Ron Paul: no friend of freedom
The Texas congressman has vicious views on abortion and immigration. So why are so many liberals supporting him?
While he has very little chance of winning the Republican nomination, 72-year-old Texas congressman Ron Paul has attracted a disproportionate amount of interest from a strange mix of people, from right-wing libertarians to leftist anti-war activists. How did a man who is essentially an old-fashioned conservative, with little of the national standing or financial muscle of his opponents, manage to achieve such a high profile?
Many have been attracted to his maverick libertarian outlook, which appears to be strongly opposed to foreign intervention. Paul has attracted disaffected liberals, libertarians and others who believe he is more aligned to freedom than the other candidates (1). Many have commented on his ability to raise the largest amount of campaign finance in 24 hours, a cool $4.2million on 5 November – only to go on and top that amount over the following month. Pundits have also noted how much success he seems to have online (2). Indeed, he leads the YouTube subscriber figures among the 2008 candidates with over 45,000 subscribers – way ahead of the next most popular presidential candidate, Barack Obama, who has around 17,000 subscribers to his channel (3).
All of this may now rapidly change in light of a recent article which reveals that newsletters from the Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties bearing Ron Paul’s name contained a whole host of racist and bigoted comments, plus a few articles in praise of David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (4). Whether he knew about the pieces penned by writers under his name or not (he has claimed ‘moral responsibility’ for not overseeing them and claims he was unaware of the content) we can still assess him by the rest of his record. So, just how freedom loving and liberal is the libertarian Ron Paul?
The Iraq war has become representative for many people of the wrong-headed nature of politics today. But often this does not reflect any clear anti-interventionist position; rather, what’s currently happening in Iraq is seen as a metaphor for life spiralling out of control. When Ron Paul gets up and argues against America being in Iraq, and pours scorn on the idea that overseas bases and military campaigns protect US citizens, he feeds in to a wide-ranging sentiment that things have gone too far and we should just stop. Rather than being driven by any positive convictions about freedom or national self-determination for Iraqis, Iranians or anyone else, Paul’s position has more to do with a feeling of ‘get me out of here’ (the flipside of the anti-war movement’s ‘not in my name’ slogan). This fearful and isolationist stance is based on the assumption that such messy situations can only get worse – which brings to mind John Stuart Mill’s famous quote about war from his essay The Contest in America:
‘War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.’
Paul is doing one highly fashionable thing: presenting himself as the underdog. This has been a theme of the campaign, with John Edwards saying he is ‘anti-establishment’, Hillary shedding tears in New Hampshire and Obama seemingly the underdog by default because of the colour of his skin. Paul has positioned himself as the outsider in the Republican race, as a lone voice that has a certain appeal. This outsider status gives him a freedom for manoeuvre that his opponents lack. He clearly dominated the Saturday night New Hampshire ABC/Facebook live television debate on the issue of foreign policy – although this had more to do with the exhaustion of the Republicans on this issue rather than the compelling nature of his arguments (5).
But his credentials as a lover of freedom evaporate when he moves off the subject of Iraq. Suddenly, he is ‘Dr No’, the libertarian gynaecologist who is pro-life and anti-immigration. Paul authored legislation in Congress that seeks to define life as beginning at conception and was the prime sponsor of a bill which would negate the effect of Roe v Wade by removing the ability of federal courts to interfere with state legislation to protect life. In his inimitable way, he tells us: ‘This is a practical, direct approach to ending federal court tyranny which threatens our constitutional republic and has caused the deaths of 45million of the unborn.’ (6)
Paul attempts to avoid the tricky issues of abortion by reducing it to a matter of state legislation based upon ‘violence’ rather than arguing out the principles of freedom. It is striking that so many people who see themselves in some way as being ‘progressive’ – although all these terms should be taken with a large pinch of salt these days – are ‘psyched’ by Ron Paul and do not take a hard look at the majority of his views. It quickly becomes clear that his attraction on the old ‘left’ is a sign of their desperation and craven nature, while libertarians only seem to support freedom, like the ability to travel freely across borders, when it is deemed to be of benefit to the economy.
Paul has been only too happy to play on fears of a weakening US economy by blaming immigrants, as his nasty television advertisement for New Hampshire sums up:
It is with immigration that the limitations to the libertarianism of free marketeers are most exposed. Paul has been criticised by some libertarians who believe that migration is ‘useful’ to the free market economy, whereas he demands firm restrictions on migration – with a sealed, inward-looking perspective where the walls go up around us. Both positions, however, view migration technically, as being sometimes ‘useful’ and therefore worth supporting, as opposed to believing in the principle of freedom of movement for all migrants, irrespective of their ‘utility’ to the market.
Another problem with most libertarian positions is that they generally do not trust ordinary people. As a result they are terrified by the idea that society can initiate and coordinate public schemes, such as hospitals, believing this to be some kind of Stalinist trap. There is a striking similarity between this libertarian ‘just leave me alone’ sentiment and the way the anti-globalisation ‘movement’ recoils from the nastiness of the modern world and Big Government.
For all failings of Ron Paul or Barack Obama, interest in their campaigns does reflect a search for something different. Unfortunately, what both of them provide is a somewhat superficial version of ‘different’. As it happens, the most recent accusations of racism and anti-gay sentiments in newsletters bearing Paul’s name seem sure to bury him. While many libertarians are outraged and disappointed by the newsletters, uncovered by the New Republic, it is somewhat surprising they seem so blindsided, as his positions are not actually about real freedom for people; he has always been a Confederacy-style pro-market guy who has a disdain for ordinary people (7).
The fact that this isolationist has become the champion against intervention abroad is a sad indictment of the anti-war movement. In this oh-so-long run-up to the presidential election, we are witnessing the haemorrhaging of old allegiances and former signposts that demarcate where people stand. The collapse of the old ties and of strong party base support has left an open field, with little inspiration. Paul’s headway, while limited, represents the weakness of the Republicans, in a similar way that Obama’s success reflects the poor position of the Democrats.
Those of us who believe a better world is possible can expose this dire state of affairs for what it is. While everyone falls over themselves to be the candidate of ‘change’ and ‘hope’, it is worth pointing out that ever since the founding of America, seldom has real change occurred without ordinary people being actively involved in the process – with compelling ideas at the very heart of the matter. The fact that Ron Paul has gained so much attention is indicative of the disarray in which conventional politicians find themselves today.
Alan Miller is director of the NY Salon.
Helen Searls looked at the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s fluctuating fortunes. Mick Hume asked what Hope for real Change in America?. Sean Collins got to grips with Obama-mania. John Browne looked at why an outsider like Mike Huckabee could win the Republican race in Iowa. Daniel Ben-Ami believed cynicism has replaced genuine political debate. Or read more at spiked issues USA and White House 2008.
(2) Paul raises millions in 24-hour effort, MSNBC, 17 December 2007
(3) More you tube subscribers than any other candidates, with 19,000 to Obama’s 8,000, Ron Paul Pledge
(4) Angry White Man, New Republic, 8 January 2008,
(7) Ron Paul responds to New Republic Story’ see postings, Huffington Post
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