Tag Archives: ron paul

Ron Paul Should Mount a 3rd Party Candidacy

By John Stang

The title of this post might come as a shock to some who know what neither of us have been kind to Ron Paul over the last few weeks.  However, I think that Ron Paul would be a good third party challenger to a campaign that will present the antithesis of this blog “Politics as Usual.”   Of course, Ron Paul will probably stay in the race until the bitter end; he isn’t running for another term in the House and he gets free publicity, so he might as well.  His loyal legions of devoted followers will also stick by him as well through rain, sleet, and snow. I have to confess though, I don’t think Ron Paul will win the nomination.  His dovish like defense policy and states rights arguments on social issues will take away major constituencies of the GOP that are critical to winning the nomination.  Not to mention, his racist newletters and talk of returning to the gold standard will scare some away.

That does not mean he should rule out a third party bid.  This is not because I think Ron Paul would win the presidency, but by being a protest candidate he offers an good avenue for those that want to vent their frustrations.  No matter what you think of Paul, he has certainly changed the tone of the conversation.  He offers a philosophical view of the world that each side can take away as a protest on some issue. No, he’s not a perfect candidate, and I don’t endorse everything he supports, but neither have I supported everything President Obama has done in office or could support all that any Republican nominee brings to the table.

Liberals could endorse his noninterventionist foreign policy, his support for reduction of executive power, or removing draconian laws passed after 9/11 in the name of the national security state that trounce on civil liberties.  For conservatives, he offers a reduction of government, stricter laws on abortion, and positions himself as a man who wants to reduce the deficit.  Both President Obama and the GOP nominee (most likely Mitt Romney) may pander to some of these ideas, but Ron Paul will make sure that in each debate they are fully discussed.  He will also bring up positions that both sides cringe when they hear it.

He once ran as a libertarian in 1988, so he’s had experience in this field before.  With his popularity through the roof and a stronger fanbase than ever, why not make one last hurrah.  Both sides, the GOP more than the Democratic Party, would probably lose votes, but the benefits would be enormous.  If nothing else, his son, Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, could take some heat.  Rand Paul would also have his defenders.

I want to say that this is not an endorsement of Ron Paul by any means.  I have not mustered to strength to disavow big government as a remedy for social ills, I like the Federal Reserve system, I do not think all foreign aid is bad thing, and find some of his conspiracy theories to be problematic.   Granted, this is not the GOP nomination, but his third party candidacy would be nothing to sneeze at. However, some of his positions I like and it offers an alternative vote of protest in 2012 for those disaffected voters.  Myself included!

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Manicheanism and the American Left

By Luke Brinker

Among the most repugnant characteristics of the American right is its self-righteous, nuance-free, Manichean worldview. One is either with “us” or with the ter’rists. One either opposes full legal equality for gays and lesbians or countenances the moral degradation of the United States. One either unquestioningly supports the actions of the right-wing Israeli government or is an anti-Semite who wishes to see the Jewish state wiped off the face of the earth.

In its best, Niebuhrian form, liberalism attunes itself to the complexities of the world. Unlike triumphalist progressivism, liberalism acknowledges human frailties, but liberals, adhering to Enlightenment principles, place more faith in human agency than conservatives.

Of course, Niehbuhrian liberalism does not have a monopoly on the American left. If we needed a reminder of this, the Twitter exchange set off by Dylan Matthews and Glenn Greenwald on New Year’s Eve (about which I blogged) provided one. Calling white liberals to task for lauding the racist demagogue Ron Paul, Matthews elicited a scathing response from Greenwald, who said clearly implied that the impacts of the Obama administration’s wars on terrorism and drugs are far worse than anything Paul may or may not have written 20 years ago. Not only is the drug war “racist,” Greenwald argued, but thanks to the administration’s prolific use of drones, the US is “constantly killing Muslim children.” I responded that while I, like Greenwald, quarrel with both the drug war and the blowback-inducing drone campaign, it is scurrilous to compare the racial animosity displayed in Paul’s newsletters to debatable Obama policies, which are not motivated by personal racism on the part of the president or his administration.

What most disappoints me about Greenwald’s reaction to critiques from Matthews and others like Michael Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong is the way Greenwald impugned their motives. Those of us who think Paul’s racism, homophobia, and conspiracy theorizing are disqualifying must, by Greenwald’s logic, also want to silence critiques of civil liberties violations, foreign wars, and the deaths of innocent Muslims. In fact, we may even be said to relish the deaths of those Muslims. This is black-and-white Manichean thinking of the most reprehensible sort.

