There’s a joke on the new tumblr, Shit Liberals Say To Radicals, that goes, ‘Sure, Obama’s not perfect, but consider the alternative.’ Followed by the fine print, ‘I did, it’s called socialism.’
It’s amusing, especially so given the debate that has occurred on Twitter and around the blogosphere this past fortnight. Discussion in Australia was spurred by the post ‘Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies’, by left-leaning libertarian Glenn Greenwald, a blogger frequently read by the Australian left because of his obsession with America’s declining empire.
When I first read it I thought, ‘Wow, America’s a terrifying nation.’ The post spells out developments in US foreign and domestic policies since Obama took office, many to do with the War on Terror and the surveillance state. It’s a truly frightening list.
Greenwald’s article also emphasised the importance of Ron Paul’s presence in the 2012 election race, because, Greenwald alleged, his very presence was a ‘mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception’.
I took Greenwald at his word and the argument made sense to me: nowadays, the Democrats are a party of pro-war, pro-corporate imperialists, and pretty much indistinguishable from the Bush administration of six years ago. As such, Paul was raising an important inclusion in the electoral debate – the wars – an issue everyone else was ignoring. I thought Greenwald was saying that Paul had stolen ground from a party that claims antiwar credentials, and was pushing for a split in the Democratic Party between actual progressives and the Obama-apologist camp. (I am now unsure about Greenwald’s position and intent, but that changes little in this post.)
But here’s the thing: Ron Paul is a dangerous, despicable man. In the 80s and 90s, Paul’s office published a series of racist newsletters that included such assessments as:
A mob of black demonstrators, led by the ‘Rev.’ Al Sharpton, occupied and closed the Statue of Liberty recently, demanding that New York be renamed Martin Luther King City ‘to reclaim it for our people.’ Hmmm. I hate to agree with the Rev. Al, but maybe a name change is in order. Welfaria? Zooville? Rapetown? Dirtburg? Lazyopolis? But Al, the Statue of Liberty? Next time, hold that demonstration at a food stamp bureau or a crack house.
He’s promoted as ‘antiwar’, yet longs to get troops on the US–Mexico border:
[W]e do have a national responsibility for our borders. What I’m, sort of, tired of is all the money spent and lives lost worrying about the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and forgetting about our borders between the U.S. and Mexico. We should think more about, you know, what we do at home.
And has a whole raft of anti-people objectives, such as abolishing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Plus he hates people of colour (see above), gay people, women, unions, employees and anyone opposed to business, and, like all Republicans, has signed the Personhood Pledge, which begins:
I __________________ proclaim that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and is endowed by our Creator with the unalienable right to life.
I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.”
With the promised legislation stating that ‘life begins at conception’, the law won’t only affect abortion and reproductive rights, it also means no euthanasia, no stem cell research, and another President who checks in with God, the religious right and corporate America before passing legislation.
Paul may be anti-empire, but, as the above policies declare (in neon!), he doesn’t sit anywhere on the Left. In fact, he’s so far right he has ties to white supremacists, militias and neo-Nazis. (Then again, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Republican who didn’t.) The theory behind Paul’s antiwar positions come from isolationist and libertarian politics so, basically, the opposite of leftwing. His platform is also opportunistic: there was an antiwar silence, so he filled it.
Via Mother Jones, Paul’s politics in a Venn-shell:
Mother Jones also examined what makes the 9% of Americans who identify as libertarians tick:
85% are white.
67% are men.
53% are under 50.
59% say they are satisfied financially.
82% say government is almost always inefficient and wasteful.
67% say they’re politically independent, yet
70% say they’ll vote for a Republican in 2012.
27% say Mitt Romney is their top pick;
13% say Ron Paul.
36% say they don’t know where Obama was born.
38% regularly watch Fox News.
60% say we shouldn’t give up privacy to be safer from terrorism.
54% support legalizing pot.
71% say homosexuality should be accepted,
yet only 43% support gay marriage.
