no magic about FEMA. They’re a great contribution to deficit financing and quite frankly they don’t have a penny in the bank. We should be coordinated but coordinated voluntarily with the states,” Paul told NBC News. “A state can decide. We don’t need somebody in Washington.”
Got that? In a Ron Paul administration, after every hurricane, earthquake, tornado and wildfire, Americans would be on their own — every major disaster would result in a post-Katrina style collapse of public order and safety.
But in the version of the interview that MSNBC released on its website this weekend — see the video above — the network edited out the remark Ron Paul had presumably intended to be their lede. The statement MSNBC omitted was this:
RON PAUL: The government’s not responsible for your safety, that’s why we have a Second Amendment.
MSNBC’s reasons for deleting this comment from the package is a puzzlement. True, Paul’s comment is a) ahistorical and b) makes no sense.
But since when does corporate media filter out politicians’ blithering, nonsensical statements?
Paul’s statement is ahistorical because the Founders were not contemplating citizens’ needs to protect themselves from looters in the wake of natural disasters or — sorry NRA — even the right to own a gun when they added the right to “bear arms” to the Bill of Rights. The phrase “bearing arms” has never been synonymous with “owning a gun.” It refers to being equipped with weapons in defense against a common foe.
In 18th century America, the vast majority of people lived on farms, and much of the land bordered a vast wilderness. Guns were required for hunting as well as for protection from wild beasts and the rampages of the original owners of all that farmland. Nobody — nobody — questioned the right of citizens to own guns. From the Founders’ perspective, devoting space in the Constitution to assert the right to own guns would have been as silly and moot as adding amendments ensuring the right to plant a garden, fish or chop wood.
The right to “bear arms” addressed the well-justified paranoia among the Founders’ generation that a European royal would somehow get himself elected president and declare the United States to be a monarchy — which they also addressed with the requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen” — or that a European power would seek to overthrow the American republic and re-colonize it — which, in fact, Britain attempted to do in 1812. The Second Amendment was meant to ensure that citizens were armed against subjugation by enemies from without or within.
It’s possible Ron Paul may know the actual history of the Second Amendment, but, being first and foremost a savvy politician, what he certainly knows is that his followers are clueless about it. What he was saying to them was that Americans don’t need FEMA, because they are armed.
That is truly nonsense. Having lived through a few disasters — the Los Angeles riots in April 1992, the Landers earthquake two months later and the Northridge quake in January 1994 — there was just one time when it briefly crossed my mind that it might serve us well to have a gun in the house, and that was during the riots.
Generally, however, in the wake of disasters I experienced, the present needs are more basic: Do we have sufficient food and water? When will the power be turned back on?
The environment has suddenly become dangerous. The house is full of broken glass. Power lines are down outside. Gas lines may be breached. But emergency services are swamped. If a family member or neighbor is injured or becomes ill, calling 911 does not mean the EMTs will come soon. In a city the size of Los Angeles, it is more likely than not that they won’t show up at all.
In the real world, a gun is a useless tool in addressing 99.9 percent of the crises people might encounter in the wake of a disaster.
On a political level, what is remarkable about Ron Paul’s assertion — and the reason I think he meant it to be the lede in the story — is its similarity to the call for “Second Amendment” remedies Nevada’s 2010 whackadoodle U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle against her opponent, Sen. Harry Reid, should she fail to unseat him by democratic means on Election Day.
Despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Irene this weekend, the edited version of Paul’s criticism of federal disaster relief has gotten a little traction. According to C-SPAN “Washington Journal,” he will appear on two of the Sunday shows this morning. Let’s hope someone asks him to explain in more detail how widespread gun ownership would help communities rebuild without federal government assistance in the wake of disasters.
(CNN picked up the MSNBC edited version of the story, without the reference to the Second Amendment.)