Saturday, December 31, 2011

Left Talking Points on Ron Paul

"Ron Paul 2012" signs are seen at Occupy-related events from time to time. This seems to happen more in the South. By and large, these forces seem marginal and have little hope of achieving wider influence in the Occupy movement, given the movement's basic politics (i.e. class-conscious, anti-austerity, anti-racist, radically democratic, generally skeptical of the two-party system, critical of capitalism, etc.). Still, there are many newly politicized folks who have questions about the relationship between Ron Paul-style right-wing politics and the movement. This is by no means a central question facing the movement today. But, to the extent that there are questions of this kind arising in certain local contexts, the following may be useful. Here are a couple of suggested talking points that the Left can draw on in clarifying the politics of Ron Paul:
  1. Paul is out of touch. Occupy stands for taxing the 1%, resisting all cuts and austerity, reigning in the unchecked economic and political power of the financial sector, among other things. In sharp contrast, Ron Paul's position is that the 1% are over-taxed, that we need even more cuts and austerity, and that big banks and corporations are over-regulated. This is not a marginal political disagreement. This is a fundamental divide between those who genuinely want to stand up and fight for the interests of the 99%, on the one hand, and those who want to cede even more power to the system—capitalism—that empowers and enriches the 1% on the other.
  2. Paul stands for the two-party system. Occupy is a grassroots social movement that has taken to the streets in order to challenge the political and economic dominance of the 1%. It has used general strikes, direct actions, mass marches, speak outs, and general assemblies as its tools. It has empowered millions of ordinary people to stand up and fight for their own interests. It has not begged for crumbs from above, it has not placed its faith in leaders on high, nor has it confined itself to pandering to the existing political system. At its best, it has been fiercely independent of our broken electoral system and the two-party straight jacket. But Ron Paul is operating 100% within that broken system, as a candidate for Palin and Perry's Republican Party—with whom he votes more than 80% of the time. Those who support him in this journey miss the entire point of Occupy, which is to empower people themselves—not high and mighty leaders—to fight for their own liberation. We do the work in this society, we make it run. The 1% doesn't pick up their own garbage, they don't pilot their own private jets, and they don't produce the necessities of life they need to survive. The 99% produces all of it—and when we stop doing what we do the system grinds to a halt. That's all the power we need to topple the system that enriches the 1%.
  3. Paul's politics are racist. This is not a moral judgment about his character (that is another matter). This is about politics. For example, his position on the Civil War is that it was unjust because it infringed upon the "legitimate property rights" of slave owners. Instead, he claims, the Federal Government should have compensated slave owners for their lost "property". Paul is also a staunch opponent of the Civil Rights Act which, he claims, is an unjust incursion on the right of big business to discriminate against blacks. Noticing a trend? Paul doesn't, at the end of the day, really care about freedom and liberation for all--he cares about the property and privileges of business owners. Paul has also made numerous racist anti-black public comments, and he put out a newsletter, The Ron Paul Political Report, which regularly printed far-Right racist commentary. Don't take my word for it, read the newsletters for yourself (see here). Even Paul's most calculated and measured remarks on race evince colorblind racism. Paul is also a staunch defender of draconian, xenophobic anti-immigrant laws. Paul also regularly refers to undocumented people as "aliens". The Occupy movement, in contrast, stands in uncompromising solidarity with black people and immigrants in their struggle for freedom and equality. Tolerating Ron Paul's politics in the movement is an insult to working-class people of color who are being hit harder than anyone else by the global economic crisis.
  4. Paul is anti-education. Occupy has challenged the profiteers who are hijacking public education and lining their pockets on the backs of heavily indebted students. The movement has called for a moratorium on student debt and free, quality public education for all. But Ron Paul, like most of his Republican brethren, fiercely opposes the stands that Occupy has taken on these issues. He stands for abolishing the Department of Education and slashing education spending. He stands for cutting all Pell Grants, all Stafford Loans, indeed all public financial aid, since these programs "discriminate" against the wealthy. He is for privatizing and corporatizing public education. He stands against teachers and opposes their right to collectively bargain. He claims that education is not a right, but a commodity that should be bought and sold for a profit in the marketplace. His position on health care is the same: health care is not a right, but a luxury commodity that should be sold by private corporations for profit. In other words: if you can't afford to buy it, well fuck you. Capitalist property relations matter more than human life.
  5. Paul is anti-choice and homophobic. Paul has attempted to ban abortion at the federal level (see the Sanctity of Life Act). Paul also wrote a bill called the "Family Protection Act" that starts with talk of abolishing the Department of Education and ends with a proposal to "prohibit the expenditure of Federal funds to any organization which presents male or female homosexuality as an acceptable alternative life style or which suggest that it can be an acceptable life style." In 1990, a Ron Paul Political Report newsletter complained about President George H.W. Bush's decision to sign a hate crimes bill and invite "the heads of homosexual lobbying groups to the White House for the ceremony," adding, "I miss the closet." "Homosexuals," it said, "not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities." Comments of this ilk abound in the Ron Paul Political Report.
  6. Ron Paul will not end the wars. Only a movement will end war—in particular a mass movement from below that has the power to challenge capitalism, the political and economic system that produces war and imperialism in the first place. Moreover, the mere fact that Paul is against the wars doesn't entail that he deserves the support of Occupy. Pat Buchanan and David Duke are also against the wars. So are the editors of the hard-Right journal The American Conservative. But none of those bigoted reactionaries deserve an ounce of support from Occupy, and neither does Paul. Furthermore, isolationist nationalism--Paul's basic foreign policy—has no place in a movement that is global and fiercely internationalist. Occupy stands in solidarity with the global 99% in its struggle against the global system—capitalism—that holds it in contempt. We oppose war and imperialism not because they violate the principles of right-wing isolationism, we oppose them because they oppress and brutalize our sisters and brothers in the global 99%.
There are plenty of other things to say here. But these points really make clear how wide the gulf is between Ron Paul conservatism and the radicalism of Occupy. Readers interested in more detailed refutations of the sort of politics pedaled by Paul and other so-called "libertarians" should consult the following: why the wealth of the rich is illegitimate (1, 2, 3); capitalist property rights vs. freedom (here and here); how "libertarians" oppose liberty (here and here); the "free" market as illusion (here). For a socialist analysis of how power works in our society, see here.


