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There is a section of the broad Left today that is so demoralized by the miserable state of the world, the repugnant electoral options for 2008, and the dismal place the antiwar movement is in that they are flailing — both politically and organizationally. In response to my article, “Ron Paul, Libertarianism, and the Freedom to Starve to Death,” written for the Jan.-Feb. International Socialist Review and posted to several Web sites, literally hundreds of people have written nasty screeds to comment boards or e-mailed me their invective. I want to respond to the small segment of them who are self-described leftists who continue to challenge my argument that the Left should not be embracing either Ron Paul’s candidacy or his libertarian constituency.
There is a deep cynicism informing the idea that since the Left is weak, we must turn rightward for strength. The Left’s primary weakness in this country is its refusal to jettison an electoral strategy that has led us to the political cul-de-sac of antiwar activists placing an effective moratorium on mass protest to not embarrass prowar Democrats they feel they must support, as the movement did in 2004. The current crop of Democrats heading into the 2008 primaries murmur their tactical differences with the losing strategy of Bush and Co. in Iraq, while their party votes for more war funding and exposes its liberal imperial aspirations by threatening war against Iran and Pakistan.
As Adolph Reed recently wrote: “The Democratic candidates who are anointed ‘serious’ are like a car with a faulty front-end alignment: Their default setting pulls to the right.” In other words, the rightward drifting strategy of the movement has failed, so the antidote, some insist, is move even further to the right by supporting a Republican. The prescription: In a hole? Dig deeper.
There are other weakness to be sure, including the collapse of a broad Left that once understood the need to oppose U.S. foreign adventures under ALL circumstances, including those called “humanitarian.” This devastated a Left that lost its political rudder when it began supporting ventures in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, and finally Afghanistan. A trail of death and poverty lies in the wake of those great acts of the white man’s burden.
Some of Paul’s defenders complain that since he supposedly didn’t actually write some of the racist crap in his own eight-page 1992 newsletter, then he’s cleared of any racist aspersions. Get real. This is a man who argues that cross-burning shouldn’t be a crime, unless it’s violating someone’s property rights. Threaten someone’s life with the tactics of the Klan, no worries; singe their lawn, watch out! Paul has a 100 percent approval rating from the unabashedly racist John Birch Society and his political career, according to Texas muckraker Molly Ivins whose columns exposed his batty ideas, was helped by crazed holy-roller homophobe Pat Robertson. If those allies aren’t bad enough, wrap your brain around the fact that he received an endorsement on KKK leader David Duke’s site. The Web site’s motto, “White Civil Rights: The Website for Europeans and Americans Wherever They May Live,” can’t be parsed by Paul’s defenders — they hold proto-fascistic ideas and give enthusiastic support to Ron Paul.
Then there’s that little problem he has with separation of church and state, a fundamental aspect of any modern secular society. Paul argues, “The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers.” Come on folks, how far to the right does a guy need to be before his antiwar position ceases to corral leftists into his camp?
If all a guy needs to be is antiwar to embrace his supporters or even offer up endorsement, then why stop at Ron Paul, a man who isn’t even pretending to stand outside the two-party stranglehold of big business? If it’s his antiwar stance that gets progressives excited, then why not embrace Pat Buchanan too? In 2004 he blasted the war and the Bush administration at great length in Where the Right Went Wrong. Afterall, Buchanan is a far better known opponent of foreign adventures, is more pugnacious toward the do-nothing Democrats, and shares a lot of Paul’s other individualist politics. Most leftists would say that Buchanan is a nasty bigot; does this mean Paul’s folksy style and apparent nice-guy persona cancels out his pro-business and racist natterings? Nasty racists, no; affable ones, okey dokey?
Since many progressives who wrote me don’t seem to be repelled by Ron Paul’s actual anti-labor, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, defiantly sexist, homophobic, and outright racist voting record and statements, perhaps a gander at what his supporters have to say would be instructive. Those who endorse uniting with the Paulites to build a stronger antiwar movement, such as left-wing writer/activist Joshua Frank, ought to know who they’re getting into bed with. Here is a tiny sampling of the responses I’ve received so far from his committed followers.
Most numerous were the puerile personal attacks devoid of any political content — I’ll spare you those. Though it’s worth mentioning that quite a few (men) addressed me as “sweetie,” “hey lady,” and “girly” — diminutive and sexist means of attempting to belittle a woman whose arguments, in the minds of chauvinists, don’t deserve a political retort. Gee, they would make fine movement allies.
