COMMENTARY | On Monday night, in the tourist city of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Republican Party held its 16th nationally televised debate of the campaign season. And as if the audience there to witness the debate between the five major Republican candidates still in the race had taken to heart their state's primary being characterized as an upcoming bloodbath by the media, they responded with a bloodlust to Newt Gingrich's words regarding America's enemies: "kill them."
They had a similarly quick and loud response to Rep. Ron Paul's subsequent suggestion that American foreign policy adhere to the "Golden Rule" on a national scale. The audience booed him.
"My point is," Paul said during the debate sponsored by Fox News, "if another country does to us what we do others, we're not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in -- in foreign policy. Don't do to other nation… what we don't want to have them do to us."
As reasonable as that might sound -- and it is a rule taught by every major religion on a personal scale -- the audience in South Carolina, made up of mostly white middle-aged evangelicals, were having none of it. Although Paul's previous words that America was a nation of laws and that wars should only be fought with the consent of Congress (which is constitutionally mandated, as opposed to all the policing actions and wars that the U. S. has been involved in since World War II) got at least a scattering of applause, Gingrich triggered the nativist reactionaries in the crowd when he got on his professorial soapbox just seconds later. Calling up the spirit of President Andrew Jackson, who was wounded by a British sword during the Revolutionary War, Gingrich said that Jackson was reminded with a scar from that wounding of what to do with enemies. "Kill them," he said.
But booing the "Golden Rule?" How could the thought even be entertained? And this in the Bible Belt, no less, where treating one's neighbor with respect, good works, good Samaritanism, cordiality, and being charitable -- the teachings of Christ -- are all considered highly endemic to the culture.
This is the state of the modern conservative movement: non-thinking, non-substantive, reactionary, bellicose, exceptionally arrogant, ignorant, and vindictive. You saw it coming during the 2008 rallies when conspiracy theories mixed with ethnocentrism to become common background themes. It got worse when the tea party movement was consumed by its own sense of self-importance and the religious right and, except for a few of the more stalwart traditionalist organizations, lost its way on the road to helping the Republicans take over Congress. And during the Republican debates, the atmosphere has grown hostile to anything and anyone speaking to compromise, diplomacy, and for the greater good.
Instead, those who speak of conciliatory measures and working toward the best solution are marked as "appeasers" and "traitors" to the cause of a more extreme type of conservatism. Intolerance of civil political discourse has become the rule of the day. Might makes right in foreign policy, and it is anathema to even suggest that the U. S. might be the aggressor nation. On domestic issues, do as one pleases as long as it does not displease those who have narrowly defined through their religious beliefs what one's freedoms are.
And if they are one's enemy, kill them.
Does that sound like Family Values ideals? Does that even remotely sound Christian, the religion of love thy brother and turn the other cheek? Does it in any way resemble the kinder, gentler social conservatism endorsed by many conservatives of the 80s? It does not, but it certainly sounds like the modern conservative movement.
But Ron Paul and those that adhere to the conservatism of constitutional law, non-entanglements, and true personal liberty should know that this is the part of the story where the disseminator of peace and reasonable behavior is turned upon by those with whom he is closest.
And that is exactly what the South Carolina debate audience did when he suggested using the "Golden Rule" when dealing with hostile nations.
At least they didn't crucify him.