Why the Left should reject Ron Paul
By Sherry Wolf
Online Journal Guest Writer
Dec 28, 2007, 00:22
like nature, abhors a vacuum," goes the revamped aphorism. Republican
presidential candidate Ron Paul's surprising stature among a small but vocal
layer of antiwar activists and leftist bloggers appears to bear this out.
At the October 27, 2007, antiwar protests in dozens of
cities noticeable contingents of supporters carried his campaign placards and
circulated sign-up sheets. The Web site antiwar.com features a weekly Ron Paul
column. Some even dream of a Left-Right gadfly alliance for the 2008 ticket.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, liberal maverick and Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis
Kucinich told supporters in late November he was thinking of making Ron Paul
his running mate if he were to get the nomination.
No doubt, the hawkish and calculating Hillary Rodham Clinton
and flaccid murmurings of Barack Obama, in addition to the uninspiring state of
the antiwar movement that backed a prowar candidate in 2004, help fuel the
desperation many activists feel. But leftists must unequivocally reject the
reactionary libertarianism of this longtime Texas congressman and 1988
Libertarian Party presidential candidate.
Ron Paul's own campaign Web site reads like the objectivist
rantings of Ayn Rand, one of his theoretical mentors. As with the Atlas
Shrugged author's other acolytes, neocon guru Milton Friedman and former
Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, Paul argues, "Liberty means free-market
capitalism." He opposes "big government" and in the isolationist
fashion of the nation's Pat Buchanans, he decries intervention in foreign
nation's affairs and believes membership in the United Nations undermines U.S.
Naturally, it is not Ron Paul's paeans to the free market
that some progressives find so appealing, but his unwavering opposition to the
war in Iraq and consistent voting record against all funding for the war. His
straightforward speaking style, refusal to accept the financial perks of
office, and his repeated calls for repealing the Patriot Act distinguish him
from the snake oil salesmen who populate Congress.
Paul is no power-hungry, poll-tested shyster. Even the
liberalish chat show hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar on "The
View" gave a friendly reception to Paul's folksy presentation, despite his
paleoconservative views on abortion, which he-a practicing obstetrician-argues
Though Paul is unlikely to triumph in the primaries, it is
worth taking stock not only of his actual positions, but more importantly the
libertarian underpinnings that have wooed so many self-described leftists and
progressives. Because at its core, the fetishism of individualism that
underlies libertarianism leads to the denial of rights to the very people most
radicals aim to champion-workers, immigrants, Blacks, women, gays, and any
group that lacks the economic power to impose their individual rights on
Ron Paul's positions
A cursory look at Paul's positions, beyond his opposition to
the war and the Patriot Act, would make any leftist cringe.
Put simply, he is a racist. Not the cross-burning,
hood-wearing kind to be sure, but the flat Earth society brand that imagines a
colorblind world where 500 years of colonial history and slavery are dismissed
out of hand and institutional racism and policies under capitalism are imagined
away. As his campaign Web site reads:
true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited,
constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather
than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards
individual achievement and competence-not skin color, gender, or
Paul was more blunt writing in his independent political
newsletter distributed to thousands of supporters in 1992. Citing statistics
from a study that year produced by the National Center on Incarceration and
Alternatives, Paul concluded: "Given the inefficiencies of what DC
laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that
95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely
criminal." Reporting on gang crime in Los Angeles, Paul commented:
"If you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably
fleet-footed they can be."
His six-point immigration plan appears to have been cribbed
from the gun-toting vigilante Minutemen at the border. "A nation without
secure borders is no nation at all. It makes no sense to fight terrorists
abroad when our own front door is left unlocked," reads his site. And he
advocates cutting off all social services to undocumented immigrants, including
hospitals, schools, clinics, and even roads (how would that work?).
"The public correctly perceives that neither political party
has the courage to do what is necessary to prevent further erosion of both our
border security and our national identity," he wrote in a 2005 article.