Jon said...

I'm a former huge fan of Ron Paul. Had a sign in my yard in 2008 in fact. I changed my view and now would more align with you, but based on what I know of Paul I suspect you haven't followed him closely enough to really understand him. There's a couple of major things wrong here.

1-First point you are exactly right, so I'm with you there.

2-Paul really does not stand for the 2 party system. He tried to run as a liberterian, but learned during that process that the system is rigged to prevent a third party from having a voice. So it's perfectly legitimate in my mind to adopt a strategy that works within a 2 party system in order to work to dismantle it. People like Noam Chomsky will tell you to vote for Obama over McCain. That's not advocacy for a 2 party system, but an acknowledgement that real activism means you must adopt strategies that actually accomplish something. If a person concludes that working for the Green party won't get the message out, then you can agree or disagree but you don't claim that this means they advocate a 2 party system.

3-You are way off on this point. Paul rejects slavery on the grounds that your body is your property and can't be owned by another. He would conclude that the South had a right to secede because associations should be voluntary. He'd also point out, quite rightly, that the war was fought by the North not to free slaves but to sustain tax revenue. The South wanted to buy British industrial products, but the North wanted to have high tariffs in order to develop our own industries (which ended up working really well and propelled the US to the front of the economic world) and to generate tax revenue. Paul also points out that slavery ended all over the world about the same time much more peacefully. So alternatives to a war that killed 600,000 people should absolutely be considered. I think a reasonable person could say Lincoln used the wrong approach. That's a lot of corpses.

