“But (America) goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”
— President John Quincy Adams in 1821
Rep. Ron Paul, the Texan doctor running for President as a Republican libertarian, looks like my grandfather, a gambler and small time bookie. Maybe that’s why I want to trust him. Paul is the only candidate of either major party who, over the years and our many imperial adventures, is consistently and fiercely antiwar. I watch this guy on C-Span 2 all the time. Where the left is largely silent about Obama’s wars, Paul bangs away in his slot at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and at Tea Party rallies and campuses across the country, condemning – for moral, humane as well as fiscal reasons – the Mission Unending.
Ron Paul seems to be at the head of a rising, conservative, populist antiwar movement on the right. He’s also the “unperson” of American politics, shunned by the media, allegedly as unphotogenic, and by most urban liberals who sniff at a country obstetrician with zero charisma.
Paul is also against things I’m for – like emergency care for illegals, and Roe vs. Wade and Social Security and Medicare. But so what? He has a laser-like eye for what’s sick about our economy – for example, the $10 billion monthly we spend in Afghanistan while child poverty at home goes rampant – and our fear-mongering politics – for example, the equally no-end-in-sight “drug war”. A lonely figure in Congress, he voted against the Iraq war and the infamous Patriot Act. On a no-foreign-wars, pro-civil liberties platform he nearly beat Michelle Bachmann’s bought total in the recent Iowa straw poll. The Republican establishment is terrified of him. If this isn’t enough recommendation, Rush Limbaugh loathes Paul who he calls “nuts on parade”.
People who upset the consensus we call crazy.
There IS a Ron Paul problem. He has no jobs program aside from the bee in his bonnet advocating “a truly sound money system” (banishing the Federal Reserve). And he draws wacko racists and antisemites to his campaign.
But here’s OUR problem: nobody else with a national audience is speaking out against the war(s) and against the whole Bush-Obama apparatus of government surveillance and intimidating whistleblowers.
What used to be the left-progressive antiwar movement is a dead dodo. With rare exceptions we have been hypnotized into paralysis by the very real achievement of getting “our” man into the White House in 2008. [Speak for yourself, Clancy. AC] Then we went home for a deep snooze in the comforting illusion that he was pro-us, pro-labor, antiwar (sort of), just a good all-round person. Very slowly progressives are waking up from their torpor. Even the blindly loyal Democratic Black Caucus is making noises, as per Rep. Maxine Waters’ blunt assessment, “(Obama) doesn’t understand the level of pain out there.”
With agonizing slowness Obama’s “base” may be getting its act together. But I wouldn’t bet on it until we have a Devil’s-spawn Republican in the White House in 2016 – or, at the rate Obama is defeating himself, next year – and we can gather again at the river, the beautiful river of complacent protest.
If you’re against Bush-Obama’s wars, you have to reconcile yourself to the ugly fact that “anti imperialism” today is located more on the rising “isolationist” right than the “internationalist” left. Militarized “humanitarian intervention” is the liberal pretext for establishing our more than 1000 military bases worldwide. The irresistible impulse of paid-up liberals like Hilary Clinton, Samantha Powers and Susan Rice, Obama’s three interventionist advisors, is to go “Hooah!”, Let’s send in the 82d Airborne – or at least fire a few Cruise missiles – to protect (supply name of besieged civilians) to get our booted foot in the door.
Historically, there are times when there’s been little or no practical difference between social progressives and imperial warmakers. In the 19th century, once it became clear after a couple of depressions, in 1873 and 1893, that upthrusting American capitalism depended for survival on expansion and exploiting foreign markets, the flag smartly followed the dollar. The inevitable wars, in Cuba and the Philippines and on into WW1, were protested by lonely contrarians like Mark Twain but also supported and even encouraged by moralizing liberals (and safe noncombatants) like John Dewey, Walter Lippmann and a raft of suffragettes demanding the right to “do our part” in the killing.
Ever since, liberals have suffered from a kind of wartime “dissociative amnesia”, splitting off our progressive consciousness from the consequences of our silence when it comes to shedding other people’s blood on foreign ground.
What to do when a war is made in our name when some of the strongest anti-war voices come from suspect sources?
We’ve had this problem at least since the1930s when the anti-interventionist American First Committee drew reactionary and anti-Semitic “fringe elements” along with socialist Norman Thomas and the young students Gore Vidal and John F. Kennedy. (Disclosure: as a 14-year old protestor I threw bricks into the plate-glass windows of my neighborhood Sears & Roebuck because it was the headquarters of America First’s chairman.)
Ron Paul, despite his healthy war chest and huge following around the country, will never be a “viable” presidential candidate. But his persisting presence in our lives – if we care to watch and listen – creates a real dilemma for us on the so-called left. More than a dilemma, a reality we hate facing. It’s that the Bush-Obama wars, while bankrupting us, are OUR wars too, we own them, by our failure (unlike the Vietnam war) to reach out to serving troops and by trusting a president who has forfeited that trust.
Sneering at, or smearing, Ron Paul is no substitute for a good hard look at the Ron Paul we helped create with our inaction.
Clancy Sigal is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org