Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ron Paul: Not a Civil Libertarian

Last week Glenn Greenwald won the Dumbest Tweet of the Week award with this beauty, about Ron Paul:

Of course, this is laughable to anyone familiar with Paul's positions on, say, abortion, or the Civil Rights Act (Dave Neiwert has a great piece on this). It's also ridiculous in the light of the vicious racism in Ron Paul's newsletters. Greenwald's response on the former was to point to his terribly-clever1 use of the weasel word "many"; the latter, he dismissed with an airy "they all have serious flaws".

Greenwald has since doubled down on his tweet, describing Paul as "the only candidate in either party now touting" the "foreign policy and civil liberties values Democrats spent the Bush years claiming to defend". All of which says much more about Greenwald's extremly narrow (Libertarian-friendly) conception of "civil liberties" than about either the President or Ron Paul.

But even on its own terms--even excluding niggling little concerns like women's autonomy or enforcing the equal protection clause or separation of church and state--Greenwald's comment is fatally wrongheaded. Paul's positions on issues like military intervention, surveillance, and the drug war may converge with the positions of civil libertarians, but they aren't really based on civil liberties as we liberals understand the term.

A lot of prog love for Ron Paul is based on his national defense policies: "Avoid long and expensive land wars that bankrupt our country....eliminat[e] waste in a trillion-dollar military budget." An anti-war stance, naturally enough, sounds pretty good to anti-war liberals. Paul opposed the Iraq War from the beginning (as, of course, did Obama); that buys him a lot of goodwill.

But the nature of his anti-war stance is fundamentally different from that of liberal opposition to any given war. The tipoff is in his opposition to foreign aid, and his anti-United Nations position: he's anti-war because the rest of the world just isn't worth it. His is not the pacifism of the anti-war movement but the nativist isolationism of the America-Firsters; Paul is "to the left of Obama" the way Lindbergh was to the left of Roosevelt. (That may be true in a fairly literal sense, although I wouldn't trust anything from Big Government without further corroboration.)

Similarly, Paul's positions on civil liberties issues aren't actually about civil liberties as we understand them; they're about his opposition to Federal authority. (An opposition that is somewhat conditional, it should be noted.) For example, in talking about the death penalty, he makes clear that he opposes it only at the Federal level. His opposition to the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, and domestic surveillance come from the same root as his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He has no real objection to states violating the rights of their citizens; it's only a problem if the Feds do it.

The assumption underlying this is that people are freer when states (as opposed to the Federal government) have more power. Now, it may seem obvious to some of us that the distinction between one arbitrary administrative unit and another isn't exactly a human rights issue, but let's just consider for a moment: does state or local control actually translate to more liberty?

Good question. Let's ask the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission; I bet they have the answer somewhere in their files.

As Corey Robin pointed out (in his response to Naomi Wolf's idiotic conspiracy theory), repression often occurs at the local level:
From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century to the Red Squads of the twentieth-century police departments to the struggles over Jim Crow, state repression in America has often been decentralized, displaying that very same can-do spirit of local initiative that has been celebrated by everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam....What history demonstrates is that police officers often use their powers, with or without federal prompting, as instruments of larger political purpose....During the McCarthy era, for example, southern politicians and law-enforcement officers used the language of anti-communism to outlaw the NAACP and to arrest and indict civil-rights leaders for sedition....[I]f all politics is local in the United States, as Tip O’Neill reminded us, it stands to reason that a good deal of the political repression is as well.
In other words, as any veteran of the Civil Rights era2 could tell us, championing states' "rights" over Federal authority is emphatically not a pro-civil liberties position.

But (you might say) if the result is the same--if, whatever the twisted origins of his position, Ron Paul takes is on the side of the angels on certain narrowly framed issues--does it really matter how he gets there?

Short answer: yes. Slightly less short answer: hell yes. Longer answer: of course, because his opposition to (Federal) government overreach is inseparable from his opposition to Roe v. Wade and equal protection enforcement and environmental regulation and...well, every single goddamn thing that matters to liberals except the tiny set of narrow issues on which, in stopped-clock fashion, Paul has arrived at the right position through the wrong process.

1By which I mean "not particularly clever".

2Full disclosure: my parents worked in the civil rights movement in Mississippi from 1965-67.


c u n d gulag said...

I read Glenn for years, but stopped shorty after Obama became President.

Somewhere along the way after Obama was sworn in, he went off the reservation.

I don't know what he expected a Democratic President to do after the damage of the last 30 years, and that.
It seems as if he, among other Liberals, wanted the first black President to be their 'Knight in Shining Armor," and change America back to something it never was. And any deviation from their own personal purity project, led them to want to throw the greater good out as if Obama was toilet tissue, which once soiled, wasn't good for anything else but flushing.
To have expected a Liberal Presidency, after 40+ years of anti-Liberal propaganda, and a nation steeped in dogmatic Conservative bullshit, was and is madness - especially from the first black one. If Obama wanted to make sure there would NEVER be another President of color, or possible even a woman, in that office, he would have followed the prescriptions of people like Glenn, and Jane Hamsher, and countless other people, who wanted him to be more dictatorial, like Little Boots had been. But they forget that Bush had not only an event that changed America forever to use to his advantage, but that after that he also had a compliant and complicit Congress and MSM, with many Democrats and media member cowered, or at least silenced, by an administration that fanned the flames of fear and hatred, and was ruthless in accusing anyone in opposition to them as traitors bent on treason.