Before I’m accused of being a blindly loyal Obama fanboy, I’ll reiterate my opposition to both policies Greenwald mentioned and note that it’s Greenwald and his acolytes who are displaying the most creepy devotion to a personality cult. Apparently the entire criticism of the national security state collapses in the absence of one Texas congressman. But is it not fair for Greenwald and others to point out that it’s all too easy for me to say that Obama’s motives aren’t sinister, even if the consequences of some of his policies are tragic? Commenter Moral Authority made this point in response to my earlier post:

“I find the cavalier use of drones and the continued prosecution of the disastrous drug war to be foolish and immoral, but I do not believe they are motivated by personal racism on the part of Obama and his administration.”

So what are they motivated by, then? Presumably callous indifference to the institutional racism and classism that affect certain groups of people — some American minorities in the one case, and foreign Muslim civilians in the other — and render them invisible, voiceless nonpersons as far as our political system is concerned. In other words, Obama isn’t a racist, he’s just a psychopath. Sounds like a winning campaign slogan.

Here we have left-wing Manicheanism at its finest. In Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics, the historian identified such moralistic condemnation as a key element of the paranoid style. One never simply differs with one’s political adversaries on questions of means and/or ends. The paranoiac considers his adversary to be malicious, unscrupulous, or, in this case “a psychopath.” Call me a Kantian, but I can’t escape the conviction that intent matters. While it cannot be proved or disproved, I believe Obama pursues the policies he does out of sincere good intent. That doesn’t make me an Obamabot; as I must constantly repeat, I don’t agree with all Obama policies. I simply happen to believe that it’s intellectually lazy to condemn those with whom I disagree as amoral and deranged.

To conclude, I will note the words of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in his 1949 manifesto for anti-Communist liberalism, The Vital Center. It is easy for the armchair critic to deride the actions of those with responsibility, he asserted:

The weakness of impotence is related to a fear of responsibility – a fear, that is, of making concrete decisions and being held to account for concrete consequences. Problems are much simpler when viewed from the office of a liberal weekly than when viewed in terms of what will actually happen when certain ideologically attractive steps are taken.

Too often the Doughface really does not want power or responsibility. For him the more subtle sensations of the perfect syllogism, the lost cause, the permanent minority, where lie can be safe from the exacting job of trying to work out wise policies in an imperfect world.

Politics becomes, not a means of getting things done, but an outlet for private grievances and frustrations. The progressive once disciplined by the responsibilities of power is often the most useful of all public servants; but he, alas, ceases to be a progressive and is regarded by all true Doughfaces as a cynical New Dealer or a tired Social Democrat.

Having renounced power, the Doughface seeks compensation in emotion. The pretext for progressive rhetoric is, of course, the idea that man, the creature of reason and benevolence, has only to understand the truth in order to act upon it.

But the function of progressive rhetoric is another matter; it is, in Dwight MacDonald’s phrase, to accomplish “in fantasy what cannot be accomplished in reality.” Because politics is for the Doughface a means of accommodating himself to a world he does not like but does not really want to change, he can find ample gratification in words. They appease his twinges of guilt without committing him to very drastic action.

Thus the expiatory role of resolutions in progressive meetings. A telegram of protest to a foreign chancellery gives the satisfaction of a job well done and a night’s rest well earned. The Doughfaces differ from Mr. Churchill: dreams, they find, are better than facts.

Progressive dreams are tinged with a brave purity, a rich sentiment and a noble defiance. But, like most dreams, they are notable for the distortion of facts by desire.

From the comfort of my own corner of the world, I can readily take the Obama administration on for continuing far too many Bush-era terrorism policies. I fully expect to continue opposing such policies, and to support efforts to push the administration in a new direction. I also don’t deny the invaluable contributions of legislators who stand up to the increased concentration of power in the executive branch. But I don’t think it’s irrelevant that Obama’s arguable policies are being planned and executed in the context of a struggle with foreign forces who have done far more to kill “Muslim children,” deny girls education, violate human rights, and wreak havoc on their societies than the US has ever done or set out to do.

Update: I will no longer respond to comments along the lines of, “What does it matter if the intentions of the administration officials urging murderous drone strikes are pure?” If it isn’t clear that a) this post is about the terms of political discourse and the need to be cautious about making sweeping moral condemnations and b) I actually question the efficacy of the drone strikes myself, then I see no point engaging commenters in further dialogue.

