It’s fascinating to watch the long knives coming out for Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, now that according to some mainstream polls he has become the front-running candidate in the Jan. 3 GOP caucus race in Iowa, and perhaps also in the first primary campaign in New Hampshire.
Remember, we’re talking about a guy who has been in Congress on and off for 12 terms, dating back to 1976. His views have been pretty consistent, and because he has run for president several times, also pretty well known. A practicing physician who claims to have helped in the births of over 4000 babies in his career, the 76-year-old Paul is a free-market advocate, an abortion opponent, an uncompromising defender of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, an opponent of government regulation, the Federal Reserve and the IRS, and of big government in general–especially big federal government.
What’s interesting is what he’s being attacked for: being a racist, being “anti-Israel” and being an isolationist.
The racist bit is funny. After all, if we’re honest, the whole political infrastructure of the US is riven with racism. Just check out the public schools in any urban area, where you’ll find most of the students are non-white, or check out the schools in rural parts of the southeast in areas where most of the students are black — compare the condition of those schools and the class sizes to schools in the white neighborhoods. Check out the wildly different jobless figures for whites and for blacks. Check out the (very pale) complexion of the student bodies at just about any state university, check out the skin tones of the judges on the US
Supreme Court, or for that matter, the whole federal bench. Check out the racial breakdown of the nation’s jails, and especially on the country’s many death rows, where you’ll find a wildly outsized percentage of people with black or brown skin waiting to be killed by the state.
Being a racist is clearly no disqualifier for national political office. It’s just that you are not supposed to say overtly racist things, at least in public.
It’s fine to pass laws and push for enforcement actions and “tough” judges that end up putting most young African-American males in prison at some point in their lives. It’s okay to promote a “War” on drugs that ends up creating a whole new slavery in the form of black men locked up in for-profit prisons. It’s okay to shortchange minority school districts. You just aren’t supposed to say you’re doing these things on purpose.
When it comes to Ron Paul, his problem is that he has allowed his supporters and his newsletters and campaign literature in years past to actually say things in public that other candidates only say, or think, in private, or that are the actual result of legislation that they sponsor or support, though always supposedly without the intent being the racist thing that is a consequence (wink, wink).
Some of those things Paul has said or allowed in his literature, like the line in one of his newsletters that the race riots in Los Angeles only ended when it came time for people to “pick up their welfare checks,” are truly offensive, and if he wants to be a serious contender for office, Paul should publicly and forcefully disavow them and the people who have expressed them in his name or on his behalf, as he should forcefully denounce any white racists and anti-semites who offer him support (his statements to date that he “doesn’t agree” with such people, or “doesn’t like” their support are far too limp). But it’s worth noting that with all the charges floating around that he hangs out with white supremacist types, Nelson Linder, president of the Austin, Texas NAACP, says he has known Ron Paul for 20 years, and reports that he is “not a racist.” Linder notes that Paul has called Martin Luther King a “hero,” and adds that he has condemned the police repression of black communities as well as the mandatory sentencing rules (supported by Democrats and Republicans over the years) that have condemned many blacks to long prison terms for minor offenses–concrete positions that you will not hear coming from either Obama or any of Paul’s competitors for the GOP nomination.
In fact, if we’re talking racist guilt-by-association, then the media’s favorite Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, should be hearing demands that he renounce his Mormon faith, as the Mormon scriptures state that the “seed of Cain” were made black in what amounts to a racist curse by the Mormon god. So should fellow Mormon Jon Huntsman. (Even if the Mormon church “received” blacks in 1978, many of its adherents remain white supremacists, and many of its priests continue to oppose inter-racial marriage.) Rick Perry, meanwhile, should have to sever his ties with white supremacist Christian evangelist David Barton. As for Newt Gingrich condemning Paul for hanging around with racists, talk about your pot calling the kettle racist!
Then there is the foreign policy stuff.
Ron Paul is being called anti-American, both by some of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, and increasingly even by fearful Democrats who are starting to wonder, and apparently worry, about how Paul might fare against Barack Obama in the 2012 general election. The basis for this claim is Paul’s argument that the 9-11 attacks on the US were the predictable result of the history of American imperialist activity in the Middle East, and his claim that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were gleeful after that attacks because it allowed them to go to war against Afghanistan and Iraq.
The thing is, while you aren’t supposed to say it in polite company, Ron Paul is right about that. You don’t have to buy into conspiracy theories claiming that 9-11 was an “inside job” to see that Middle Eastern terror campaigns against the US were the predictable result — blow-back if you will — of a history of US imperialism in the Middle East and elsewhere, or of what Native American activist Ward Churchill rightly referred to as “chickens coming home to roost.” And we have it from a member of Bush’s own cabinet, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, that planning for an invasion and occupation of Iraq was in the works before Bush was even sworn into office in January 2001, while work on the fine print of the so-called USA PATRIOT Act was underway well before the first plane hit the first tower.
Paul is being labeled an “isolationist” (a hoary term that is supposedly a pejorative, dating back to World War I days, but which these days should actually be considered a compliment). The basis for this charge is that he calls for an end to America’s endless wars and to the fraudulent and enormously dangerous and damaging “War” on Terror. He also says he wants to close down the over 800 military bases that the US operates all around the world. Again, what has his establishment critics in high dudgeon is that his perspective is winning over an increasing number of Americans (including Republicans), who are finally waking up to the reality that a country that spends more than half of every tax dollar on its military, its wars, the debt for those wars, and on its secret spying operations, and that has itself on a permanent war footing, cannot prosper or even long endure.
