Should progressives support Ron Paul for “raising the issues” of war and civil liberties? Tim Wise joins the debate. (More)
This commentary is rated MA for mature audiences. It contains some foul language, although honestly, only so much as is needed to get the damned point across. Parental discretion is advised…
Attention to all self-proclaimed liberals and progressives.
I would like to properly introduce you to a man about whom you’ve heard much – especially from his enemies and those who prefer a continuation of the status quo – but at whom you might wish to take a second look, and whom you might consider supporting for president.
Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an immediate end to our current and ongoing wars abroad.
Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an end to predator drone attacks by the United States military, which kill innocent civilians and foment growing hatred of America. He believes that the so-called “war on terror” as we’ve engaged it has undermined American freedoms at home and contributed to greater tensions and anti-American sentiment abroad.
Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an entirely revamped Middle East policy, in which the U.S. will no longer subsidize the oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel.
Unlike Barack Obama, he supports either abolishing or fundamentally reforming the Federal Reserve system, and he opposed bailing out the banks with public funds.
Unlike Barack Obama, this individual opposes government spying and believes in absolute freedom of speech and the press, and as he puts it, “reduced government intrusion into our lives.”
Clearly, with such a progressive vision, no one of the left would want to pass up the opportunity to support a candidate such as this for president! Surely it would be a vast improvement over Barack Obama, that Wall Street-friendly, imperialistic, war-monger, who promised to close Guantanamo but didn’t, among other unforgivable crimes.
So by all means, let’s get behind someone who will close down the national security state, stand up for civil liberties, and stop handing out money to bankers.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the left, I give you your perfect candidate for 2012:
Oh I’m sorry, did you think I was talking about someone else?
Yes, that David Duke: former head of the nation’s largest Ku Klux Klan group and lifelong neo-Nazi, who once said Jews should go into the ashbin of history, and that it would be possible to do what Hitler did, even in America, if white supremacists could just “put the right package together.”
But ya know that whole racist thing doesn’t matter, right? Because he’s against wiretapping.
I mean, yeah, he has analogized Jews to cancer, has called for the partition of the United States into distinct racial sub-nations, and believes in a eugenics program to create an Aryan master race. But who cares? Because he’s against the Patriot Act.
And hey, I mean, let’s be real, none of that really awful stuff he believes in – ya know, like the racial sub-nations, or the eugenics, or the sterilization of welfare recipients, or the whole Hitler-in-America thing, could really happen. I mean, Congress would never agree to all that stuff. So the fact that Duke believes so many truly horrible, inexcusable, thoroughly fucked up, one might even say evil things, shouldn’t deter us from praising him, or even supporting him for president. We have to stop Obama: that spineless coward who didn’t stand up for single-payer. And no, Duke wouldn’t support single payer either. But so what? At least he’d tell the TSA to back off with their whole nudie-picture-body-scans-at-the-airport thing. And that’s what really matters.
And he’d end that Iraq war. Yes, I know, it’s already ending, but he’d end it faster. Like tomorrow. Because ya know, that’s possible: A president can just snap his fingers and poof! The troops all suddenly appear at Andrews Air Force base! It’s fucking magic!
And he’d shut down the Fed! Woo-hoo! That would be awesome: so then interest rates and the money supply could be controlled entirely by private banks, without even a theoretical modicum of public accountability! What progressive wouldn’t love that? And sure, the Fed was created by an act of Congress, but that doesn’t matter: a president with the determination of David Duke can just snap his fingers and poof! All the central bankers will be begging on the streets for change! Like I said, it’s fucking magic!
So yes, he may want to abolish all welfare programs for the poor; and he may want to crack down on immigrants who are trying to make their lives better, by repealing birthright citizenship as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment and militarizing the border; and he might want to repeal Roe v. Wade, by way of a constitutional amendment that would grant full personhood status to zygotes, thereby limiting the reproductive freedom of women; and he may want to slash taxes on the rich, and give tax breaks to parents who want to homeschool their kids and perhaps teach them that dinosaurs and humans co-existed, but who cares? He’s a straight-shooter who stands on principle and will shake up the system and break the political stranglehold exercised currently by the approved establishment candidates. Take that! Zip-Zow!
Alright, enough. Can we just cut the crap?
Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and even the most retrograde political candidates are capable of stringing together a few ideas that make sense. Even David “The Holocaust was made up by some Jewish script writer in Hollywood,” Duke.
And yes, I realize that Ron Paul – this election season’s physical embodiment of the broken clock – is not, literally, as bad as David Duke. Yes, he supports all those incredibly ass-backwards policies rattled off above (about welfare, immigration, abortion, taxes and education), but he is not, like Duke, a Nazi. He is supported by Nazis, like Stormfront – the nation’s largest white nationalist outfit, which is led by Don Black, who’s one of Duke’s best friends, and is married to Duke’s ex-wife, and is Duke’s daughters’ step-dad – but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. Surely it’s not because Paul wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, and allow companies to discriminate in the name of “free association.” And it couldn’t have anything to do with those newsletters that went out under his name, with all kinds of blatantly bigoted commentary about black people being IQ-deficient predators, at a time when he was promoting those very newsletters (and so, presumably, reading them), and not objecting in the least.
Yet to the so-called progressives who sing the praises of Ron Paul, all because of his views on domestic spying, bailouts for banksters, and military intervention abroad, the fact that 90 percent of his political platform is right-wing boilerplate about slashing taxes on the rich, slashing programs for the poor and working class, breaking unions, drilling for oil anywhere and everywhere, and privatizing everything from retirement programs to health care doesn’t matter: the fact that he’ll ostensibly legalize drugs is enough. And this is so, even though he has merely said he would leave drug laws up to the states (which means 49 separate drug wars, everywhere except maybe Vermont, so ya know, congrats hippies!), and he would oppose spending public money on drug rehab or education, both of which you’d need more of if drugs were legalized, but why let little details like that bother you?
Yessir, legal weed and an end to the TSA: enough to make some supposed leftists ignore everything else Ron Paul has ever said, and ignore the fundamental incompatibility of Ayn Randian thinking with anything remotely resembling a progressive or even humane worldview. And this is so, even though he wouldn’t actually have the authority to end the TSA as president, a slight glitch that is conveniently ignored by those who are desperate to once again be able to take large bottles of shaving gel onto airplanes in the name of “liberty.”
I want those of you who are seriously singing Paul’s praises, while calling yourself progressive or left to ask what it signifies – not about Ron Paul, but about you – that you can look the rest of us in the eye, your political colleagues and allies, and say, in effect, “Well, he might be a little racist, but…
How do you think that sounds to black people, without whom no remotely progressive candidate stands a chance of winning shit in this country at a national level? How does it sound to them – a group that has been more loyal to progressive and left politics than any group in this country – when you praise a man who opposes probably the single most important piece of legislation ever passed in this country, and whose position on the right of businesses to discriminate, places him on the side of the segregated lunchcounter owners? And how do you think they take it that you praise this man, or possibly even support him for president, all so as to teach the black guy currently in the office a lesson for failing to live up to your expectations?
How do you think it sounds to them, right now, this week, as we prepare to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, that you claim to be progressive, and yet you are praising or even encouraging support for a man who voted against that holiday, who opposes almost every aspect of King’s public policy agenda, and the crowning achievements of the movement he helped lead?
My guess is that you don’t think about this at all. Because you don’t have to. One guess as to why not.
It’s the same reason you don’t have to think about how it sounds to most women – and damned near all progressive women – when you praise Paul openly despite his views on reproductive freedom, and even sexual harassment, which Paul has said should not even be an issue for the courts. He thinks women who are harassed on the job should just quit. In other words, “Yeah, he might be a little bit sexist, but…”
It’s the same reason you don’t have to really sweat the fact that he would love to cut important social programs for poor people. And you don’t have to worry about how it sounds to them that you would claim to be progressive, while encouraging support for a guy who would pull what minimal safety net still exists from under them, and leave it to private charities to fill the gap. And we all know why you don’t have to worry about it. Because you aren’t them. You aren’t the ones who would be affected. You’ll never be them. I doubt you even know anyone like that. People who are that poor don’t follow you on Twitter.
There is a reason why Ron Paul rallies, and the street-corner Paul-supporting pseudo-flash mobs are overwhelmingly, disproportionately comprised of white, middle class men. And it matters. Surely it is not because white, middle class men are more likely than others to oppose war, torture, drone killings of Muslim children, or bailouts of rich bankers. It is not because white, middle class men are more progressive when it comes to civil liberties than women, poor people or folks of color. Indeed, the opposite is true.
I’ve talked with them on numerous occasions, these Paul devotees, with their “Who is John Galt?” signs, with their 20-minute spiels about why it’s so important to invest in gold, and whispered assurances that “they” will never tell you the truth about the Illuminati, or the Rothschilds, or the Bilderbergers, or Tower 7, or vitamin supplements. They never talk about the institutional racism at the heart of the drug war. They never talk about how we need to rethink the war on terror (except insofar as it inconveniences them to be body scanned at the airport, when everyone knows, we should just be checking brown-skinned men in turbans). These guys are largely attracted to Paul because he’ll get government off their backs, by lowering their taxes, cutting spending that helps poor people whom they regard as lazy, ending the “suffocating” regulations that they believe stifle innovation, and vouchsafing their God-given right to own any and all manner of assault rifle they desire, the latter of which they simply “know” President Obama is going to forcibly confiscate, along with their handguns, rifles, and maybe even Super-Soakers any day now.
In short, regardless of what Paul may believe on certain issues, and which may fall squarely in the orbit of that which is progressive or left, his hard-core acolytes (and the ones who would be empowered most by his success) are anything but that. They want the government to stop taking their tax dollars and “giving them” to Mexicans and blacks, or anyone of any race or ethnicity who in their mind isn’t smart enough or hard working enough to have their own private health care. They don’t want the government to help homeowners who got roped into predatory loans by banks and independent mortgage brokers: instead they blame the homeowners for not being savvy enough borrowers, or they blame government regulation for ostensibly “forcing” lenders to finance housing for minorities and poor people who didn’t deserve it.
And no, you can’t separate the man from his movement, so don’t even try.
When you support or give credence to a candidate, you indirectly empower that candidate’s worldview and others who hold fast to it. So when you support or even substantively praise Ron Paul, you are empowering libertarianism, and its offshoots like Ayn Rand’s “greed is good” objectivism, and all those who believe in it. You are empowering the fans of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, in which books they learn that altruism is immoral, and that only the self matters. You are empowering the reactionary, white supremacist, Social Darwinists of this culture, who believe – as does Ron Paul – that that Greensboro Woolworth’s was right, and that the police who dragged sit-in protesters off soda fountain stools for trespassing on a white man’s property were justified in doing so, and that the freedom of department store owners to refuse to let black people try on clothes in their dressing rooms was more sacrosanct than the right of black people to be treated like human beings.
See, believe it or not, judgment matters. If a man believes there is a straight line of unbroken tyranny betwixt the torture and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists on the one hand, and anti-discrimination laws that seek to extend to all persons equal opportunity, on the other, that man is a lunatic. Worse than a lunatic, that man is a person of such extraordinarily obtuse philosophical and moral discernment as to call into real question whether he should even be allowed to go through life absent the protective and custodial assistance of a straightjacket, let alone hold office. That one might believe in unicorns would still allow one to profess a level of sagacity and synaptic activity in one’s brain several measures beyond that of the man who thinks liberty is equally imperiled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as by the CIA.
That any liberal, progressive or leftist could waste so much as a kind word about someone as this is mind-boggling. There are not many litmus tests for being a progressive in good standing in this country, but one would think, if there were, that surely to God, civil rights would be one of them. It is one thing to disagree about the proper level of taxation, either on the wealthy or corporations: honest people can disagree about that, and for reasons that would still permit one to claim the mantle of liberalism or progressivism; so too with defense spending, drug policy, trade, education reform, energy policy, and any number of other things. But the notion that one can be a progressive, even merely liberal, while praising someone who believes that companies should be allowed to post “No Blacks Need Apply” signs if they wish, and that only the market should determine whether that kind of bigotry will stand, is so stupefying that it should render even the most cynical of us utterly bereft of words. It is, or should be, a deal-breaker among decent people.
And please, Glenn Greenwald, spare me the tired shtick about how Paul “raises important issues” that no one on the left is raising, and so even though you’re not endorsing him, it is still helpful to a progressive narrative that his voice be heard. Bullshit. The stronger Paul gets the stronger Paul gets, period. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger libertarianism gets, and thus, the Libertarian Party as a potential third party: not the Greens, mind you, but the Libertarians. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger become those voices who worship the free market as though it were an invisible fairy godparent, capable of dispensing all good things to all comers – people like Paul Ryan, for instance, or Scott Walker. In a nation where the dominant narrative has long been anti-tax, anti-regulation, poor-people-bashing and God-bless-capitalism, it would be precisely those aspects of Paul’s ideological grab bag that would become more prominent. And if you don’t know that, you are a fool of such Herculean proportions as to suggest that Salon might wish to consider administering some kind of political-movement-related-cognitive skills test for its columnists, and the setting of a minimum cutoff score, below which you would, for this one stroke of asininity alone, most assuredly fall.
I mean, seriously, if “raising important issues” is all it takes to get some kind words from liberal authors, bloggers and activists, and maybe even votes from some progressives, just so as to “shake things up,” then why not support David Duke? With the exception of his views on the drug war, David shares every single view of Paul’s that can be considered progressive or left in orientation. Every single one. So where do you draw the line? Must one have actually donned a Klan hood and lit a cross before his handful of liberal stands prove to be insufficient? Must one actually, as Duke has been known to do, light candles on a birthday cake for Hitler on April 20, before it no longer proves adequate to want to limit the overzealous reach of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? Exactly when does one become too much of an evil fuck even for you? Inquiring minds seriously want to know.
Meanwhile, at what point do you stop being so concerned about whether a presidential candidate is pushing the issues Paul raises (so many of which do need raising and attention), and realize what every actual leftist in history has realized, but which apparently some liberals and progressives don’t: namely, that the real battles are in the streets, and in the neighborhoods, and in movement activism? It isn’t a president, whether his name is Ron Paul or Barack Obama who gets good things done. It is us, demanding change and threatening to literally shut the system down (whether we mean Wall Street, the Port of Oakland, the Wisconsin state capitol, Columbia University, a Woolworth’s lunch counter, or the Montgomery, Alabama bus system) who force presidents and lawmakers to bend to the public will.
In short, if you’re still disappointed in Barack Obama, it’s only because you never understood whose job it was to produce change in the first place. But don’t take out your own failings in this regard on the rest of us, by giving ideological cover and assorted journalistic love taps to a guy who believes the poor should rely on the charitable impulses of doctors to provide for their medical needs, including, one presumes, chemotherapy; or that America was meant to be a “robustly Christian” nation, but is being currently undermined by “secularists;” or who puts the term gay rights in quotation marks when he writes it, and believes states should be free to criminalize homosexual intercourse, and who is such a homophobe that he won’t even use the bathroom in a gay man’s house; or who has all but said that he would like to take America back to the early 1800s, in terms of the scope of government: a truly glorious time to be sure, if you were white, male and owned property.
Ya know, like some of the liberal “thinkers” who have, as of late, decided to praise Ron Paul.
© 2012, Tim Wise. Republished by permission.