63% say there’s no solid evidence of global warming.
Modern day Republicanism, on the other hand, could be crudely reduced to assorted arrangements of neoliberalism mixed with social conservatism. Paul’s arrangement is a confusing order, one that makes his policies seem progressive. Clearly they’re not, and if any Democrats or independents were running on an antiwar or anti-Empire platform, Paul would be exposed as the sham he is.
Presently, Paul is winning 20% of the Republican vote. However, libertarians aren’t voting for him (he’s only polling 13% there) and neither are the Tea Party (where Santorum’s doubling Paul’s vote). So who is voting for Paul within the Republican Party (remember, you have to be a member of the party to vote in the primaries)? Where is his base? Presumably, it’s the moderate pro-market, pro-family conservatives.
When there is no Left, it leaves space for somebody else to dress up as Left. Shouldn’t we be asking, where is the real Left? Obama has adopted and legislated policies Bush would never have got through, which shows the ground the Left has relinquished over the last decade. In what ways is the Obama camp now progressive?
This is not an issue of an antiwar right (which would most definitely be a bad development as it would mobilise people to the Right). Look around: there is no US antiwar right; in fact, polling suggests Paul’s inconsistent platform is generally unpopular with Republicans, with Democrats, with libertarians, even with the Tea Party. What’s more, why would voters put their trust in Paul to end the wars? I suspect they learned that lesson – the one where deadlines pass, and things turn out to be more ‘complicated’ than previously thought – with Obama.
Rather, Paul’s presence in the race reveals that nothing about foreign policy is being debated in the US. Indeed, it challenges Obama supporters, who’ve been completely dishonest (or delusional) about their relationship to really vicious, pro-market foreign policy to say something.
I don’t deny that a debate is occurring among the liberals in the States regarding Ron Paul, on Greenwald’s blog, on Firedoglake, on Z blogs, on Corey Robin and in the writings of young activists. And it is disquieting when Dr Cornel West comes out and says:
Many young people like Ron Paul because he speaks from his soul! He has very deep convictions, and we know he might have the chance of a snowball in hell of winning, but at least people want give him credit for being real/authentic. And I resonate with that as well. When he talks about the American Empire, I say YES we need to talk about the American Empire. But when he goes off into his Libertarian projections, then I know he’s living in a different world.
Disquieting because it’s almost as though West sees that his anti-Empire stance comes from the same position as Paul’s – and what does he mean, ‘libertarian projects’? That’s not very specific. Who can say what information will sway young or swinging voters?
And yet, this assumes that young progressives aren’t able to reason through the issues themselves. Yes, there is a debate happening across the liberal blogosphere, but other liberals are citing serious concerns about the Obama administration, as well as political opposition to the Grand Old Party and Paul. (See, for instance, the Twitter feed of actor John Cusack, a well-known progressive liberal.) And those grassroots activists, traditionally part of the Democratic base, would they really identify with Paul, given his racism, homophobia, opposition to welfare, civil rights legislation and abortion?
In my opinion, this Paul frenzy is an army of straw men. Paul isn’t a genuine candidate, as he’s not pulling enough votes to take the Republican ticket. He is in no way a viable candidate. This kind of attention and concentration, however, does have the potential to make him seem like a legitimate alternative to progressive politicians.
Meanwhile, the rest of the GOP nominees are equally as creepy, particularly Rick Santorum, who claims ‘there are no Palestinians’, and that contraception is dangerous because ‘it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be’. He’s a member of K Street, has ties to militias, the far right and is currently the preferred candidate of the Tea Party.
The debate around Ron Paul and his platform should be a gigantic red flag to the Democrats about their backing of Obama and his pro-war, pro-market administration, which is about to be elected for another term. But Ron Paul? Neither the next President, nor a fascist leader in the making.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
Subscribe | Renew | Donate November 9–16 to support progressive literary culture for another year – and for the chance to win magnificent prizes!