Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ron Paul: The "Just Don’t Look” Candidate - Part 1

Up until a few days ago, I figured Ron Paul was enjoying his apparent “front runner” status following his strong polling in Iowa. His message and persona had been picking up traction for years, and having a fanatical base of support across the country has helped spread his message significantly. That was, until people started to pay attention to the things Ron Paul says and believes. I don’t know how the racist newsletters ordeal is going to affect his chances in Iowa, but it has shaken a number of his supporters.  Some have acknowledged that the things printed in the Ron Paul newsletter were reprehensible, but have argued that his message is still one that needs to be included in the national debate, and thus still deserving of support.  However, the problem with Ron Paul goes beyond some terribly racist comments made in his newsletter 20 years ago. It is the entire worldview and ideological perspective that informs Paul’s policy prescriptions and that of the paleo-right in general.

Ron Paul isn’t
objectionable because some racist diatribes were published in his name, but because he wants to undermine the very norms of international and domestic solidarity with a libertarian pipe dream that will never be, and great harm can come from attempting it. 

The fact that Ron Paul has swam about in the conspiratorial and racist right for years is nothing new. But public notice is a double edged sword for Paul and his obsessive followers: once you begin receiving the mainstream media’s attention, people are going to start taking seriously the things you say and believe, and the old defensive positions will not be strong enough to deflect scrutiny. 

A few years back, David Neiwert posted an extensive review of Paul’s ideological foundation and its manifestations. David was surprised (as I was at the time) that Paul was picking up so much support on the Left regarding his isolationist stance. However, many of those supporters ignored or were unaware of Paul’s larger philosophical underpinning. David wrote:
A more important point, though, that's overlooked in all this is that Ron Paul has made a career out of transmitting extremist beliefs, particularly far-right conspiracy theories about a looming "New World Order," into the mainstream of public discourse by reframing and repackaging them for wider consumption, mostly by studiously avoiding the more noxious and often racist elements of those beliefs. Along the way, he has built a long record of appearing before and lending the credibility of his office to a whole array of truly noxious organizations, and has a loyal following built in no small part on members of those groups.

And it's equally important to understand that he hasn't changed his beliefs appreciably in the interim. Most of his positions today -- including his opposition to the Iraq war -- are built on this same shoddy foundation of far-right conspiracism and extremist belief systems, particularly long-debunked theories about the "New World Order," the Federal Reserve and our monetary system, the IRS, and the education system.”
Those who have not been involved with radical politics may not grasp how old Paul’s positions are, and while he has altered the messages advanced by the likes of Alex Jones and the John Birch Society,  he continues to further their causes nonetheless. 

Nor should the racist newsletters ordeal be a simplistic and one dimensional pile-on. Paul and his fans claim that this is just a diversion from the larger issues “neocons” and the like want to undermine. So let’s forget for a moment that Ron Paul has habitually supported the worst fringe figures and groups on the right for decades. Let’s also forget that his policy prescriptions are superficially different from these various conspiratorial and racist organizations. Discussing and debating the justifications for military intervention and the role of government in our society are some of the most pressing and necessary questions of our day. If we removed Ron Paul from the equation and were left with a more acceptable vessel for this message, would these positions be more palatable? Perhaps, but you can’t escape what libertarians and paleo-cons actually envision for the U.S. and the world at large. 

Ron Paul made the following argument concerning racism, one that is often argued by like-minded individuals.

"Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans only as members of groups and never as individuals. Racists believe that all individual who share superficial physical characteristics are alike; as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called "diversity" actually perpetuate racism. Their intense focus on race is inherently racist, because it views individuals only as members of racial groups.

Conservatives and libertarians should fight back and challenge the myth that collectivist liberals care more about racism. Modern liberalism, however well intentioned, is a byproduct of the same collectivist thinking that characterizes racism. The continued insistence on group thinking only inflames racial tensions.

The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence, not skin color, gender, or ethnicity. In a free market, businesses that discriminate lose customers, goodwill, and valuable employees – while rational businesses flourish by choosing the most qualified employees and selling to all willing buyers. More importantly, in a free society every citizen gains a sense of himself as an individual, rather than developing a group or victim mentality. This leads to a sense of individual responsibility and personal pride, making skin color irrelevant. Rather than looking to government to correct what is essentially a sin of the heart, we should understand that reducing racism requires a shift from group thinking to an emphasis on individualism."
David Neiwert keenly recognized in the aforementioned piece that this is just a repacking of old-right tropes. Libertarians argue that they simply want to live in a society that only recognizes the individual, and that the free market and a small state will create the conditions that will undermine and remove racism. David writes:

“This is, in fact, just a repackaging of a libertarian argument that multiculturalism is the "new racism" -- part of a larger right-wing attack on multiculturalism. This is, of course, sheer Newspeak: depicting a social milieu that simultaneously respects everyone's heritage -- that is to say, the antithesis of racism -- as racist is simply up-is-down, Bizarro Universe thinking.”
It isn’t racist to believe an unrestricted free market would produce an individualist society free from racial strife and class preference, but it is highly naive and ahistorical to argue that the creation of this libertarian dream world will alleviate past prejudices and inequalities. While I respect the desire for personal freedom many libertarians advocate, the state and its redistributive attributes can (and have) helped mend past wrongs and made more just societies. There is no doubt that individuals who belong to a previously discriminated group or class can achieve success in this libertarian pipe-dream, but many will not, and it will not be because they were stupid or lazy. When you lack access to resources or capital, your chances of success are limited, while those who have said access and resources have a drastically better chance at achieving success.  Antidotal observations should demonstrate this sufficiently, but statistical studies also verify this point. The Urban Institute, found that:

“Being poor at birth strongly predicts future poverty status. Using the PSID, this study finds that 49 percent of children who are poor at birth go on to spend at least half their childhoods living in poverty. In addition, children who are born into poverty and spend multiple years living in poor families have worse adult outcomes than their counterparts in higher-income families.”
In creating an economic system that allows history’s winners to avoid paying for the corrections needed to remedy past inequalities would be class war repackaged under the guise of “liberty.” Such a system would not ease class or racial divisions, it would solidify them, keeping the old racial and class order in place. Paul and his libertarian brethren may claim to be blind to race, but in avoiding the deal with these past discrepancies, reveal that they are blind to history as well.


MrDamage said...

Ron Paul is not "isolationist". North Korea is an example of isolationism and is nothing like what Ron Paul wants for America. From the wikipedia article on non interventionism: "Nonintervention is distinct from isolationism, the latter featuring economic nationalism (protectionism) and restrictive immigration. Proponents of non-interventionism distinguish their policies from isolationism through their advocacy of more open national relations, to include diplomacy and free trade."

Neither protectionism nor restrictive immigration are characteristics of Ron Paul's policy positions.

It strikes me as profoundly silly that being agreed with by Ron Paul prompts people who regard themselves as liberal to flee from him to the all the way to the right wing model of a United States that swaggers around the world poking its military forces into other nations on a whim or to protect campaign contributor interests (read: sources of oil).

jams o donnell said...

I just don't get Paul. The times I have seen him on tv or videos I cannot believe that he is being considered a serious candidate. To this British leftist the man seems deranged!

jams o donnell said...

Oh yes and here's wishing you a very happy Xmas