Editor's Note: The libertarian candidate is surging in the GOP primary—but is this something progressives should cheer? Paul's opposition to war and his plan to audit the Federal Reserve have garnered praise from some on the left, including Truthdig's Robert Scheer. But as The Nation's Ben Adler argues, Paul's isolationism and opposition to multilateral institutions like the UN are troubling, as are his positions on civil rights. Meanwhile, Katha Pollitt points out that Paul's vocal supporters on the left are all white men—for a reason.
What is it with progressive mancrushes on right-wing Republicans? For years, until he actually got nominated, John McCain was the recipient of lefty smooches equaled only by those bestowed upon Barack Obama before he had to start governing. You might disagree with what McCain stood for, went the argument, but he had integrity, and charisma, and some shiny mavericky positions—on campaign finance reform and gun control and… well, those two anyway.
Now Ron Paul is getting the love. At Truthdig, Robert Scheer calls him “a profound and principled contributor to a much-needed national debate on the limits of federal power.” In The Nation, John Nichols praises his “pure conservatism,” “values” and “principle.” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald is so outraged that progressives haven’t abandoned the warmongering, drone-sending, indefinite-detention-supporting Obama for Paul that he accuses them of supporting the murder of Muslim children. There’s a Paul fan base in the Occupy movement and at Counterpunch, where Alexander Cockburn is a longtime admirer. Paul is a regular guest of Jon Stewart, who has yet to ask him a tough question. And yes, these are all white men; if there are leftish white women and people of color who admire Paul, they’re keeping pretty quiet.
Ron Paul has an advantage over most of his fellow Republicans in having an actual worldview, instead of merely a set of interests—he opposes almost every power the federal government has and almost everything it does. Given Washington’s enormous reach, it stands to reason that progressives would find targets to like in Paul’s wholesale assault. I, too, would love to see the end of the “war on drugs” and our other wars. I, too, am shocked by the curtailment of civil liberties in pursuit of the “war on terror,” most recently the provision in the NDAA permitting the indefinite detention, without charge, of US citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. But these are a handful of cherries on a blighted tree. In a Ron Paul America, there would be no environmental protection, no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare, no help for the poor, no public education, no civil rights laws, no anti-discrimination law, no Americans With Disabilities Act, no laws ensuring the safety of food or drugs or consumer products, no workers’ rights. How far does Paul take his war against Washington? He wants to abolish the Federal Aviation Authority and its pesky air traffic controllers. He has one magic answer to every problem—including how to land an airplane safely: let the market handle it.
It’s a little strange to see people who inveigh against Obama’s healthcare compromises wave away, as a detail, Paul’s opposition to any government involvement in healthcare. In Ron Paul’s America, if you weren’t prudent enough or wealthy enough to buy private insurance—and the exact policy that covers what’s ailing you now—you find a charity or die. And if civil liberties are so important, how can Paul’s progressive fans overlook his opposition to abortion and his signing of the personhood pledge, which could ban many birth control methods? Last time I checked, women were half the population (the less important half, apparently). Technically, Paul would overturn Roe and let states make their own laws regulating women’s bodies, up to and including prosecuting abortion as murder. Add in his opposition to basic civil rights law—he maintains his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and opposes restrictions on the “freedom” of business owners to refuse service to blacks—and his hostility to the federal government starts looking more and more like old-fashioned Southern-style states’ rights. No wonder they love him over at Stormfront, a white-supremacist website with neo-Nazi tendencies. In a multiple-choice poll of possible effects of a Paul presidency, the most popular answer by far was “Paul will implement reforms that increase liberty which will indirectly benefit White Nationalists.” And let’s not forget his other unsavory fan base, Christian extremists who want to execute gays, adulterers and “insubordinate children.” Paul’s many connections with the Reconstructionist movement, going back decades, are laid out on AlterNet by Adele Stan, who sees him as a faux libertarian whose real agenda is not individualism but to prevent the federal government from restraining the darker impulses at work at the state and local levels.
It’s all pretty incoherent for a man often praised as principled and consistent and profound—if states could turn themselves into a Christian theocracy, could they also turn themselves into socialist mini-republics? If they can ban contraception, can they also compel contraception? For people who see Paul as an antiwar candidate who will restore the Bill of Rights, it’s almost bad manners to bring up his opposition to just about every piece of progressive legislation passed in the last 200 years, from the Occupational Safety and Health Act and membership in the UN to Federal Deposit Insurance and requirements that undocumented immigrants be permitted treatment in ERs. But come on! This man has been a stone reactionary his entire life. Consistent? Not to harp on abortion, but an effective ban would require a level of policing that would make the war on drugs look feeble.