"Unfortunately, the federal government seems more intent upon guarding the
borders of other nations than our own." The article argues that, "Our
current welfare system also encourages illegal immigration by discouraging
American citizens from taking low-wage jobs." The solution: end welfare so
that everyone will be forced to work at slave wages. In order that immigrants
not culturally dilute the nation, he proposes that "All federal government
business should be conducted in English."
Though he rants about his commitment to the Constitution, he
introduced an amendment altering the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing
citizenship to anyone born in the United States, saying in a 2006 article:
"Birthright citizenship, originating in the 14th amendment, has become a
serious cultural and economic dilemma for our nation. We must end the perverse
incentives that encourage immigrants to come here illegally, including the
anchor baby incentive."
Here we come up against the limits of libertarianism-Paul
wants a strong state to secure the borders, but he wants all social welfare
expenditures eliminated for those within them.
Paul is quite vocal these days about his rank opposition to
abortion-"life begins at conception," he argues. He promotes a
"states' rights" position on abortion-that decades old hobgoblin of
civil rights opponents. And he has long opposed sexual harassment legislation,
writing in his 1988 book Freedom Under Siege (available online),
"Why don't they quit once the so-called harassment starts?" In
keeping with his small government worldview, he goes on to argue against the
government's right "to tell an airline it must hire unattractive women if
it does not want to."
In that same book, written as the AIDS crisis was laying
waste to the American gay male population prompting the rise of activist groups
demanding research and drugs, Paul attacked AIDS sufferers as "victims of
their own lifestyle." And in a statement that gives a glimpse of the
ruling-class tyranny of individualism he asserts that AIDS victims demanding
rushed drug trials were impinging on "the rights of insurance company
Paul wants to abolish the Department of Education and, in
his words, "end the federal education monopoly" by eliminating all
taxes that go toward public education and "giving educational control back
to parents." Which parents would those be? Only those with the leisure
time, educational training, and temperament commensurate with home schooling!
Whatever real problems the U.S. education system suffers from-and there are
many-eliminating 99 percent literacy rates that generations of public education
has achieved and tossing the children of working parents out of the schools is
not an appealing or viable option.
Paul also opposes equal pay for equal work, a minimum wage,
and, naturally, trade unions. In 2007, he voted against restricting employers'
rights to interfere in union drives and against raising the federal minimum
wage to $7.25. In 2001, he voted for zero-funding for OSHA's Ergonomics Rules,
instead of the $4.5 billion. At least he's consistent.
Libertarians like Paul are for removing any legislative barriers
that may restrict business owners' profits, but are openly hostile to
alleviating economic restrictions that oppress most workers. Only a boss could
embrace this perverse concept of "freedom."
Individualism versus collectivism
There is a scene in Monty Python's satire Life of Brian
where Brian, not wanting to be the messiah, calls out to the crowd: "You
are all individuals." The crowd responds in unison: "We are all
Libertarians, using pseudo-iconoclastic logic, transform
this comical send-up of religious conformity into their own secular dogma in
which we are all just atomized beings. "Only an individual has
rights," not groups such as workers, Blacks, gays, women, and minorities,
Ron Paul argues. True, we are all individuals, but we didn't just bump
into one another. Human beings by nature are social beings who live in a
collective, a society. Under capitalism, society is broken down into classes in
which some individuals-bosses, for example-wield considerably more power than
To advocate for society to be organized on the basis of
strict individualism, as libertarians do, is to argue that everyone has the
right to do whatever he or she wants. Sounds nice in the abstract, perhaps. But
what happens when the desires of one individual infringe on the desires of
another? Libertarians like Paul don't shy away from the logical ramifications
of their argument. "The dictatorial power of a majority" he argues
ought to be replaced by the unencumbered power of individuals-in other words,
the dictatorial power of a minority.
So if the chairman of Dow Chemical wants to flush his
company's toxic effluence into rivers and streams, so be it. If General Motors
wants to pay its employees starvation wages, that's their right too. Right-wing
libertarians often appear to not want to grapple with meddlesome things like
economic and social power. As the bourgeois radical Abraham Lincoln observed of
secessionist slave owners, "The perfect liberty they seek is the liberty
of making slaves of other people."
