The disagreements between U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, and all of his GOP presidential opponents were apparent very early in CNN's national security debate Tuesday night with a question about the success of the Patriot Act. After former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the law an important tool in limiting terrorist attacks, Paul drew a smattering of applause when he said the act is unpatriotic because it undermines our liberty.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
“Today it seems too easy that our government and our congresses are so willing to give up our liberties for our security. I have a personal belief that you never have to give up liberty for security," Paul said. "You can still provide security without sacrificing our Bill of Rights.”
The other Texan in the race, Gov. Rick Perry, said he'd keep the act in place, even strengthened where he believes needed, although he provided no details. But Perry did go after at least one element put in place after Sept. 11: the Transportation Security Administration.
“Well, here's what I would do with the TSA — I would privatize it as soon as I could and get rid of those unions," Perry said as the audience gave some applause. "It's working in Denver. They have a program where they're privatizing it. And the airlines and other private-sector groups work together to do the security in our airports. And it makes abundant good sense.” (The TSA was created in response to the the Sept. 11 attacks to replace private security companies hired by the airlines after it was discovered the hijackers had easily thwarted the airport security measures then in place.)
Both Perry and Paul stood out from the crowd with their agreement that foreign aide to Pakistan should be cut, although for different reasons. Perry said aid should be cut off entirely if the Pakistani government, or any ally, is not clearly aligned with U.S. foreign policy goals. Paul has a more philosophical opposition to foreign aid, which is a tiny fraction of the overall U.S. annual budget.
"I think the aid is all worthless," Paul said. "It doesn't do any good for most of the people. You take money from poor people in this country and you end up giving it to rich people in poor countries. And they're used as weapons of war so you accomplish nothing.”
The two agreed again on the need to secure the U.S.-Mexican border. Paul said the federal government has ignored that border by spending too much time worrying about the one between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Perry said it was critical to secure the border before any meaningful immigration reform can be done. He also said a strong boarder is paramount to the safety of the entire western hemisphere.
“We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States," Perry said. "We know that Hugo Chavez and the Iranian government has one of the largest — I think their largest embassy in the world is in Venezuela.”
Both Texans, Paul especially because of his often contrarian views, had plenty of screen time last night. Something both needed to keep from being overlooked in a continuing crowded field of contenders.