If Ron Paul was interested in peace, he wouldn’t be a Republican—that party has even more enthusiasm for the military-industrial complex than the Democrats. For decades the GOP has turned every election into a contest over who is more macho, more nationalistic, more willing to do exactly the things lefty Paul fans excoriate Obama for doing. Paul doesn’t get re-elected in his Texas district because of boutique positions like thinking Osama bin Laden should have been arrested, not assassinated.
Supporting Ralph Nader in 2000 was at least a vote for one’s actual politics. Supporting Ron Paul is just a gesture of frivolity—or despair.
Katha Pollitt wonders about a supposed progressive mancrush on Ron Paul. It's really quite simple.
1) Unlike Obama, Paul rejects the Bush doctrine, a militaristic foreign policy aimed at expanding American hegemony into the Muslim world, especially in those nations with a lot of oil.
2) Ron Paul also rejects the unconstitutional usurpation of power by the executive branch that was perpetrated first by Bush and now by Obama. Paul seems to beleive in the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Geneva Convention. Bush and Obama violated all three.
3) Ron Paul would finally bring the Federal Reserve, a de facto fourth branch of government, under the authority of the legitimate federal government and presumably stop the Fed from giving away trillions of taxpayer dollars to this privately-owned entity.
In his piece "Marginalizing Ron Paul" Robert Scheer makes a few arguments in defense of Paul's campaign that are at odds with basic liberal values. He complains that the New York Times editorial page considers Paul's campaign "not worthy of serious consideration" because, as the Times' notes, Paul's platform consists of "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.” One would think that liberals would be able to agree that opposing basic legal equality for American citizens, selfishly refusing to aid those less fortunate at home and abroad and wanting to prevent our government from combatting deflation, recession and unemployment would, indeed, disqualify you from being president. But no.
Scheer, like many other white male commentators, laments that "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." His opposition to civil rights and his racist writings should not outweigh the focus of his current campaign, Scheer argues. Remarkably enough, I have yet to see a single person of color make this argument.
More importantly, the argument is false on its own terms. Paul does not make more sense on the economy than his Republican opponents. Eliminating all social programs is not a better alternative to most Republicans' desire merely to cut or privatize them. And on monetary policy, Paul's desire to return to the gold standard would be devastating to rich and poor alike. The next time our economy falters, we'd be unable to lower interest rates or engage in quantitative easing to stimulate it. Meanwhile, on war and peace, there is much saner alternative to Paul: Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China. Huntsman—a realist whereas Paul is an isolationist—is the true inheritor to the mainstream Republican foreign policy that dominated the party before it was hijacked by neoconservatives. Huntsman proposes to cut military spending, remove troops from unnecessary posts abroad and withdraw from Afghanistan. Unlike Paul, he doesn't propose to withdraw from the United Nations, nor does he harbor demonstrably false fantasies of the UN storming into your home to take away your guns.
Scheer asserts "It is hypocritical that Paul is now depicted as the archenemy of non-white minorities when it was his nemesis, the Federal Reserve, that enabled the banking swindle that wiped out 53 percent of the median wealth of African-Americans and 66 percent for Latinos, according to the Pew Research Center." Just who is being hypocritical? Writers such as myself who neglect to mention the Fed's role in the housing market every time we note Paul's racism? There is no connection between the two. Scheer argues that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Tell to that African-Americans and people with disabilities who would not be protected from discrimination in workplaces or places of public accommodation in Ron Paul's America. Would they be hypocrites if they complained about a Paul administration not enforcing civil rights law without always mentioning that Paul is a great friend to minorities because he hates the Federal Reserve? Moreover, Paul's stance on the Fed gets way too much credit from his left-wing supporters such as Scheer. Just because he has identified some problems with the institution doesn't mean that his solution—abolition and return to the gold standard—would be an improvement.
If liberals can't agree that opposition to civil rights disqualifies you from the presidency, what can we agree on?
Amen, Ben. The lefty support for Paul would bother me, except for the fact that (as proven in election after election) "lefty support" amounts to something less than a hill of beans. I'd love to see the lefty reaction if Paul were ever in a position to actually devolve federal power back to state governments. Yeah, here in Texas, I'd feel lots more free with Gov. Perry unleashed from that nasty old federal law... In any event, this is all a lot of noise over very little. Paul may manage, if he runs as an indy, to generate some unintentional comic relief during the campaign, but that will be the extent of his impact. Damn good thing, too.
