There’s a fascinating essay at Naked Capitalism (great blog) that I highly recommend reading in full about the “problems” that Ron Paul’s candidacy poses for liberals, which is to say how the quixotic Texas Congressman exposes how the addiction to the perpetual war machine and “American empire”—very much at the core of the Democratic Party’s worldview—is COMPLETELY AT ODDS with progressive politics and aims.
What does the Democratic Party really offer progressives? It’s a question that needs to be addressed more often.
The piece was written by Matt Stoller, Alan Grayson’s former Senior Policy Advisor and a fellow at the progressive Roosevelt Institute, who begins by calling Paul, “the most perplexing character in Congress, ideologically speaking.” While working with Grayson, Zoller often interfaced with Paul’s office in a bipartisan spirit and what he has to say is worth pondering.
Ron Paul is a bit too much of a Libertarian ideologue for my tastes (“Libertarian” has always been a synonym for “asshole” in my book), but I can understand why and how his anti-militarist, anti-Federal Reserve and mostly “hands off” social policies and ideas have gathered a such a passionate following—even if Paul’s supporters are only too willing to completely disregard how “eccentric” the guy obviously is (I’m trying to be kind here, Paulbots, I really am!).
The matter of why they are so readily willing to give him a pass on the rest of the package, is a mystery to me… but that’s not the issue here, it’s Congressman Paul’s strengths. Not matter what you think of him, the man IS an improbably credible—if somewhat Chauncey Gardiner-esque—threat to the establishment, even if most of the punditry wrote him off long before the first vote has even been cast. Voters may feel differently. It’s been argued that there are as many disaffected Democrats as Republicans who are Ron Paul supporters and although I’ve seen no polling that would confirm that, it seems entirely plausible.
But before I block-quote from Zoller’s essay, I wanted to preface that with a chunk of what Robert Scheer—a classic American liberal, even if he (often) dissents from the party line—had to say about Ron Paul in a recent TruthDig column:
It is official now. The Ron Paul campaign, despite surging in the Iowa polls, is not worthy of serious consideration, according to a New York Times editorial; “Ron Paul long ago disqualified himself for the presidency by peddling claptrap proposals like abolishing the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard, cutting a third of the federal budget and all foreign aid and opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
That last item, along with the decade-old racist comments in the newsletters Paul published, is certainly worthy of criticism. But not as an alternative to seriously engaging the substance of Paul’s current campaign—his devastating critique of crony capitalism and his equally trenchant challenge to imperial wars and the assault on our civil liberties that they engender.
Paul is being denigrated as a presidential contender even though on the vital issues of the economy, war and peace, and civil liberties, he has made the most sense of the Republican candidates. And by what standard of logic is it “claptrap” for Paul to attempt to hold the Fed accountable for its destructive policies? That’s the giveaway reference to the raw nerve that his favorable prospects in the Iowa caucuses have exposed. Too much anti–Wall Street populism in the heartland can be a truly scary thing to the intellectual parasites residing in the belly of the beast that controls American capitalism.
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.
A friend of mine, playing devil’s advocate, suggested that if Ron Paul somehow—against the odds—beat Obama and won the Presidency, it would be like throwing a hand grenade into Washington, DC. To the anarchist in me, this DOES seem like, an attractive idea, I admit, but it could sow, uh, “creative chaos” leading to outcomes both much, much better, and far, far worse.
I could never—and will never—cast a vote for someone who admires Ayn Rand or thinks that unfettered free-market capitalism is anything other that a fucking terrible idea, but an immediate end to the drug war, disemboweling the war machine and the Federal Reserve?
Bring it on.
How many candidates on the GOP side are asking the question out loud: “Why are we still protecting Germany from Russia with our tax dollars?”
That’s not a trick question. On the left, only Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich have voiced it.
Here’s the quandary for American Liberals: Do you really, honestly believe Obama is going to address ANY of these issues in the next four years?
It’s preposterous to even fantasize about it, isn’t it? You could safely wager your left hand on it NOT HAPPENING on his watch! We’ve already had plenty of time to observe Obama in action. There is nothing—not a goddamn thing—in his record that indicates he’s seriously ready to address—or even really tinker—in these areas.
Ron Paul’s ideas make both the Right and the Left uncomfortable for different reasons, but mainly because he’s the ONLY candidate running on IDEAS and PRINCIPLES in the race. Whether you agree with these things or not, you can DEBATE them and discuss them rationally.
If the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney, it’s a redux of Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John McCain, John Kerry etc, and every other past sacrificial DOA presidential nominee who was simply the best candidate that they could come up with. Against Obama, Romney’s got “loser” stamped squarely on his forehead. The rest of the GOP field is equally, if not considerably more, difficult to take seriously. Ron Paul, for all of his faults, is the only true wild card in the pack. His candidacy could still catch fire in some unexpected way, something I do not think can be said for the rest of them. In the admittedly somewhat unlikely event that this did occur and Paul has more delegates than Mittens come convention time, the GOP establishment would have no recourse other than rally behind him.
Four more years of Obama is hardly something I can feel positive about. Although I like him and think he’s an extremely intelligent man, he’s basically Bush-lite. Four more years of his half-measure, center-right policies and the shit like NDAA, I could very easily live without.
I might not want to see Ron Paul as President, and as I said above, I would not personally vote for him, no, BUT if he did manage to become the President—I think ALL bets are off for 2012, I really do, expect the unexpected is my motto for this year—I don’t think it’s the worst thing that could happen.
It would at least be interesting to see his ideas—good and bad—debated for as long as possible during this primary season.
And Ron Paul debating Obama? Well, that would be the best television of the year, wouldn’t it?