It seems everyone is writing about Ron Paul these days, and not in the usual way, as Paul's supporters inundate the inboxes and Twitter feeds of anyone who challenges Paul's agenda, the Campaign for Liberty, the "Ron Paul rEVOLution" or the case for why anyone who isn't a member in good standing of the John Birch Society should vote for him.
Contrary to Ron Paul Nation's belief in a well-coordinated smear campaign, the reason people are writing about Paul now is because he's in contention for a first place finish in both the Iowa Caucus and, perhaps on the strength of an Iowa upset, the New Hampshire primary. That Paul is in this position is no small feat. Paul's supporters are nothing if not determined. In their own way, they are a testament to the power of organizing.
But as Paul's campaign tries to bring progressive voters into their fold it's imperative to look at not just the parts of Paul's message that are appealing to people with progressive values, but the proffered progressive case for Paul in totality.
Beneath the moments of shared anti-establishment kinship and respect for his supporters' work ethic lies something profoundly disturbing. While a coalition with Paul supporters makes sense on some specific issues, on many others the candidate himself is the most objectionable Republican candidate, rivaled only by Bachmann and Santorum.
Note: They're all awful. Bachmann and Santorum are the worst of the worst.
Among progressives and Democrats, especially younger Democrats, there is basic agreement with Paul on Afghanistan and our forever wars in general, civil liberties, and the merits of the mass incarceration of Americans who use recreational drugs like marijuana. These are not small or irrelevant concerns.
Paul's supporters present him as a populist on Wall Street, but the agreement with progressives here is illusory. Paul channels all anger at financial institutions toward the Federal Reserve, and for the wrong reasons. He's not mad at the Fed for ignoring the full employment part of its dual mandate; or rushing to bail out Wall Street while leaving Main Street in dire straits. Paul's problem with the Fed is that it exists.
The Texas Congressman is in direct opposition to bedrock progressives values on most major domestic issues. He champions Austrian economics and goldbuggery; he wants to abolish the minimum wage, Social Security, Medicare, and the Department of Education; he opposes collective bargaining rights and important regulations; he's extremely anti-choice, does not believe in evolution, believes climate change science is a "hoax," and though he has now modified his message, was second only to Tom Tancredo in the Republican awfulness on immigration department in 2008 (example here).
One of these is worth repeating over and over, as there seems to be quite a bit of confusion about it: Ron Paul is extremely anti-choice.
There is an assumption that his "libertarian" streak extends to reproductive health rights. It does not. Those who seek to sell Ron Paul to people with progressive values will deny or downplay this, but it's clear. Delve into into his record and his reputation as an affable libertarian guy will unravel.
You don't have to take my word for it. Look into his alliance with the "personhood" movement and his 2005 "Sanctity of Life Act," or watch one of Paul's numerous speeches to social conservatives, which he gives to remind them that he is one of them. Or you can take up Ron Paul supporters on their advice. Paul's backers are fond of using "Google Ron Paul" as a catch-all. You see, these people on the internet love him, so he must be great! (It's a variation of the ice cream glove fallacy.) Sure, Google Ron Paul. But then Google Chuck Baldwin.
Baldwin, the 2008 Constitution Party nominee for president, is a close friend of Paul, as either of them will tell you. Paul endorsed Baldwin for president in September '08. Baldwin and his party are vehemently anti-choice. They represent thinly-veiled theocracy, if there is any veil there at all. You can read their noxious platform here.
If Paul got to the White House, he would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade while his buddies in the "personhood" movement went to work in the states. The balance of power in the Supreme Court is up for grabs in this election. Paul's supporters have no answer for this other.
If that isn't enough...
Lettering In Bigotry: An Immediate Disqualifier
The media is just now starting to cover the undeniably racist newsletters that went out under Paul's name for years, which were first reported on by James Kirchick in The New Republic in early 2008. The campaign's defense is that Paul didn't write the racist content that appeared in outlets like Ron Paul's Freedom Report and Ron Paul Survival Report. Paul's camp points to the lack of a byline as the candidate denies authoring the bigoted screeds.
Paul's vocal supporters are in spin mode, claiming the newsletters are resurfacing now as part of a conspiracy (and really, what isn't a conspiracy with these people?) to bring Ron Paul down. That explanation is laughable. Granted, the newsletters should have come up earlier, but it wasn't seen as a pressing matter because media outlets had a hard time taking Paul seriously. Now it's clear that Paul's presence could heavily influence the outcome of the GOP primary. If Paul places ahead of Romney in Iowa but behind a non-Paul non-Romney, it's a great day for the non-Paul non-Romney. If Paul wins Iowa it denies the non-Paul non-Romney the Iowa + South Carolina combination that would stop Romney and set them up for the nomination.
The newsletters, if authored by Ron Paul, immediately disqualify him from consideration among most progressives Democrats, and I would hope, anyone else who reads the newsletters. The only debate is over whether Paul produced this malignant bile himself -- and on this he is not believable. His response to entirely appropriate questioning from reporters is a Palin-esque declaration that he has answered the question, so never mind his that answer is extraordinarily difficult to believe, the subject should be dropped.
Note that this video unearthed by Andrew Kaczynski, along with the Paul's earlier explanations, does not support his current story.
It's not an "attack" let alone a "smear" to question Ron Paul about the newsletters or to say that his answer is not convincing. Nor is it legitimate in this instance to make the story a referendum on The New Republic and its support for the Iraq war. TNR is a mixed bag. They were dead wrong about Iraq. But no one disputes that these newsletters went out under Paul's name.
As for any possible "the newsletters weren't that bad" defense; no, they were that bad and then some. Racist wackjob characterizations of African Americans, latinos, jews, and the LGBT community are anathema to progressive values and basic decency.
There are only three possible explanations:
1. Ron Paul wrote the newsletters and meant it.
2. Ron Paul wrote the newsletters and as part of a broader libertarian political strategy to appeal to racist sentiment.
3. Ron Paul didn't write the newsletters and was unaware of their content even though they went out under his name.
The third explanation is the only one that doesn't turn "Hey Democrat, you should vote for Ron Paul" into "Hey Ron Paul fan, you should vote for Dick Cheney" -- and the third explanation is by far the hardest to believe.
Ron Paul is open about his philosophy. We know what he believes and why. He opposed the invasion of Iraq and he loves Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, Alex Jones, and Tom Woods.
Note: Woods is an anti-war version of Glenn Beck. He promulgates the same bizarre right-wing views on the Civil War and economics as Paul. They're book blurb buddies.
Going on Alex Jones' Show and engaging him is fine. Going on Alex Jones' Show and agreeing with him about almost everything is a deal-breaker. The problem here isn't just that crazy people love Ron Paul, it's that a lot of crazy people love Ron Paul and they love him because he's in sync with their crazy, crazy ideas. Speaking of which, I've never heard that a border fence could be used to keep Americans in. Thanks for the heads-up Ron Paul!
The Limited Progressive Case for Ron Paul
Afghanistan is one of Paul's best points and it rightfully resonates. He's too "isolationist" or "non-interventionist" for me (see: Darfur) but like other progressives, to the extent Paul's prominence could help end the war in Afghanistan ASAP, I see it as a good thing.
Whatever level of progressive admiration for Paul is out there, it's easy to understand when it comes to civil liberties. The much-maligned Glenn Greenwald makes a great point: as a matter of principle, if a policy was wrong or counterproductive during the Bush Administration, having voted for the current occupant of the White House shouldn't make the continuation of the same policy any less wrong or counterproductive.
Even some of the president most stalwart defenders (see: Jonathan Alter's debate with Roger Hodge hosted by The Agenda Project last October) will acknowledge that he has been at his worst in their eyes on civil liberties. If you isolate civil liberties, Ron Paul would be a better president on that front than President Obama. It's when you include civil rights, economic security, reproductive rights and the environment that Paul becomes an unfathomable choice for many progressives.
Progressives shouldn't belittle the grievances of those among us who are drawn to Paul because of Afghanistan, the use of drones, and civil liberties. And we shouldn't tie ourselves into knots defending things we opposed when Bush was president. Doing so is dishonest and it shows. The partisan Democrats among us can't credibly argue against the disaffected taking their votes elsewhere while simultaneously defending the actions we decried when the last president was in office.
Aside from the issues mentioned above, Ron Paul would be an unmitigated disaster as president. He is the last candidate I'd want as president with the economy as bad as it is. And supporting him would mean discarding the progressive coalition and most of what progressives stand for.
The reluctance or even aversion to get behind President Obama at this point, as expressed by some progressives -- including those who would tell you that lines of theirs were crossed on foreign policy and civil liberties, is understandable. Things are really bad right now; it's natural for regular voters as well as activists to reexamine their options. There's certainly room for less emphasis on electoral politics and more focus on issue advocacy and protests like foreclosure prevention. Whatever decision my fellow progressives make about what they're personally going to do moving forward, in the last analysis I think there is something we'll agree on: Ron Paul isn't the answer.
Via Zaid Jilani, here's unedited video of Ron Paul's interview with CNN's Gloria Borger.
In fairness to Ron Paul, the full video of the interview shows that he didn't really "storm off." However, his "asked and answered" attitude is no more justified -- and his explanation is no more believable -- than it was this morning. And that's what really matters here.