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Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, greets supporters in Ankeny, Iowa after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucus.
Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, greets supporters in Ankeny, Iowa after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucus. Mark Kegans/Getty Images
Katha Pollitt is a columnist for The Nation.
What is it with progressive mancrushes on right-wing Republicans? For years, until he actually got nominated, John McCain was the recipient of lefty smooches equaled only by those bestowed upon Barack Obama before he had to start governing. You might disagree with what McCain stood for, went the argument, but he had integrity, and charisma, and some shiny mavericky positions — on campaign finance reform and gun control and... well, those two anyway.
Now Ron Paul is getting the love. At Truthdig, Robert Scheer calls him "a profound and principled contributor to a much-needed national debate on the limits of federal power." In The Nation, John Nichols praises his "pure conservatism," "values" and "principle." Salon's Glenn Greenwald is so outraged that progressives haven't abandoned the warmongering, drone-sending, indefinite-detention-supporting Obama for Paul that he accuses them of supporting the murder of Muslim children. There's a Paul fan base in the Occupy movement and at Counterpunch, where Alexander Cockburn is a longtime admirer. Paul is a regular guest of Jon Stewart, who has yet to ask him a tough question. And yes, these are all white men; if there are leftish white women and people of color who admire Paul, they're keeping pretty quiet.
Ron Paul has an advantage over most of his fellow Republicans in having an actual worldview, instead of merely a set of interests — he opposes almost every power the federal government has and almost everything it does. Given Washington's enormous reach, it stands to reason that progressives would find targets to like in Paul's wholesale assault. I, too, would love to see the end of the "war on drugs" and our other wars. I, too, am shocked by the curtailment of civil liberties in pursuit of the "war on terror," most recently the provision in the NDAA permitting the indefinite detention, without charge, of U.S. citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. But these are a handful of cherries on a blighted tree. In a Ron Paul America, there would be no environmental protection, no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare, no help for the poor, no public education, no civil rights laws, no anti-discrimination law, no Americans With Disabilities Act, no laws ensuring the safety of food or drugs or consumer products, no workers' rights. How far does Paul take his war against Washington? He wants to abolish the Federal Aviation Authority and its pesky air traffic controllers. He has one magic answer to every problem — including how to land an airplane safely: let the market handle it.
It's a little strange to see people who inveigh against Obama's healthcare compromises wave away, as a detail, Paul's opposition to any government involvement in healthcare. In Ron Paul's America, if you weren't prudent enough or wealthy enough to buy private insurance — and the exact policy that covers what's ailing you now — you find a charity or die. And if civil liberties are so important, how can Paul's progressive fans overlook his opposition to abortion and his signing of the personhood pledge, which could ban many birth control methods? Last time I checked, women were half the population (the less important half, apparently). Technically, Paul would overturn Roe and let states make their own laws regulating women's bodies, up to and including prosecuting abortion as murder. Add in his opposition to basic civil rights law — he maintains his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and opposes restrictions on the "freedom" of business owners to refuse service to blacks — and his hostility to the federal government starts looking more and more like old-fashioned Southern-style states' rights. No wonder they love him over at Stormfront, a white-supremacist website with neo-Nazi tendencies. In a multiple-choice poll of possible effects of a Paul presidency, the most popular answer by far was "Paul will implement reforms that increase liberty which will indirectly benefit White Nationalists." And let's not forget his other unsavory fan base, Christian extremists who want to execute gays, adulterers and "insubordinate children." Paul's many connections with the Reconstructionist movement, going back decades, are laid out on AlterNet by Adele Stan, who sees him as a faux libertarian whose real agenda is not individualism but to prevent the federal government from restraining the darker impulses at work at the state and local levels.
It's all pretty incoherent for a man often praised as principled and consistent and profound — if states could turn themselves into a Christian theocracy, could they also turn themselves into socialist mini-republics? If they can ban contraception, can they also compel contraception? For people who see Paul as an antiwar candidate who will restore the Bill of Rights, it's almost bad manners to bring up his opposition to just about every piece of progressive legislation passed in the last 200 years, from the Occupational Safety and Health Act and membership in the UN to Federal Deposit Insurance and requirements that undocumented immigrants be permitted treatment in ERs. But come on! This man has been a stone reactionary his entire life. Consistent? Not to harp on abortion, but an effective ban would require a level of policing that would make the war on drugs look feeble.
If Ron Paul was interested in peace, he wouldn't be a Republican — that party has even more enthusiasm for the military-industrial complex than the Democrats. For decades the GOP has turned every election into a contest over who is more macho, more nationalistic, more willing to do exactly the things lefty Paul fans excoriate Obama for doing. Paul doesn't get re-elected in his Texas district because of boutique positions like thinking Osama bin Laden should have been arrested, not assassinated.
Supporting Ralph Nader in 2000 was at least a vote for one's actual politics. Supporting Ron Paul is just a gesture of frivolity — or despair.