4-Agree with you on education.

5-On abortion, Paul wants the states to be allowed to decide. He's said that if a bill came across his desk that would allow him to ban abortion through Congressional legislation he would not sign it because he does not believe Congress or the President has the authority to impose this rule on people. That's advocacy for democracy, which I support. I think there's nothing wrong with allowing some things to be decided at a state level. Instead in the US we have bizarre rules that allow an abortion literally through 9 months of pregnancy. Don't let people tell you otherwise. There's confusion because of some of the Roe language, but the fact is right now (thanks to a companion decision-Dover) a woman can abort at any time. Reasonable people think that's going too far, but the court rulings won't let people have a voice in the matter.

6-Why can't he end the wars? The President legally can bring the troops home. He can decide that the mission is done (and it is more than done with OBL dead and Al Qaeda totally destroyed).

I'm not saying I'd vote for him, but I think he can end the wars. My concern is that he'd dismantle so much government that corporations would just hire their own mercenaries, and the wars would be back on after a while under Paul's presidency.

Jon said...

Glenn Greenwald is right on this point today.

t said...

2-By supporting a candidate running for one of the two corporate parties, you thereby lend undeserved legitimacy and credibility to our broken electoral system and the two-party duopoly itself. The lesser-evilist argument is similarly flawed; it de-emphasizes grassroots struggle and shoehorns active people into broken institutions that ultimately yield no serious political change. The way forward is not by straight-jacketing ourselves within a game that is rigged from the start.

3-I think Ron Paul's newsletters and his public comments speak for themselves. Even in his most measured and calculated moments Ron Paul endorses colorblind racist positions. Also, his position on the Civil War is flawed; for more on the Civil War from a socialist perspective see this:

5-The "states rights" position on abortion is no more than a smokescreen for undermining legal access to abortions. Paul is a well-known "pro-lifer", and holds other regressive positions: doesn't believe in evolution, has scary views re: church and state separation, etc. (see: )

6-Before he was president, Obama spoke out loudly and publicly against the war and Bush's foreign policy (just as he publicly supported single-payer). But we all know what happened after he took office: he continued Bush's foreign policy and turned it up a notch. The President has the powers you mention, but given how our political and economic system functions there are plenty of structural reasons why we can't expect substantial changes in foreign policy to come from above (see, e.g.: ) As you point out, Paul has no analysis of how economic power (esp. major corporations) actually fuels imperialism and war. Thus, Paul is the contradictory position of vehemently defending the very system--capitalism--which produces and drives the wars he denounces.

t said...

I don't agree with Greenwald in that recent blog post. In general I'm sympathetic to his searing criticisms of Obama, the Democrats, and liberal apologists for the first two. But he's off base in dismissing Left criticisms of Paul which mention his positions, newsletters, policies and politics. I am no liberal, and I certainly don't support Obama one iota. But I am against Paul because of the politics he stands for. Paul adopts very regressive positions on a number of issues and people should be aware of this so that they aren't lulled into political confusion by his progressive-sounding positions on ending the wars. Pat Buchanan is against the wars, but we shouldn't give him an ounce of support.

Obama-heads that attack Paul in opportunistic ways are hypocrites; they should take a close look at the numerous ways in which Obama is vigorously pro-status quo. Greenwald is right to attack these sorts of folks. But he lumps those Left of the Dems in with these jerks--and that's a cheap move. I am against *both* Obama and Paul, for some of the same reasons, and for some different reasons. Pace Greenwald, there's nothing wrong with airing my reasons for opposing both of them by pointing to the polices they support and the things they say. The key is to reject the electoral arena as the primary locus of political struggle in the US. The two-party electoral system in the US is no more than a safety-valve (or one of those "door close" elevator buttons that doesn't actually do anything but makes you feel like you are accomplishing something). Both parties--especially Ron Paul's party--march in lockstep with big business. Fighting against the 1% requires occupations, demonstrations, strikes, direct actions, and all manner of extra-electoral struggle.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

By and large, Ron Paul supporters don't seem to give a fuck about black people. They don't care about fighting racism or building a multiracial movement for justice. So the fact that they are so unmoved by the putrid shit floating around in the Ron Paul Newsletters should not be surprising... Libertarians are nothing but conservatives who smoke weed.