Also making Ron Paul a pariah for the establishment is his position on Israel. He rightly points out and condemns the terrible distortion of US foreign policy that has occurred because of the unseemly power of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., which has most members of Congress in the pocket of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As he put it in a 2007 interview<> : “The First Amendment grants all citizens the right to petition the U.S. government, and this applies to AIPAC as much as anyone else. However, I oppose certain lobbying groups having more of an undue influence than others, and since one of the main purposes of AIPAC is to lobby for generous taxpayer subsidies to Israel, that portion of their influence would end under my administration.”
But the truth is: What other country can you name which is almost totally dependent upon the US for its military, yet can nonetheless make threats to use its US-supplied weapons to start a potential global war (by invading Iran), with Washington left pleading with it not to take such an action? There is no other such country. Any other country dependent upon the US for its military weapons has to march to US orders or else. While we’re at it, what other lobby can you name that has had spies working for it, including spies in the Pentagon who have gone to jail for disclosing US military secrets, and which nonetheless remains a prime venue for presidential candidates to come and speak? Answer: There is no other such lobby.
Israel can even murder an American citizen, as it did in 2010 in the case of unarmed 19-year-old humanitarian volunteer Furkan Dogan on the Turkish Gaza aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, and there isn’t a peep of protest from Washington (the White House actually tried to bury a report from the Turkish national forensic medicine body declaring that their tests showed Dogan had been executed by IDF bullets fired at his head at close range). Indeed, Israel was able to announce in advance that it planned to have its IDF thugs board ships of a second aid flotilla carrying many unarmed American citizens, and instead of warning Israel not to harm any of those Americans, Washington warned the Americans that they were putting themselves at risk. Our government even gave Israel the go-ahead in advance to have its boarding parties use violence against those US citizens.
What has Paul’s critics, right and left, worried is that a growing number of Americans agree with his view of Israel, seeing support of that increasingly isolated irredentist theocracy with its ongoing illegal occupation and absorption of Palestinian territories, and its official policy of apartheid towards the Arabs within its borders as being inimitable to American interests.
There are plenty of things wrong with Ron Paul, but the charge of racism doesn’t hold up very well, and in any case, it’s a charge that can be leveled equally against most of the rest of the nation’s white political leaders, and is hardly a disqualifier, judging by the people who currently hold high office in Washington, not to mention state governments. As for his anti-Israel stance and his isolationist foreign policy, these are both positives and could end up winning him votes in an honest national presidential race–if we still have such things here in America.
Where I part company with Paul is in the area of economics. His Libertarian philosophy may be right on when it comes to support for individual rights, and to a belief in strict adherence to the Constitution. We desperately need a radical pull-back from the unconstitutional policies of the Bush and Obama administrations, which have made the president into a virtual dictator, relegated Congress to the role of a debating society, gutted at least nine of the 10 articles in the Bill of Rights, and overseen the creation of a police state where it is now possible for American citizens to be captured and hauled away from their homes in secret, to be locked up and held indefinitely without trial on some military base on the basis of unproven rumors and trumped-up charges, with no right to see family members or even a lawyer.
But Libertarianism is not so great when it calls for an end to federal regulation of corporations, however large and powerful, or when it says the federal government should do nothing when the entire planetary biosphere is threatened by rampaging climate change caused by the rapacious and unbridled pursuit of profit and growth by those same corporate interests.
It’s not so great either when it opposes, as Paul does, legislation like the Civil Rights Act on the grounds that private employers and owners of private shops and restaurants should have the right to discriminate on the basis of race if they wish, free of government intervention.
Libertarianism is at its core an ugly anti-social philosophy of selfishness carried to the extreme. It is the antithesis of all that has been good in human social evolution — the creation of philosophies of caring and of societies in which suffering and want are addressed and, where possible, ameliorated.
Interestingly though, Paul is not being pilloried by his establishment critics in the GOP or the Democratic Party, or in the media, for his Libertarian economic theories or even his far-out property-rights theories. These are, after all, also quietly shared by most people in both of the major parties, and of course are wildly popular among the ranks of the corporate elite, who know they can always get all the favors they want or need from politicians by buying them, and who are happy to spout the gospel of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman when it comes to government regulation of their businesses or taxation of their personal hoards. Unfettered capitalism is also an article of faith in the corporate media.
That said, sometimes it all comes down to a couple of big issues, and in the unlikely chance that the election next November were to end up being the choice between Barack Obama and Ron Paul (and assuming no emergence of a viable Third Party progressive candidate like Rocky Anderson and hisJustice Party), while I might have a hard time pulling the lever for Paul unless he can really make it clear he has no truck with White Supremecists and their ilk, it would be easier than pulling a lever for Obama.
Why? Because with President Obama we would get more war, increased military spending, and at the rate he’s been going stripping away our Constitutional rights, there wouldn’t be any of those after another four years. We would also be electing someone who we now know lies through his teeth, who takes money from some of the biggest corporate thieves in human history, and who has appointed some of those very criminals to most or all of the key economic policy positions in his administration.
With Ron Paul as president, at least we’d be done with all the wars, the people of the rest of the world would be finally free of US military interference, including attacks by US drones. The long-suffering Constitution and its Bill of Rights would mean something again. We might even get a Supreme Court justice or two who actually believed that Congress should declare any future wars before we could fight them, and that citizens who were arrested had an absolute right to a speedy trial by a jury of peers. And we’d be electing someone who appears, especially for a politician, to be that rare thing: an honest man who says what he means and means what he says — and who doesn’t seem to be owned by the banksters.
We’d have a hell of a fight on our hands in a Ron Paul presidency, defending Social Security and Medicare, promoting economic equality, fighting climate change and pollution, defending abortion rights and maybe fighting a resurgence of Jim Crow in some parts of the country, but at least we wouldn’t have to worry about being spied upon, beaten and arrested and then perhaps shipped off to Guantanamo for doing it.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new Project-Censored Award-winning independent online alternative newspaper. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.