«

»

Jan 03 2012

The Paul Puzzle

As we head into the Iowa Caucuses Ron Paul seems more popular than ever and there is at least an even chance he’ll pull off an upset victory.

I’ve drawn your attention to some of the deep philosophical problems with Libertarianism (C’thulhu fhtagn), but recognizing those leaves open the question- just what is so appealing about Ron Paul?

There are those who will argue that his appeal to the Tea Party crowd is based on his history of racism, but instead I would argue that it’s the result of his ‘principled’ stands in favor of individual rights and the populist perception that he is not beholden to the corporatist status quo (though reading the citations in my earlier piece should disabuse you of the notion that the Libertarian future is any less driven by mega corporations, greed and power).

It is indeed this perception of populism that gives him ‘crossover’ appeal to Independents and Liberals.  Remember, Independents are anything BUT ‘Swing Voters’.  An overwhelming majority are disaffected from one branch or the other of our two headed hydra duopoly.

Glenn Greenwald and Matt Stoller have recently published some pieces examining this phenomena.

Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies

Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Saturday, Dec 31, 2011 11:15 AM

The worst attributes of our political culture – obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace “reporting,” and mindless partisan loyalties – become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it – covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates – drone on with even less attention paid than usual.

Because most of those policies are fully bipartisan in nature, the election season – in which only issues that bestow partisan advantage receive attention – places them even further outside the realm of mainstream debate and scrutiny.



(T)here’s the inability and/or refusal to recognize that a political discussion might exist independent of the Red v. Blue Cage Match. Thus, any critique of the President’s exercise of vast power (an adversarial check on which our political system depends) immediately prompts bafflement (I don’t understand the point: would Rick Perry be any better?) or grievance (you’re helping Mitt Romney by talking about this!!). The premise takes hold for a full 18 months – increasing each day in intensity until Election Day – that every discussion of the President’s actions must be driven solely by one’s preference for election outcomes (if you support the President’s re-election, then why criticize him?).



(H)ere’s the Publisher of The Nation praising Ron Paul not on ancillary political topics but central ones (“ending preemptive wars & challenging bipartisan elite consensus” on foreign policy), and going even further and expressing general happiness that he’s in the presidential race. Despite this observation, Katrina vanden Heuvel – needless to say – does not support and will never vote for Ron Paul (indeed, in subsequent tweets, she condemned his newsletters as “despicable”). But the point that she’s making is important, if not too subtle for the with-us-or-against-us ethos that dominates the protracted presidential campaign: even though I don’t support him for President, Ron Paul is the only major candidate from either party advocating crucial views on vital issues that need to be heard, and so his candidacy generates important benefits.

Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform – certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party – who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote – Barack Obama – advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.



The simple fact is that progressives are supporting a candidate for President who has done all of that – things liberalism has long held to be pernicious. I know it’s annoying and miserable to hear. Progressives like to think of themselves as the faction that stands for peace, opposes wars, believes in due process and civil liberties, distrusts the military-industrial complex, supports candidates who are devoted to individual rights, transparency and economic equality. All of these facts – like the history laid out by Stoller in that essay – negate that desired self-perception. These facts demonstrate that the leader progressives have empowered and will empower again has worked in direct opposition to those values and engaged in conduct that is nothing short of horrific. So there is an eagerness to avoid hearing about them, to pretend they don’t exist. And there’s a corresponding hostility toward those who point them out, who insist that they not be ignored.

The parallel reality – the undeniable fact – is that all of these listed heinous views and actions from Barack Obama have been vehemently opposed and condemned by Ron Paul: and among the major GOP candidates, only by Ron Paul. For that reason, Paul’s candidacy forces progressives to face the hideous positions and actions of their candidate, of the person they want to empower for another four years. If Paul were not in the race or were not receiving attention, none of these issues would receive any attention because all the other major GOP candidates either agree with Obama on these matters or hold even worse views.

Progressives would feel much better about themselves, their Party and their candidate if they only had to oppose, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann. That’s because the standard GOP candidate agrees with Obama on many of these issues and is even worse on these others, so progressives can feel good about themselves for supporting Obama: his right-wing opponent is a warmonger, a servant to Wall Street, a neocon, a devotee of harsh and racist criminal justice policies, etc. etc. Paul scrambles the comfortable ideological and partisan categories and forces progressives to confront and account for the policies they are working to protect. His nomination would mean that it is the Republican candidate – not the Democrat – who would be the anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate (which is why some neocons are expressly arguing they’d vote for Obama over Paul). Is it really hard to see why Democrats hate his candidacy and anyone who touts its benefits?



