Glenn Greenwald has an absolutely brilliant essay that perfectly explains why I have said many of the things I’ve said about Ron Paul, both positive and negative. I think it also speaks strongly to the question of how liberals should handle libertarians and libertarianism as a whole. He begins:
As I’ve written about before, America’s election season degrades mainstream political discourse even beyond its usual lowly state. The worst attributes of our political culture — obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace “reporting,” and mindless partisan loyalties — become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it — covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates — drone on with even less attention paid than usual.
Because most of those policies are fully bipartisan in nature, the election season — in which only issues that bestow partisan advantage receive attention — places them even further outside the realm of mainstream debate and scrutiny. For that reason, America’s elections ironically serve to obsfuscate political reality even more than it usually is.
I could not agree more. And this absolutely feeds into the dynamic of sports fan politics, purely partisan thinking that concerns itself solely with who is going to win or lose an election rather than on principle. It’s something that is entirely foreign to me, which probably explains why so many of my readers seem to react so strongly to the way I write about such matters. Greenwald absolutely nails what often happens in response to either strong criticism of Obama or praise, even when qualified and limited to specific issues, of someone like Ron Paul.
<blockquote>Then there’s the inability and/or refusal to recognize that a political discussion might exist independent of the Red v. Blue Cage Match. Thus, any critique of the President’s exercise of vast power (an adversarial check on which our political system depends) immediately prompts bafflement (I don’t understand the point: would Rick Perry be any better?) or grievance (you’re helping Mitt Romney by talking about this!!). The premise takes hold for a full 18 months — increasing each day in intensity until Election Day — that every discussion of the President’s actions must be driven solely by one’s preference for election outcomes (if you support the President’s re-election, then why criticize him?).
Worse still is the embrace of George W. Bush’s with-us-or-against-usmentality as the prism through which all political discussions are filtered. It’s literally impossible to discuss any of the candidates’ positions without having the simple-minded — who see all political issues exclusively as a Manichean struggle between the Big Bad Democrats and Good Kind Republicans or vice-versa — misapprehend “I agree with Candidate X’s position on Y” as “I support Candidate X for President” or “I disagree with Candidate X’s position on Y” as “I oppose Candidate X for President.” Even worse are the lying partisan enforcers who, like the Inquisitor Generals searching for any inkling of heresy, purposely distort any discrete praise for the Enemy as a general endorsement.
So potent is this poison that no inoculation against it exists. No matter how expressly you repudiate the distortions in advance, they will freely flow. Hence: I’m about to discuss the candidacies of Barack Obama and Ron Paul, and no matter how many times I say that I am not “endorsing” or expressing support for anyone’s candidacy, the simple-minded Manicheans and the lying partisan enforcers will claim the opposite.
You can see all of those things occur in the comment threads on this blog anytime I have praised Ron Paul on specific issues. A perfect example is a comment by someone named Jim, who said that he had assumed that given my other positions “endorsing Paul would be anathema. Guess I misunderstand this blog.” But not only did I not endorse Ron Paul, I have explicitly said many times that I cannot vote for him despite applauding many of his positions. And I’ve posted about a dozen reasons why lately.
Interestingly, the reaction to criticism of Obama has been muted over the last couple years. When he first took office and I started criticizing him for maintaining Bush positions on a whole range of executive power and Constitutional issues, many, perhaps most, commenters tried to dispute it. He’s only been in office a short time, they would say, and we must give him time. And the DOJ is still full of Bush appointees so he probably isn’t even responsible for it and he’ll clean house over time. Besides, what he’s really up to is some brilliant, secret plan that will eventually end up fixing all of those problems and I’m just not smart enough to understand the genius of his plans. Those were the most common of the many excuses offered. After about a year, such excuses, and others like them, slowed to a dribble. With each new lawsuit in which the DOJ invoked the State Secrets Privilege and every betrayal of the principles of the rule of law and his declared positions on transparency and executive power, fewer and fewer people made them. And now when I post about such things, the posts get almost no comments at all. There just isn’t much to say. It’s hardly disputable that Obama has been absolutely terrible on those issues and all those earlier excuses turned out to be nonsense.
But I do still hear things like, “You’re helping the Republicans win! If you don’t get on the Obama train, a Republican will take the White House and things will become unimaginably worse.” And that’s not entirely wrong. As I’ve said many times, I do think that a Republican in the White House would be worse, particularly when it comes to the courts. Obama may be a constitutional disaster himself, but he has at least nominated people for the federal courts who’ve been far better than almost anyone a Republican president would nominate. If we lose another liberal vote on the Supreme Court, the results would be terrible for the next quarter century at least. And that’s surely a good reason to hold one’s nose and vote for Obama, though I have no plans to do so; your mileage may vary. But what I absolutely will not do is stop criticizing Obama for his many failings based on such considerations.
Greenwald then quotes Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation, who Tweeted this about Ron Paul:
I have big problems w/Ron Paul on many issues.But on ending preemptive wars & on challenging bipartisan elite consensus on FP, good he’s in.
That’s fairly remarkable: here’s the Publisher of The Nation praising Ron Paul not on ancillary political topics but central ones (“ending preemptive wars & challenging bipartisan elite consensus” on foreign policy), and going even further and expressing general happiness that he’s in the presidential race. Despite this observation, Katrina vanden Heuvel — needless to say — does not support and will never vote for Ron Paul (indeed, in subsequent tweets, she condemned his newsletters as “despicable”). But the point that she’s making is important, if not too subtle for the with-us-or-against-us ethos that dominates the protracted presidential campaign: even though I don’t support him for President, Ron Paul is the only major candidate from either partyadvocating crucial views on vital issues that need to be heard, and so his candidacy generates important benefits.
Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform — certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party — who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote — Barack Obama — advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil…
The thing I loathe most about election season is reflected in the central fallacy that drives progressive discussion the minute “Ron Paul” is mentioned. As soon as his candidacy is discussed, progressives will reflexively point to a slew of positions he holds that are anathema to liberalism and odious in their own right and then say: how can you support someone who holds this awful, destructive position? The premise here — the game that’s being played — is that if you can identify some heinous views that a certain candidate holds, then it means they are beyond the pale, that no Decent Person should even consider praising any part of their candidacy.
The fallacy in this reasoning is glaring. The candidate supported by progressives — President Obama — himself holds heinous views on a slew of critical issues and himself has done heinous things with the power he has been vested. He has slaughtered civilians — Muslim children by the dozens — not once or twice, but continuously in numerous nations withdrones, cluster bombs and other forms of attack. He has sought to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs. He has institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield. He has wagedan unprecedented war against whistleblowers, the protection of which was once a liberal shibboleth. He rendered permanently irrelevant the War Powers Resolution, a crown jewel in the list of post-Vietnam liberal accomplishments, and thus enshrined the power of Presidents to wage war even in the face of a Congressional vote against it. His obsession with secrecy is so extreme that it has become darkly laughable in its manifestations, and he even worked to amend the Freedom of Information Act (another crown jewel of liberal legislative successes) when compliance became inconvenient.
He has entrenched for a generation the once-reviled, once-radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism powers of indefinite detention, military commissions, and the state secret privilege as a weapon to immunize political leaders from the rule of law. He has shielded Bush era criminals from every last form of accountability. He has vigorously prosecuted the cruel and supremely racist War on Drugs, including those parts he vowed during the campaign to relinquish — a war which devastates minority communities and encages and converts into felons huge numbers of minority youth for no good reason. He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists. He’s brought the nation to a full-on Cold War and a covert hot war with Iran, on the brink of far greater hostilities. He has made the U.S. as subservient as ever to the destructive agenda of the right-wing Israeli government. His support for some of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes is as strong as ever.
Most of all, America’s National Security State, its Surveillance State, and its posture of endless war is more robust than ever before. The nation suffers from what National Journal‘s Michael Hirsh just christened“Obama’s Romance with the CIA.” He has created what The Washington Post just dubbed “a vast drone/killing operation,” all behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy and without a shred of oversight…
The simple fact is that progressives are supporting a candidate for President who has done all of that — things liberalism has long held to be pernicious. I know it’s annoying and miserable to hear. Progressives like to think of themselves as the faction that stands for peace, opposes wars, believes in due process and civil liberties, distrusts the military-industrial complex, supports candidates who are devoted to individual rights, transparency and economic equality. All of these facts — like the history laid out by Stoller in that essay — negate that desired self-perception. These facts demonstrate that the leader progressives have empowered and will empower again has worked in direct opposition to those values and engaged in conduct that is nothing short of horrific. So there is an eagerness to avoid hearing about them, to pretend they don’t exist. And there’s a corresponding hostility toward those who point them out, who insist that they not be ignored.
The parallel reality — the undeniable fact — is that all of these listed heinous views and actions from Barack Obama have been vehemently opposed and condemned by Ron Paul: and among the major GOP candidates, only by Ron Paul. For that reason, Paul’s candidacy forces progressives to face the hideous positions and actions of their candidate, of the person they want to empower for another four years. If Paul were not in the race or were not receiving attention, none of these issues would receive any attention because all the other major GOP candidates either agree with Obama on these matters or hold even worse views.
Exactly right. And that’s why Ron Paul’s presence is important even with his many vile positions on other issues. That’s why I’ve been writing as I have, pointing out both the fact that Ron Paul is virtually alone among prominent people in either party in being consistently on the right side of the issues Greenwald mentions above and the fact that Paul takes many positions himself that I find repulsive and making clear that I will not support him or vote for him.
Given the complicity of both parties in a whole range of abuses that turn my stomach, I’m simply not interested in playing partisan games. Yes, I think the Republican party is worse than the Democratic party on balance, primarily because the constituents that the GOP has to please scare me far worse than the constituencies the Democrats have to please. Given that simple choice, I’ll take the Democrats over the Republicans. But those aren’t the only choices to vote for and that dichotomy certainly cannot be allowed to constrain the stands I take on the issues themselves. Issues like these:
There are very few political priorities, if there are any, more imperative than having an actual debate on issues of America’s imperialism; the suffocating secrecy of its government; the destruction of civil liberties which uniquely targets Muslims, including American Muslims; the corrupt role of the Fed; corporate control of government institutions by the nation’s oligarchs; its destructive blind support for Israel, and its failed and sadistic Drug War. More than anything, it’s crucial that choice be given to the electorate by subverting the two parties’ full-scale embrace of these hideous programs.
Quite so. And that is why I continue to write about those issues and dish out both praise and criticism on them without regard to partisan concerns. It’s why I continue to write about Ron Paul, both for ill and for good, and don’t really care about the reaction it receives from both sides (“Ron Paul is a terrible racist / libertarian / evil person and any position he takes that might seem good on those issues is just a smokescreen for his plan to destroy everything, so stop promoting him” vs “But Ron Paul’s views on war and civil liberties are all that matter, and he wouldn’t be able to make any of the changes you object to anyway because Congress or the court would stop him, so stop tearing him down”).
We need to just accept the fact that a person can be absolutely wrong on issue X and absolutely right on issue Y (lather, rinse, repeat for any grouping of issues you’d care to mention) and that therefore a reasonable person can — should — offer both praise and criticism based on the individual issues. I’m just not very interested in the partisan issues, I’m interested in matters of principle. I think you should be too.