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This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
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.
It is hypocritical that Paul is now depicted as the archenemy of non-white minorities when it was his nemesis, the Federal Reserve, that enabled the banking swindle that wiped out 53 percent of the median wealth of African-Americans and 66 percent for Latinos, according to the Pew Research Center.
The Fed sits at the center of the rot and bears the major responsibility for tolerating the runaway mortgage-backed securities scam that is at the core of our economic crisis. After the meltdown it was the Fed that led ultra secret machinations to bail out the banks while ignoring the plight of the their exploited customers.
To his credit, Paul marshaled bipartisan support to pass a bill requiring the first-ever public audit of the Federal Reserve. That audit is how readers of the Timesfirst learned of the Fed’s trillions of dollars in secret loans and aid given to the banks as a reward for screwing over the public.
As for the Times’s complaint that Paul seeks to unreasonably cut the federal budget by one-third, it should be noted that his is a rare voice in challenging irrationally high military spending. At a time when the president has signed off on a cold war–level defense budget and his potential opponents in the Republican field want to waste even more on high-tech weapons to fight a sophisticated enemy that doesn’t exist, Paul has emerged as the only serious peace candidate. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Paul last week warned an Iowa audience, “Watch out for the military-industrial complex—they always have an enemy. Nobody is going to invade us. We don’t need any more [weapons systems].”
As another recent example of Paul’s sanity on the national security issues that have led to a flight from reason on the part of politicians since the 9/11 attacks, I offer the Texan’s criticism this week of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The act would allow the president to order indeterminate military imprisonment without trial of those accused of supporting terrorism, a policy that Obama signed into law and Paul opposes, as the congressman did George W. Bush’s Patriot Act. Paul said:
“Little by little, in the name of fighting terrorism, our Bill of Rights is being repealed.... The Patriot Act, as bad as its violation of the 4th Amendment, was just one step down the slippery slope. The recently passed [NDAA] continues that slip toward tyranny and in fact accelerates it significantly.... The Bill of Rights has no exemption for ‘really bad people’ or terrorists or even non-citizens. It is a key check on government power against any person. This is not a weakness in our legal system; it is the very strength of our legal system.”
That was exactly the objection raised by the New York Times in its own excellent editorial challenging the constitutionality of the NDAA. It should not be difficult for those same editorial writers to treat Ron Paul as a profound and principled contributor to a much-needed national debate on the limits of federal power instead of attempting to marginalize his views beyond recognition.
Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
I understand the fact that Scheer appreciates some of Paul's virtues that put him at odds with his bully-boy, Big-Biz peers in the GOP; what I don't understand is why he chose to praise those qualities while completely overlooking the components of Paul's small government that make him so scary. What's his position on entitlements? What's his position on foreign aid and diplomatic efforts that are genuinely constructive? What's his answer to the growing inequality in wealth in America? Doesn't it seem likely that his hands-off posture would likely accelerate it? This article is sort of a reverse scarecrow, isn't it?
Instead of fussing so much about his stated positions, we should look at Paul's voting record. He DID vote to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and is opposed to DOMA because it is a federal ban on same-sex marriage. He has made common cause in Congress with both Allan Grayson and Barney Frank.
It would be great to see him debate Obama directly as the Republican nominee, especially on foreign policy, on matters where Obama has a lot of explaining to do.
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In the Republican presidential primary, everyone but Rick Santorum seems destined to have his or her moment. Now is Ron Paul’s. Paul is polling well in Iowa and respectably in New Hampshire. Sharp attack ads against Newt Gingrich helped the media remember he is still running and deflated Gingrich’s balloon.
And Paul is getting some of the adoration from certain pundits that he enjoyed last time. Andrew Sullivan recently endorsed Paul for the Republican nomination. Glenn Greenwald of Salon defends Paul against perceived slights from the media.
The liberal counter-argument tends to be that while Paul is good on foreign policy and civil liberties, he is wildly wrong on economic issues. As Patrick Caldwell of The American Prospect wrote, “While his foreign policy and defense of civil liberties might appeal to the progressive heart, Paul jumps off a cliff when it comes to the economy.” It’s certainly true that Paul’s economic views are extremist and strange. But, unfortunately, Paul isn’t a progressive on much of anything else either.