Rory said...

"Paul rejects slavery on the grounds that your body is your property and can't be owned by another."

That's one enlightened motherfucker!

Gary McNally said...

Jon, you said "On abortion, Paul wants the states to be allowed to decide."

Bollocks to that, it should be a womans right to decide.

Anonymous said...

You could just as well have added to the list that Ron Paul has zero understanding of the global economic crisis. I hate to be one to tell him, but his beloved capitalism kinda has issues (and global ones at that). David Harvey is really good on this stuff:

Paul also talks about the Fed as if it is an institution that exists for its own sake. As you point out above, he has no understanding of how the Fed plays a particular ruling class function in Paul's beloved capitalist system. He doesn't seem to have any idea how it serves ruling class interests, since he doesn't seem to understand what a ruling class is (or, I dunno, maybe he does since he thinks the 1% is so over-taxed).

Julia Riber Pitt said...

Jon, Ron Paul's economic policies would create more of an incentive to go to war, as you would have all sorts of profit-seeking institutions wanting to control the world's resources for more profit. I highly doubt ending the Fed and going back on the gold standard would end US imperialism, in fact it would probably INCREASE it since now there would be a huge demand to dig up Africa for all the gold it has under its soil.

Jon said...

I agree that occupations, demonstrations, strikes, etc are the real way progress is made. But let's say November 2012 arrives and there really isn't a third choice. We haven't done the work needed to give people a chance to select someone that isn't corporate owned. There are differences between the D's and R's. They may be small, but small differences in such a powerful state can make a lot of difference to suffering people. Take labor rights. Under Bush the National Labor Relations Board just didn't bother enforcing the law. Now we have Obama. A corporate stooge through and through. But now Boeing tries to break a union by moving a factory to South Carolina and the NRLB flags it and opposes it. This kind of thing has a big impact on people's lives. Or take health care. I don't like the Obama plan, but it's better than the R alternative. If the R wins you're really going to see a lot of suffering amongst the poor. Yeah, we need occupations, demonstrations, and strikes. We need to keep doing it until it's actually possible that people get a voice. But you can't just ignore Scott Walker like outcomes. Sitting out or just saying we need grass roots activity produces more Scott Walkers and that hurts.

I read your Civil War article, which was very good. In terms of history it's not different from what Paul thinks. The South seceded due to slavery. But the north went to war to keep the tax revenue coming in.

On abortion, once again I trust the people to do the right thing. I always prefer democracy to any alternative. Let the people decide. If public opinion were followed we'd have never went to war in Iraq, we'd have single payer healthcare, tax hikes for millionaires, trade relations with Cuba, drug decriminalization, a peaceful settlement in Israel, and the list goes on. The reason we have such awful policies is because powerful sectors try their best to undermine democracy. Try democracy on abortion. You'd get limits on partial birth abortion, and that's about it. Right now it's a wedge issue. Nobody loves the Roe decision more than Republicans who use it to fund raise and divide, all the while selling the poor people that vote for them down the river.

Obama was very clear that he'd continue to support the wars prior to his election. He publicly committed to the Bush timetable for withdrawal in Iraq. He said he'd attack Pakistan, which he has done. Obama was mostly truthful in terms of his promises on Iraq. He also voted to fund the wars every chance he got. Paul did not. Paul expressly says get the troops out now and he votes against funding the wars. He'd end the wars.

Anonymous said...

Great post on racism in the libertarian movement: