The Left and Ron Paul
Jan 5, 2012

The Left and Ron Paul

There is an ongoing debate amoung the left on how to view Ron Paul. Should we like him or hate him, support him or reject him? The fundamental distinction in my mind is between viewing Ron Paul as sometimes useful in the propagation of certain ideas in the larger political discussion, and between finding Ron Paul to be some form of Champion for us.

To progressives, there are many things they can like about Ron Paul. Whether it is the assault on civil liberties that have been extended under Obama, whether it is the massive military empire and multiple covert, ineffective, and illegal wars, whether it is the trillion dollar boondoggle of the drug war, or whether it is that particularly noxious mix of corporatism and crony governance, Ron Paul speaks out on many issues that we can either agree with entirely, or be closely allied with.

The problem, of course, is that Ron Paul is pushing far more than just the select issues that progressives can identity with him on. He is a full on, ideological libertarian and this view, largely consistently, underpins all of his policy positions. It is a libertarian worldview that has almost no place for government.

I am not a Libertarian, and have been consistently critical of this ideology (and many others) on this blog. I believe that the utopian end game of a libertarian society is infleasable and would be horrible if implemented, and that attempts to move in that direction are dangerous and damaging. If you are a Libertarian, then championing Ron Paul makes a lot of sense. However, if you are like most of us - that is, decidedly not a Libertarian - then championing Ron Paul, especially with the fervor many devote to him, makes little sense. We should seek out and promote those - and many exist - that not only are on the right side on the issues we agree with Ron Paul on, but don't also have an immutable ideology entirely inconsistent with many of our core values and world view.

Even many of the ideas on which we might be allied on, the underlying reasons may be very different. For example, the non-interventionalist stance of Ron Paul is based on the idea that governments have no rights to impinge in any way on other people, citizens or otherwise. In contrast, I believe that we do have a moral responsibility and obligation to attempt to do what is best for other people, and that the mechanisms of government can be very effective at this. So while we may have large agreements over policies in, say, Afghanistan, I would aim to act if it could legitimately improve that society, while Ron Paul never would. The differences in underlying reasons is important, even if at times, here and there, there is an overlap in the resulting policies. Further, this shouldn't be framed as having some issues one supports and some issues one doesn't support, it is having a fundamental difference at the core of our respective ideologies. I might endorse trying to get Ron Paul's vote for a congressional resolution because he could be an ally on an issue, but hardly as a champion of my worldview.

The value of propagating ideas:
That said, I do believe there is value in having Ron Paul get as much attention as he has in the GOP nomination contest.  Despite the protestations of some supporters to the contrary, Ron Paul simply has no choice of winning the nomination or the presidency (altough he just might win Iowa). As such, the importance of a Ron Paul is entirely on the side of the competition of deas in society in which people with a louder microphone - and Ron Paul certainly has a louder microphone than most, asymmetric media attention notwithstanding - are the most influential at pushing various ideas into the competitive exchange of ideas. The status of ideas in our society makes legitimate differences in society through many mechanisms such as other candidates and leaders moving in the direction of these new ideas in order to try and appeal to the people in society that maintain them.

Ron Paul pushes some ideas that I like. And he pushing many ideas that I very much dislike. I think we are better off that crucial issues I care about - from the drug war to the military empire - do get thrust forward on such a loud stage when, without him, these ideas would be silent in the void of bipartisan consensus over them. And I think we are worse off that issues I deeply disagree with - from the broadly libertarian domestic worldview to being excessively pro-life - get the attention that they do pushed by him.

However, it is somewhat asymmetric in the follow sense. Every candidate on the GOP stage is pro-life and wants to overturn Roe v Wade. Every candidate on the stage makes frequent and emphatic appeals against the idea of 'government' in general and promises large scale reductions of it. They make out, at least rhetorically, that government is the key nemesis in society, to be fought against and eliminated. Ron Paul's libertarianism just takes the rhetoric further and backs it up with his policies in a more consistent and ideological manner. While Rick Perry might aim to eliminate three departments right of the bat, Ron Paul promises us five departments eliminated, and would surely continue towards libertarian worldview from there. In contrast, the assault on civil liberties and the expanding military empire and drug wars under first Bush and then Obama are issues that get zero attention by other Republicans.

As such, the good parts to Ron Paul are issues with almost no attention that desperately need attention. And the bad parts are issues that are currently very prevalent; Ron Paul strengthens and extends them a bit, but the meme that government is an inheriently bad - and even evil - entity is not at all rare. This assymetry is what makes me conclude that Ron Paul is a net positive in the race and in the larger debate over ideas in our society.

Further, Ron Paul brings something to US politics that is quite rare: a real debate over values and policies, opposed to the superficial personality rhetoric that usually pervades the debates. I think that if we are to have a real policy centered debate with the US people that this would be excellent. I think the left can win that fight. Having Ron Paul bring some rarely discussed but important policy topics to the table at the same time as some commonly discussed and dangerous policy to the table is a conversation I am more than willing to have.

I thus take no issue with people who support Ron Paul in the sense that they agree on some of his issues and think it is important to propagate those ideas. So do I. But I find him to be very far away from the type of person I would champion. Because it is election season, we tend to see things through the somewhat irrelevant lens (given his chance of winning) of whether we would want him to be a President. I would vote for Ron Paul because that will further the propagation of his ideas, some of which I support. This is crucially different from voting for him because of actually wanting him to be president or of maintaining the fringe hypothetical of the differences between a Romney and a Paul presidency.

On Racism:
Part of the recent debate over Ron Paul seems to be regarding the questions of his alleged racism. These stem from some (quite possibly ghostwritten) newsletters from the nineties, his (probably not ghostwritten) book and his long standing stance on the Civil Rights Act. Consequently, there has been a lot of attention to this with people often mentioning first and foremost the racism bit in their 'dislikes' column or having a debate about whether he is or is not a racist. I think these questions sort of miss the more important point.

Regardless of whether he genuinely is or is not racist, by far the dominating factor in his ideology and policies are clearly not driven by racism, they are driven by his libertarian ideology. His opposition to the Civil Rights Act, while clearly having racial consequences, seems to be formed based on rather conventional libertarian viewpoints. That he would eliminate programs from Medicaid to public education to food stamps is not primarily because he is a racist, it is because he ideologically believes all forms of government are bad. So yes, I think the consequence of Ron Paul's views would be horrible for minorities, but this is because he is a libertarian first and foremost and they would be terrible regardless of whether he is additionally a racist. Further, when we pick the racist card as the most highlighted disagreement with Ron Paul, we are missing the far more important core aspect of his identity: that he is a libertarian; especially considering that one can debate whether he is or is not a racist but there is no debate that he is a libertarian. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Elipsis said...

This piece echos a lot of my own concerns. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it and concluded that Paul v. Obama would be tremendously more beneficial for American discourse than any of the Romney / Gingrich / Anal Froth v. Obama dialogs would allow for.

The fascination with Ron Paul, in my opinion, is that you can take this graph ( and draw a diagonal line right through the blue box that represents the whole of your options as an American constituent. Ron Paul is the *only* candidate in the running right now who isn't on that line. I've met quite a few people who identify as "Fiscally Conservative / Socially Liberal" and Ron Paul has strong appeal to the former and vague appeal to the latter due to his libertarian positions. (In contrast I have *never* met someone who identifies as "Fiscally Liberal / Socially Conservative", does that animal even exist?)

Consider the quote that would run Paul against Obama as the "anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate". If you're choosing between your stock Democrat and your stock Republican, that candidate is almost always your Democrat... but by such an insignificant margin that it scarcely matters. We had that election, it was Obama v. McCain... it might as well have been Obama v. Bush for all the damage the latter did to the Republican brand in 2008, and the result was that the Change Obama promised won him a lot of those votes. Flash forward to 2012 and look at the Progressive disappointment that the reality of Obama turned out to be, and it's no small wonder that many younger voters are sold on Paul's brand of constitutionalism and extreme Libertarianism. Paul is the *only* candidate to stand on stage and claim his opposition to the Defense of Marriage amendment, he is the *only* candidate to vocally oppose the NDAA, one of the few politicians to oppose the Patriot Act, and the only prominent Republican that I know of who makes statements such as "9/11 was a consequence of bad foreign policy," and "The people Occupying Wall Street have plenty of good reasons to be upset with their government."

While I would love to see Paul win the Republican nomination and shift American discourse dramatically away from Neoconservative talking points. I'm still struggling internally with how I would vote in that scenario. At this point I'd have to decide if I'd be more scared of the erosion of civil liberties or the damage that Paul's elimination of the Department of Everything would do to lower and middle class Americans. With the recent signing of the NDAA, I'm actually inclined to say I'd pull the lever for Paul. Candidate Obama was great promising all sorts of change, but President Obama could have passed for a Bush 3rd term (other than ramming a watered down healthcare bill to the front of the American agenda). One thing is for sure, if Paul was in office we could actually get some of that Change from the status-quo that we were hoping for.

Vaporizer Reviews said...

I am a powerful Tea Celebration advocate who is currently assisting John Santorum only because he is, by far, the best of what is eventually left.

Elipsis said...

John Santorum, eh?

bazie said...

Lol at the spammer who not only doesn't know about the Tea Party or Rick Santorum, but also doesnt know the number one rule of spamming, that getting nofollow links is rather useless and every blogspot blog defaults comments to nofollow.

Anyways, we broadly agree. I always like this Milton quote: "LET Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter". Tihis is sort of how I think with Ron Paul. If you get all the ideas out thre and actually being discussed, we can choose the best ones from it. It is only when the ideas are suppressed from convention that the bad ones can remain.

Anonymous said...

Ron Paul is unelectable and conservatives know it. So is Romney and or Newt the womanizer. (gawd, threw up in my mouth there...are women that money hungry to jump that tub o lard?).....having said that, the establishment loves Obama. Why wouldn't they? For every bone he's tossed progressives and liberals, he's tossed most of the meat to them. It's fixed. It's all kabuki theater for the masses like some dumb reality tv show and party loyalists swallow it hook line and sinker.

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