Here are three crucial myths about Paul:
He has any chance whatsoever of winning the Republican nomination. Paul’s chances of winning the nomination are 7.7 percent, according to InTrade, and significantly better than Jon Huntsman’s, according to Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan cites the polling numbers as his reason for endorsing Paul over Huntsman. “The constant refrain on Fox News that this man has ‘zero chance’ [emphasis in original] of being the nominee is a propagandistic lie,” writes Sullivan. “Nationally, Paul is third in the polls at 9.7 percent.” It appears that Sullivan, who himself endorsed the Iraq War, is unaware of the foreign policy views of the majority of Republican voters. Paul sparks enthusiasm among his supporters and can perform impressively in events with a small sample size where turning out supporters can skew results. That’s why he wins straw polls and may do well in caucus states.
But there is a ceiling on his support. There are too many Republicans who disagree strongly with his views on Iran, Israel and military spending. No one has ever gone negative on Paul because no one has had to. As John Nichols explains, the minute the Republican establishment seriously fears he could win, they will coalesce around his opponents and aggressively attack his more unpopular and quirky ideas, as well as exhuming any skeletons in his closet. Case in point, Sean Hannity recently asked on his Fox News show whether Paul “has been given a pass” on his racist newsletters. Indeed, he has, for instance by Hannity himself who neglected to raise the subject when he hosted Paul on his radio show. If Paul has a chance, that will change.
He supports individual freedom. True, as his fans always say, Paul supports protecting civil liberties from the federal government and opposes the Patriot Act. But it seems never to have occurred to those writers that half the country consists of women who might want to exercise the freedom to control their own reproductive organs. Paul opposes abortion rights and he talks out of both sides of his mouth on the issue. Paul says he wants Roe v. Wade repealed so the issue can be decided by the states. But Paul voted for the federal ban on “partial birth” abortions.
In general, Paul’s commitment is only to limiting federal power, not proactively protecting individual rights. Passing federal legislation to protect civil rights from states or private enterprises, and rigorous enforcement of those laws, is not on Paul’s agenda. Indeed, he opposes doing so. Paul says the Americans with Disabilities Act “should never have been passed,” because “it’s an intrusion into private property rights.” He even says he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If Congress passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to ban discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation, Paul would presumably veto it. As Adele Stan writes in Alternet, Paul’s newsletters—which have garnered attention for their racist passages—also included homophobic conspiracy theorizing.
He is liberal on foreign policy. Just because Ron Paul opposes imperialism and unnecessary invasions of foreign countries doesn’t mean he has a liberal or progressive bone in his body. Paul is a nationalist and isolationist, staunchly opposed to multilateral organizations. This isn’t good for international peacekeeping or other humanitarian efforts, nor arms control. Paul opposes all foreign aid. Promoting democracy and human rights are of no interest to Paul, even through peaceful means. He also opposes immigration and wants to eliminate America’s constitutional policy of birthright citizenship.
As Michael Cohen explains in Foreign Policy, Paul’s foreign policy would undermine many progressive aims. “There is far more to Paul’s view than just his opposition to U.S. military adventurism,” writes Cohen. “Paul also believes that the United States should depart from all international organizations and global alliances. This includes not just NATO, but also the United Nations and the World Health Organization.” Indeed, in 1990 Paul appeared in a crazed video of the John Birch Society claiming the UN would take away Americans’ gun rights, property rights and their right to practice religion freely.
In short, you don’t even need to think about Paul’s bizarre right-wing economic views to find him unacceptable.
You can watch the John Birch video from 1990 here:
Scheer's point that Federal Reserve policies robbed African-Americans and Hispanics of much of their accumulated wealth is certainly accurate (and tragic). The Fed policies were color-blind, but those on the bottom of the economic ladder clearly suffered more. But we don't need Ron Paul to correct that.
As someone with more than a few progressive bones in my body, I have been extremely disappointed with Obama's reliance on guys like Geithner and Summers for advice on how to guide the economy. The strategies those two promote may expand the 1 percent by 0.0000001 percent. They are protectors of the monied class, plain and simple. But how does going back to the gold standard make things better? Doesn't anyone recall William Jennings Bryan's "cross of gold" speech? Just my theory, but I see Paul and all the gold bugs as trying to foster massive deflation and performing massive social engineering through that. For all the claims that government promotes social engineering, economic realities do more in that regard than anything a democratic government could ever do. We can argue about the condition of our democracy, but clearly there are checks and balances in place to prevent total dominance of economic factors. I believe Paul would totally remove any chance government would have to promote a more balanced approach.