Paul’s candidacy forces those truths about the Democratic Party to be confronted. More important – way more important – is that, as vanden Heuvel pointed out, he forces into the mainstream political discourse vital ideas that are otherwise completely excluded given that they are at odds with the bipartisan consensus.

There are very few political priorities, if there are any, more imperative than having an actual debate on issues of America’s imperialism; the suffocating secrecy of its government; the destruction of civil liberties which uniquely targets Muslims, including American Muslims; the corrupt role of the Fed; corporate control of government institutions by the nation’s oligarchs; its destructive blind support for Israel, and its failed and sadistic Drug War. More than anything, it’s crucial that choice be given to the electorate by subverting the two parties’ full-scale embrace of these hideous programs.



Can anyone deny that (a) those views desperately need to be heard and (b) they are not advocated or even supported by the Democratic Party and President Obama? There are, as I indicated, all sorts of legitimate reasons for progressives to oppose Ron Paul’s candidacy on the whole. But if your only posture in the 2012 election is to demand lockstep marching behind Barack Obama and unqualified scorn for every other single candidate, then you are contributing to the continuation of these policies that liberalism has long claimed to detest, and bolstering the exclusion of these questions from mainstream debate.

If you’re someone who is content with the Obama presidency and the numerous actions listed above; if you’re someone who believes that things like Endless War, the Surveillance State, the Drug War, the sprawling secrecy regime, and the vast power of the Fed are merely minor, side issues that don’t merit much concern (sure, like a stopped clock, Paul is right about a couple things); if you’re someone who believes that the primary need for American politics is just to have some more Democrats in power, then lock-step marching behind Barack Obama for the next full year makes sense.

But if you don’t believe those things, then you’re going to be searching for ways to change mainstream political discourse and to disrupt the bipartisan consensus which shields these policies from all debate, let alone challenge. As imperfect a vehicle as it is, Ron Paul’s candidacy – his success within a Republican primary even as he unapologetically challenges these orthodoxies – is one of the few games in town for achieving any of that (now that Johnson has left the GOP and will [likely] run as the Libertarian Party candidate, perhaps he can accomplish that as well).

Matt Stoller: Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals

Matt Stoller, Naked Capitalism

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Modern liberalism is a mixture of two elements. One is a support of Federal power – what came out of the late 1930s, World War II, and the civil rights era where a social safety net and warfare were financed by Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and the RFC, and human rights were enforced by a Federal government, unions, and a cadre of corporate, journalistic and technocratic experts (and cheap oil made the whole system run.) America mobilized militarily for national priorities, be they war-like or social in nature. And two, it originates from the anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam era, with its distrust of centralized authority mobilizing national resources for what were perceived to be immoral priorities. When you throw in the recent financial crisis, the corruption of big finance, the increasing militarization of society, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the collapse of the moral authority of the technocrats, you have a big problem. Liberalism doesn’t really exist much within the Democratic Party so much anymore, but it also has a profound challenge insofar as the rudiments of liberalism going back to the 1930s don’t work.

This is why Ron Paul can critique the Federal Reserve and American empire, and why liberals have essentially no answer to his ideas, arguing instead over Paul having character defects. Ron Paul’s stance should be seen as a challenge to better create a coherent structural critique of the American political order. It’s quite obvious that there isn’t one coming from the left, otherwise the figure challenging the war on drugs and American empire wouldn’t be in the Republican primary as the libertarian candidate. To get there, liberals must grapple with big finance and war, two topics that are difficult to handle in any but a glib manner that separates us from our actual traditional and problematic affinity for both. War financing has a specific tradition in American culture, but there is no guarantee war financing must continue the way it has. And there’s no reason to assume that centralized power will act in a more just manner these days, that we will see continuity with the historical experience of the New Deal and Civil Rights Era. The liberal alliance with the mechanics of mass mobilizing warfare, which should be pretty obvious when seen in this light, is deep-rooted.

What we’re seeing on the left is this conflict played out, whether it is big slow centralized unions supporting problematic policies, protest movements that cannot be institutionalized in any useful structure, or a completely hollow liberal intellectual apparatus arguing for increasing the power of corporations through the Federal government to enact their agenda. Now of course, Ron Paul pandered to racists, and there is no doubt that this is a legitimate political issue in the Presidential race. But the intellectual challenge that Ron Paul presents ultimately has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with contradictions within modern liberalism.

I would argue with Glenn about the deprivation of essential liberty being limited to Muslims-

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

3 pings

Comments have been disabled.