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You don’t have to agree with Ron Paul to find him appealing—you only have to dislike politics. Politics has always been a popularity contest or a power struggle or both, and with this season’s Republican debates we’ve seen those two evolve and combine into a higher form: reality TV. The game is a simple one. Take eight applause-seekers and put them through various trials to see who can resist a small helping of immediate applause now in favor of a larger windfall later. The host asks whether the candidate would ever accept any tax rises; the candidate knows not to say things that will hurt him in November, but he pleads with himself and wins. This one teeny little time couldn’t hurt, could it? Not now that all those hands are poised to clap? And there it is—boom. Gingrich says we should kill our enemies and is cheered; Paul says we should apply the Golden Rule and is booed. Yet Paul seems not to care. Is he even trying to win? Have the rules been explained to him? Or is he playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers? Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I can’t help hoping that he is.

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