Then there are the old-school McCarthyites and a handful of anti-Semites, a couple of whom attack the organization I’m in, the International Socialist Organization, as “an organization of Jewish run hypocrites.” More common were these: “Your interpretation is simply Marxist and Un-American as well as manipulative” and the more colorful “Keep your views to yourself as I think they stink like your farts! If you don’t want to learn to follow and obey the US Constitution get the hell out of this country we don’t want you.” Or the delusional red-baiting type: “You socialists cause inflation through your support of The Federal Reserve’s unceasing creation of money out of thin air. . . . Let us alone to be free people. Everyone in our country will benefit except for the oligarchs such as you.”
I won’t bother reprinting the tirades against Stalin and Mao used to “refute” my arguments, since as a member of a political tendency that has never defended Stalinism or Maoism, I found these folks simply avoided dealing with the actual political issues involved. As do screeds, like the one on Antiwar.com, “Ron Paul: Slings and Arrows, Left and Right,” which argue that I’m shilling for Hillary Clinton, who, if she ever had a progressive stance, has had it triangulated into its poll-tested opposite. For the record, I do not now vote for or advocate a vote for, nor have I ever in my adult life voted for or advocated a vote for, a Democrat.
The racists claim: “Multi-culturalism is being discredited more each day, we don’t all need to live together in harmony.” And the immigrant bashers: “I would like to make an objection to your use of the term ‘undocumented immigrant.’ There is a reason that these individuals are not documented . . . that is because they are in the country illegally. These illegal aliens come to this country because they get free healthcare, social services and their children are born citizens.” The first note speaks for itself; as for the second, not only are 96 percent of undocumented males gainfully employed (higher than any other sector of the population), but the National Academy of Sciences found that immigrants benefit the U.S. economy overall, have little negative effect on the income and job opportunities of most native-born Americans, and may add as much as $10 billion to the economy each year. I can’t see too many Arab, Black, Latino, and other immigrants feeling welcomed into a movement with the likes of these correspondents.
The more thoughtful notes actually betray the pro-employer class bias at the very heart of Ron Paul’s libertarianism. There were lots of overt defenses of the free market and privatization, among which was this e-mail that really sums up the ramifications of Paul’s politics:
“You talk of Bosses exploiting employees. You probably think employers should pay employees what they are worth — because it sounds good to you. . . . The simple fact is if you were paid what you were worth, then there would be no profit left to the employer. If you cannot live cheaply enough for your income level, go live somewhere else. No one points a gun to your head in either case. If you are not satisfied working for someone else, go to your secretary of state’s office, and pay the tax if you wish to incorporate, or just be a sole proprietor — you be the Boss you so despise.”
Though he does make Marx’s point about where profits come from, his solution that everyone should just get up and start their own company has the charm of both denying reality and deeming exploitation inevitable and desirable.
A surprising number of self-proclaimed leftists wrote in to argue in defense of Paul’s “colorblind” vision of society as being similar to Martin Luther King’s, while dismissing Paul’s racist writings on Blacks. Let’s be clear: MLK had a dream that we needed to fight for a world in which people would be judged by “the content of their character, not the color of their skin,” BUT he didn’t pretend as though we actually live in that society today! Anyone who can look around at the terrifying incarceration, unemployment, and mortality rates of Blacks and say that we have achieved that dream and should therefore support a man who opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is either suffering racial myopia, is a racist, or is someone who thinks reality is a mere diversion. So long as we have institutionalized racism, we will need affirmative action, including quotas, and other legal and social protections to challenge the racists in power and defend groups under siege.
Finally, I want to address a couple of things lurking beneath the surface of many progressives’ arguments, elaborated by Josh Frank — someone I respect and with whom I often agree. He argues in a recent radio interview that we should “Put the false differences aside and come together in common cause,” with the “beer drinking red-necks from Tennessee” he wrote about in his initial online article, “Ron Paul’s Campaign Deserves Our Attention.” He states plainly that abortion and gay rights are “wedge issues” that “distract us from the big issues.” While nobody is advocating a litmus test for antiwar folks to join the movement, certainly not I, we need to be clear that there is a difference between a movement in opposition to a racist and imperial war having some reactionary elements float through occasionally and actively courting racists and know-nothings.
If a left-wing movement seeks alliance with these folks, we will find ourselves dropping demands and protests of things such as the attacks on Arabs and Muslims — the domestic front of this war — among other accommodations. Ignoring Paul’s more outlandish ideas is an expression of the same opportunism that some progressives have embraced as they hold their noses and vote for Democrats with repulsive politics except for abortion, or whatever.
If a Left is to strengthen, it must take on backward ideas in its midst, not cater to them. There are literally millions of progressive-minded people in this country, most of them working class of every race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation who are facing a looming recession. Paul’s politics provide no answer to the catastrophes afoot and will only repel the very people who need to be brought into the Left. Let’s not pander to petty bosses’ ideology and racist electoral campaigns and pretend we can walk away unsullied.
Sherry Wolf is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review. She can be reached at email@example.com.