Update 2: For an eloquent elucidation on Reinhold Niebuhr and the simplistic worldview of Glenn Greenwald, read Smartypants.

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Ron Paul and the Distrust of Institutions

By John Stang

Both Luke and I have been pretty hard on Ron Paul over the last few weeks.  I think what both of us have tried to stress, despite our criticism, is that Ron Paul might have ideas that are admired by one side or the, such as limiting U.S. engagement abroad and limiting government intrusion into the personal lives of individuals.  However, there are also ugly parts to Paul’s candidacy, the conspiracy theories, subtle forms of racism and homophobia, and holding the mantle as a “libertarian” when much of his ideology has strong conservative elements (i.e. his ideas about abortion).

Ron Paul and his followers have a strong distrust of institutions, both national and international.  The video clip from the 2008 debates reflects that, which to my knowledge his positions have not change.  The conspiracy theories that come from the federal reserve, the U.N., and the Council on Foreign Relations all reflect this distrust.  To someone who does not follow politics 24 hours a day or does not monitor these organizations closely, getting them to buy into blaming these institutions as the scapegoat for all the world’s problems is not difficult, even if the idea does seem scary.  For instance, this is the level of trust of the U.N.

Trend: Is the United Nations Doing a Good Job or a Poor Job of Solving Problems It Has Had to Face?

Yes, there is a contradiction between saying “the U.N. does a poor job” and “the U.N. is evolving into a one world government.”  Nevermind that fact.   Both these criticisms seem valid to someone who has a distrust of the institution.  If anything, the U.N., has little autonomy and is controlled by the interest of nation states. It also is not well funded and does not coordinate well between missions.  Plus, most of the U.N.’s resolutions, especially for the General Assembly, are legally nonbinding.  This is only evident if you look closely at the institution instead of just seeing it as this dark, ominious force that could grab power at anytime.  The U.N. couldn’t take away your guns, even if it wanted to.

The same is true for the Federal Reserve, another favorite target of Ron Paul.  The institution only seems mysterious because most people don’t follow it closely and is not controlled by the federal government.  The solution that Paul advocates is a thorough audit of the federal reserve by congress or abolish it completely.  A few problems exist with this solution.  First, having an independent central bank allows for interest rates to be set without political ambitions getting in the way.  Second, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before congress all the time and all its documents are available online.  Finally, the Federal Reserve could broadcast its meetings on C-Span, but who would watch it.  Let’s face it, setting monetary policy is pretty boring.  Plus, markets react pretty harshly to anything the Federal Reserve chairman says.  Hence, why he did not start holding press conferences until this year.

I bring up both these examples to show that the fear people of these large institutions is overblown, if examined under the microscope.   However, the distrust of large institutions is all too real and if 2011 has shown us anything, it’s that people are really starting to question institutions.  The Arab Spring, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, the protests in Russia, and Americans Elect are all examples of grassroots movements trying to break the mold of old and bring it back to the people.  As Felix Salmon of Reuters wrote:

Most fundamentally, what I’m seeing as I look around the world is a massive decrease of trust in the institutions of government. Where those institutions are oppressive and totalitarian, the ability of popular uprisings to bring them down is a joyous and welcome sight. But on the other side of the coin, when I look at rioters in England, I see a huge middle finger being waved at basic norms of lawfulness and civilized society, and an enthusiastic embrace of “going on the rob” as some kind of hugely enjoyable participation sport. The glue holding society together is dissolving, whether it’s made of fear or whether it’s made of enlightened self-interest.

If viewed through this lens, the new massive support for Ron Paul makes a lot more sense.  Paul is challenging the norms of institutional thinking and people have a hunger for that.  As evidence from 2011, that distrust is not a bad thing, but understanding the actual relative power of these institutions is helpful first.

More on Ron Paul:

Luke’s 

- Part I and II questioning why liberals support Ron Paul

- Ron Paul’s foreign policy is not that liberal

- Ron Paul’s conspiracy theories

John’s

- Why Ron Paul attracts a cult following?

- Ron Paul’s states’ rights argument is problematic and how it excuses problems, like racism

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More on Liberals for Ron Paul

By Luke Brinker

In an earlier post, I took liberals to task for ignoring Ron Paul’s reactionary views on social and economic issues while seeing his anti-war views as sufficient reason to laud his presence in the race. A recent Twitter debate between Dylan Matthews and Glenn Greenwald provides opportunity for further discussion of the relationship between Paul and liberals.

Matthews set off the exchange by tweeting “Man, white people sure do love explaining why Paul being a huge racist shouldn’t be disqualifying” in response to a pro-Paul post from Greenwald. ” Man, white people sure do love explaining why Obama’s prosecution of a racist Drug War shouldn’t be disqualifying,” Greenwald replied. Greenwald finds further fault with Obama’s drone campaign, which he described as “constantly killing Muslim children.”

I suppose it would be good and proper form to first note that I largely agree with Greenwald’s eloquent critiques of the War on Drugs, which is most certainly racist in its effects (the disproportionate incarceration of racial minorities). Moreover, Greenwald has been at the forefront of the anti-drone effort, raising crucial questions about both the efficacy and morality of the administration’s stealth drone operations in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That said, likening the expression of racist hatred in Paul’s newsletters to misguided Obama administration policies is ludicrous. I find the cavalier use of drones and the continued prosecution of the disastrous drug war to be foolish and immoral, but I do not believe they are motivated by personal racism on the part of Obama and his administration. Paul’s newsletters, on the other hand, show racial animosity of the most blatant variety.

Matthews’s point, then, is salient. It’s easy for a white liberal who has never experienced racial discrimination to lavish praise on certain Paul positions. That most of those white liberals are affluent individuals who will not suffer as a result of Paul’s proposals to end the social safety net must also make the Texas congressman more palatable to his progressive fans. But their allegiance to this unsavory figure raises serious questions about their commitment to principles beyond the end to war and drug prohibition.

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Ron Paul’s Paranoid Style

By Luke Brinker

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul continues to distance himself from bigoted, conspiracy-minded newsletters released under his name until the mid-1990s, but in an appearance in Sioux Center, Iowa, yesterday, he spouted much the same rhetoric as can be found in the newsletters.

As Talking Points Memo reports, Paul accused the United Nations of planning to seize Americans’ property, echoing theanti-globalist conspiracy theories published in Paul’s newsletters dating back to 1978:

If you want to use your property, you have to get a lot of permits. If you’re in the development business, from the low-level all the way to the top, you have to get permission from the federal government…I’m fearful because some people would like us to go all the way to the UN and have the UN controlling our lands, too.

Paul didn’t stop there. Months before anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Paul’s Survival Report warned that government encroachment on Americans’ rights would inevitably spark violence. In Sioux Center speech yesterday, Paul sounded a similar note:

Freedom has been tested just rather rarely in all of history. In most of history, 90-99 percent of the time, people have had to live under dictatorships. And as our government gets bigger, and violates our civil liberties with laws like the Patriot Act that invade our privacy they become more dictatorial. … We are losing those liberties.

Our system was the greatest and I fear that we’re going to give it up. And as it’s given up, if we don’t deal with these problems, I am afraid that there will be more violence. People will get angry because they’re not going to get what they believe they have a right to. So if you’ve been providing for something else that other people are providing they get angry.

We already see this in Europe, we already see some of it in our own streets where people get angry and upset, where people get angry and upset and if we don’t understand these issues to change the policy it’s going to get a lot worse and then there will be chaos and people will be even more willing to give up their liberties.

There’s also reason to believe that Paul subscribes to 9/11 conspiracy theories. When confronted by a 9/11 truther, Paul did not refute her belief that the US government was complicit in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Paul’s response was essentially that he was too busy promoting other crank theories, and that he was afraid of courting controversy:

Perhaps this level of conspiracy-mindedness is to be expected from a proud John Bircher.  It was John Birch Society founder Joseph Welch who accused Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a “dedicated agent of the international communist conspiracy.” To be fair, libertarian journalist Conor Friedersdorf notes, Paul’s conspiracy thinking is hardly foreign to the American right. (Birtherism, creeping shariah, and stealth Obama socialism, anyone?) Richard Hofstadter’s seminal The Paranoid Style in American Politics remains the definitive source for understanding the far right’s proclivity for conspiracy theorizing. For an especially illuminating study of the origins of conspiracy thinking in American history, read Gordon S. Wood’s “Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style: Causality and Deceit in the Eighteenth Century” (JSTOR subscription required). Wood argues that Enlightenment-era ideas about human agency led the nation’s founders – hardly a lunatic fringe – to identify human designs as responsible for even the most complex social and political phenomena. Wood and Hofstadter demonstrate that while Paul’s theories may be quite marginal, his general cast of mind is not original.

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