Too much government?
Unwavering hostility to government and its collection of
taxes is another hallmark of libertarianism. Given the odious practices of
governments under capitalism, their repugnant financial priorities, and bilking
of the lower classes through taxation it's hardly surprising that libertarians
get a hearing.
But the conclusion that the problem is "big
government" strips the content from the form. Can any working-class
perspective seriously assert that we have too much government
involvement in providing health care? Too much oversight of the environment,
food production, and workplace safety? Would anyone seriously consider hopping
a flight without the certainty of national, in fact international, air traffic
control? Of course not. The problem doesn't lie with some abstract construct,
"government," the problem is that the actual class dynamics of
governments under capitalism amount to taxing workers and the poor in lieu of
the rich and powerful corporations and spending those resources on wars,
environmental devastation, and the enrichment of a tiny swath of society at the
expense of the rest of us.
Ron Paul argues, "Government by majority rule has
replaced strict protection of the individual from government abuse. Right of
property ownership has been replaced with the forced redistribution of wealth
and property" Few folks likely to be reading this publication will agree
that we actually live in a society where wealth and property are expropriated
from the rich and given to workers and the poor. Even the corporate media admit
that there has been a wholesale redistribution of wealth in the opposite
direction. But Paul exposes here the class nature of libertarianism-it is the
provincial political outlook of the middle-class business owner obsessed with
guarding his lot. As online anti-libertarian writer Ernest Partridge puts it in
"Liberty for some":
"Complaints against "big government" and
"over-regulation," though often justified, also issue from the
privileged who are frustrated at finding that their quest for still greater
privileges at the expense of their community are curtailed by a government
which, ideally, represents that community. Pure food and drug laws curtail
profits and mandate tests as they protect the general public."
In fact, the libertarians' opposition to the government, or
the state if you will, is less out of hostility to what the state actually does
than who is running it. Perhaps this explains Paul's own clear contradiction
when it comes to abortion, since his opposition to government intervention
stops at a woman's uterus. But freedom for socialists has always been about
more than the right to choose masters. Likewise, Paul appears to be for
"small government" except when it comes to using its power to restrict
immigration. His personal right to not have any undocumented immigrants in the
U.S. seems to trump the right of free movement of individuals, but not capital,
Right-wing libertarians, quite simply, oppose the state only
insofar as it infringes the right of property owners.
activists and leftists desperate to revitalize a flagging antiwar movement make
appeals to the Left to form a Left-Right bloc with Ron Paul supporters. Even
environmental activist and left-wing author Joshua Frank, who writes insightful
and often scathing attacks on liberal Democrats' capitulations to reactionary
policies, recently penned an article citing-though not endorsing-Paul's
campaign in calling for leftist antiwar activists to reach out to form a sort
of Left-Right antiwar alliance. He argues, "Whether we're beer swilling
rednecks from Knoxville or mushroom eatin' hippies from Eugene, we need to come
together," ("Embracing a new antiwar movement").
Supporters of Ron
Paul who show up to protests should have their reactionary conclusions
challenged, not embraced. Those of his supporters who are wholly ignorant of
his broader politics beyond the war, should be educated about them. And those
who advocate his noxious politics, should be attacked for their racism,
immigrant bashing, and hostility to the values a genuine Left champions. The
sort of Left-Right alliance Frank advocates is not only opportunistic, but is
also a repellent to creating the multiracial working-class movement that is
sorely needed of we are to end this war. What Arabs, Blacks, Latinos-and
antiracist whites, for that matter-would ever join a movement that accommodates
to this know-nothing brand of politics?
Discontent with the
status quo and the drumbeat of electoralism is driving many activists and
progressives to seek out political alternatives. But libertarianism is no
radical political solution to inequality, violence, and misery. When the likes
of Paul shout: "We need freedom to choose!" we need to ask, "Yes,
but freedom for whom?" Because the freedom to starve to death is the most
dubious freedom of all.
Sherry Wolf is on the
editorial board of the International
Socialist Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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