Monday, January 02, 2012

Making Deals With The Devil. Should Liberals and Progressives Vote For Ron Paul?

Matt Stoller has written a piece called "Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals." The beginning and also the summary of Stoller's argument:
The most perplexing character in Congress, ideologically speaking, is Ron Paul. This is a guy who exists in the Republican Party as a staunch opponent of American empire and big finance. His ideas on the Federal Reserve have taken some hold recently, and he has taken powerful runs at the Presidency on the obscure topic of monetary policy. He doesn’t play by standard political rules, so while old newsletters bearing his name showcase obvious white supremacy, he is also the only prominent politician, let alone Presidential candidate, saying that the drug war has racist origins. You cannot honestly look at this figure without acknowledging both elements, as well as his opposition to war, the Federal government, and the Federal Reserve. And as I’ve drilled into Paul’s ideas, his ideas forced me to acknowledge some deep contradictions in American liberalism (pointed out years ago by Christopher Laesch) and what is a long-standing, disturbing, and unacknowledged affinity liberals have with centralized war financing. So while I have my views of Ron Paul, I believe that the anger he inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.
So here's a guy who is opposed to the never-ending wars and also opposed to corporate kleptocracy. He would fit right in with the Occupy Wall Street movement! Why don't liberals and progressives flock to him?

That was my interpretation. The quoted article doesn't say that. It also doesn't say one single word about Ron Paul's views on women. That is a pretty interesting omission.

Instead, Stoller's major message to liberals and progressives seems to be this:
This is why Ron Paul can critique the Federal Reserve and American empire, and why liberals have essentially no answer to his ideas, arguing instead over Paul having character defects. Ron Paul’s stance should be seen as a challenge to better create a coherent structural critique of the American political order. It’s quite obvious that there isn’t one coming from the left, otherwise the figure challenging the war on drugs and American empire wouldn’t be in the Republican primary as the libertarian candidate. To get there, liberals must grapple with big finance and war, two topics that are difficult to handle in any but a glib manner that separates us from our actual traditional and problematic affinity for both. War financing has a specific tradition in American culture, but there is no guarantee war financing must continue the way it has. And there’s no reason to assume that centralized power will act in a more just manner these days, that we will see continuity with the historical experience of the New Deal and Civil Rights Era. The liberal alliance with the mechanics of mass mobilizing warfare, which should be pretty obvious when seen in this light, is deep-rooted.
Bolds are mine.

What can we learn from all this? Other than the fact that Stoller doesn't mention Ron Paul's views on abortion or that Paul wants sexual harassment to be legal unless it's attempted rape or assault? As examples of the flavors his reign would bring to one half of all voters?

That both parties are in bed with the military-industrial complex and the banksters, and that liberals and progressives who plan to vote for Obama in the coming presidential elections are just enabling more war and more corporate power? That perhaps centralized power will not hand us any goodies at all in the future, no fairness, no justice, so why vote for more centralized power? That liberals and progressives must choose between those who would kill people abroad on the one hand and those who would oppress some Americans (of the wrong color or gender) on the other hand?

If those are Stoller's points, they are good ones to discuss. I have written (and written) about the problems of corporate power earlier, including the non-existent choices the two parties offer us.

But if we are going to pick the fixed Ron Paul combo from that cafeteria menu we must be very careful about who is affected by that. That's why I called this post "Making Deals With The Devil".

Stoller is not writing about the things that he himself would be willing to give up, to save the world from American military and corporate assaults. He is writing mostly about what other people might have to give up to get to that goal. In a real and concrete sense.

This is not an unnatural stance, as such, to see the world from one's own eyes only. But it should be made clear what the negotiations with the devil will involve, and we should be told why Ron Paul's pre-election anti-war agenda should be any more credible than Obama's was in 2008. After all, Obama was touted as the anti-war candidate by many.

Glenn Greenwald makes Stoller's point more strongly:
It’s perfectly rational and reasonable for progressives to decide that the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate, whether Ron Paul or anyone else. An honest line of reasoning in this regard would go as follows:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
Without my adopting it, that is at least an honest, candid, and rational way to defend one’s choice. It is the classic lesser-of-two-evils rationale, the key being that it explicitly recognizes that both sides are “evil”: meaning it is not a Good v. Evil contest but a More Evil v. Less Evil contest. But that is not the discussion that takes place because few progressives want to acknowledge that the candidate they are supporting — again — is someone who will continue to do these evil things with their blessing. Instead, we hear only a dishonest one-sided argument that emphasizes Paul’s evils while ignoring Obama’s (progressives frequently ask: how can any progressive consider an anti-choice candidate but don’t ask themselves: how can any progressive support a child-killing, secrecy-obsessed, whistleblower-persecuting Drug Warrior?).

Strong stuff, especially as the first list of things is written with emotion (children being slaughtered) and the second one not. How could any ethical person not choose to save the lives of innocent children when offered those two lists?

But what if the environmental degradations or cutbacks in health care spending mentioned in the alternative dry list also kill children? Don't we have to know how many children would die under the various scenarios to make up our minds if it is based on the killing of children?

I am not arguing against the inherent dilemmas in how one chooses a presidential candidate to vote for. They are real. But it is important to note that we are making deals with the devil, partly because of the way the two-party system operates (you get the fixed menus) and partly because both the quoted articles set the possible loss of rights for someone else in one cup of the scales and the deaths in wars in the other cup of the scales. And also because it is highly unlikely that the Powers That Be would let Ron Paul run the kind of foreign policy he promises to run.

All this reminded me of Ursula le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". Who is it that we should keep in the basement, mistreated, for the happiness of the rest of us? That is the real question Stoller and Greenwald seem to ask.