Skip ahead to 3:15 for the exchange on foreign aid generally and to 4:15 for the key bit. Paul’s not singling Israel out here; it’s Blitzer who brings it up, and Paul’s careful to offer praise before making his case that we simply can’t afford it anymore. He knows he’s suspect on this point because of his surname and has tried to deal with it behind the scenes. Remember this tidbit from that GQ hit piece on him last year?

Ron Paul, in addition to his extreme views on the federal government, has been a harsh critic of the Republican Party’s “military adventurism,” and in the past Rand has faithfully echoed his father’s views. He opposed the war in Iraq, once characterized the September 11 attacks as “blowback for our foreign policy,” and scoffed at the threat of Iranian nukes. And yet here he was in Washington, seeking out a secret meeting with some of the Ron Paul Revolutionaries’ biggest bogeymen. At a private office in Dupont Circle, he talked foreign policy with Bill Kristol, Dan Senor, and Tom Donnelly, three prominent neocons who’d been part of an effort to defeat him during the primary. “He struck me as genuinely interested in trying to understand why people like us were so apoplectic,” Senor says of their two-hour encounter. “He wanted to get educated about our problem with him. He wasn’t confrontational, and he wasn’t disagreeable. He didn’t seem cemented in his views. He was really in absorption mode.”

The following month, he met with officials from the powerful lobbying group AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which has frequently clashed with Ron Paul over what the group views as his insufficient support of Israel. Paul, according to one person familiar with the AIPAC meeting, “told them what they wanted to hear: ‘I’m more reasonable than my father on the things you care about.’ He was very solicitous.”

The debate over foreign aid reminds me of the debate over earmarks. Yes, as Paul notes, plenty of it is wasteful, and indeed, when we’re trying to dig our way out of an umpteen-trillion dollar hole, every little bit helps. But compared to the real driver of America’s fiscal catastrophe, it’s small potatoes. That’s what I was getting at in my post about Boehner and Social Security the other day: Every relatively minor spending issue we lay on the table is an opportunity for opponents of entitlement reform to change the subject. Paul, to his great credit, is ready to go after Social Security too, but Democrats are already strategizing on how to short-circuit this debate. The latest: A new “Social Security Caucus” in the Senate aimed at giving Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer an extra megaphone to screech about how Republicans want to collapse a social safety net that’s well on its way to collapsing anyway. The foreign aid debate will go one (or both) of two ways for opponents of entitlement reform: Either (a) they’ll force a showdown on the issue to show how “heartless” the GOP is to the impoverished peoples of the Third World and/or (b) they’ll agree to some token reduction in aid and then tout it as a big concession in order to keep public perceptions of what constitutes a “meaningful” cut nice and low. Let’s deal with entitlements first and then start trimming around the edges with earmarks, foreign aid, etc, no?

The other reason this is a bad foot to start off on is, of course, that it’ll never pass. Financial support for Israel is deeply bipartisan in Congress. Even some pro-Israel tea partiers, like Allen West, would be loath to cancel their aid, I suspect, especially with Hezbollah now in control in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood poised to ascend in Egypt. Until Iran’s regime, at least, is replaced with something less feral, there’s simply no way Congress will leave Israel to fend for itself. But I get that he’s making a principled point here about every last expense having to be on the table, so fair enough.