Well, Obama wasn't and isn't W, and he didn't have a complicit and compliant Congress and MSM. And even with majorities in both Houses, he had to account for the uselessness, if not outright treachery, of Red Dog ('cause there ain't nothin' blue 'bout 'em) Democrats like the departed Even Bayh, and departing Ben Nelson, in the Senate, and a House full of useless turds like Heath Shuler.
And so, because Obama was insufficiently W-like in his use of power, and manipulation of the MSM (who, have been trained Pavlov's dogs-style, to question Democrats and mistrust them, and follow the Conservative narrative taught them over 30 years, that said Democrats = Dope-smoking sex-fiend DFH's; Republicans = Hard-working Heartland America), and couldn't get them single-payer, something that would never have had a chance of passing Congress, and didn't immediately empty Gitmo and try the suspects in legitimate courts of law, stateside, something the moral cowards in both parties in Congress specifically passed legislation to prevent, or whatever other pet project they had that Obama either didn't, or couldn't, politically support 100%, or realized he couldn't get passed, and, instead of realizing that the alternative to Grover's drowning government in a bathtub, really shouldn't be to throw the baby out with the bathwater, they instead went right on ahead and threw Obama and whatever good he did and could do, out, and set up an opposition party within Obama's own party. And not a 'loyal' opposition.

Obama isn't perfect. But he is far, far better than whatever McCain would have brought, and whoever from the right might get elected in 2012. And if you can't see that, I'm sorry, but you are nuts!

I'm starting to see that, just like Conservatives have their own 27% that they can count on, no matter what, the Democrats have their own percentage that they know they can't count on, almost no matter what.
Both those Conservative and Liberal camps are dogmatic, and do not accept compromise. Theirs is a Manichean world of black and white and right and wrong. And I'm sorry, but Greenwald and Hamsher fall into that part of the myopic left. And, if you find more Liberalism in parts of Paul than in the whole of Obama, you aren't myopic, you're blind!

Ok, I've yapped on long enough - that's enough from me.

Cue the Obamabot responses.

c u n d gulag said...

Sorry to write a comment that long.

But you should have seen it before I had to edit it!

I didn't know there was a character limit.

I've decided I'm not going to write a separate comment that included what I edited out.
Some of it was criticism of Clinton and some of his aiding and abetting the Reagan DEvolution, and some more on the criticism of Obama from the left.

But, I've been long-winded enough for one morning. :-)

DanG said...

As anyone whose been involved in local politics knows, corruption is always more pervasive at the local level (although not necessarily involving bigger sums of money) than at the federal level. There is much more scrutiny at the federal level. Which, unfortunately usually means that local government is often invisible to its citizens, not the the feds are free from corruption.

And I am also sick of Greenwald. Whatever opinion pops in his head is the Right One, which is not subject to question. The snotty and arrogant responses he gives when he's questioned or criticized say it all. I want people I agree with to govern me. I don't expect perfection, as nice as it would be.

Never Ben Better said...

@ c u n d gulag:


Tom Hilton said...

@ c u n d gulag: Amen.

@ DanG: exactly right. To put it crudely, a President could never seize the kind of absolute power any number of county sheriffs (say) have had over their own territory.

sherifffruitfly said...

"they all have serious flaws"


"I'm white and don't give 2 shits about racism."

BH said...

Huzza to Tom, c u n d , & DanG. I've lived all but 7 of my 60 years in small-town/rural north Texas, & "local control" (of law enforcement, education, health care, you name it) has constantly been the foe of common sense, fairness & decency. Paul is a bad joke, the only worse jokes being Greenwald & Co.

Jeff Fecke said...

@sherifffruitfly -


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Glenn is correct on many issues. And even looking at this quote - he is correct. On military issues, he is to the left of Obama. States cannot engage in warfare. I agree with your other points - and have blogged on this issue as well. Paul's libertarianism is simply a plea for state's rights. It is not a true libertarianism. I find Paul loathsome.

I would be happy having Greenwald as an advocate -- even though we sometimes disagree. He is more consistent than most folks who claim to be on the left.

Rob said...

This is a terrific comment on Greenwald's obsession (can't put it any other way)with Ron Paul.

Simply put: Glenn is a cartoon character. Actually, that's an insult to cartoons. They're two-dimensional.

For more in-depth commentary on Greenwald and his methods, may I suggest A. Jay Adler's blog, Sad Red Earth. There are some links in that piece which take you to other columns he's penned on the subject.


And this is one of my favorites:


Tom Hilton said...

@Darren: Thanks for your comment. I would disagree with the idea that Ron Paul's anti-interventionism (or any other position) is, in fact, to the left of Obama. As I see it, positions that coincide with liberal positions, but flow from premises that are inimical to liberalism, are not actually liberal positions.

Anonymous said...

Glenn has very silent about all of the Paul revelations on his blog. Was expecting a 20 page essay explaining why we are all wrong. He may just realize how much of a hole he's dug himself in for his 4 year Ron Paul wankfest...

James W. Pharo said...

I clicked over here from BJ thinking I might learn something about Glenn's critique.

I did not.

Glenn's commentary on this (like on so much else) is a tour de force of precision and insight. It should SHOCK Dems that it's flag-bearer is TO THE RIGHT OF A LEADING GOP CONTENDER. Glenn is making a point about BHO and about mindless tribalism (and about the very real loss of our Constitution as a living document). It is not a comment on why Ron Paul is a buffoonish idiot.

It would help if you read Glenn's work as carefully as he writes it.

Tom Hilton said...

@James: When I read Greenwald, I read him pretty carefully. Carefully enough, in fact, to notice his loaded language, his factual distortions, his misrepresentation of opposing arguments, his redefinition of terms, his conclusory statements, and various other factual and logical flaws.

I would suggest this: whenever you read a piece by Greenwald, follow every link and read it carefully to ascertain whether it actually says what Greenwald says it says. It's an instructive exercise.

LT said...

This is really fucking dumb, Tom. Your argument assumes that Greenwald said "Every single thing about Paul - even his toenails - is to the Left of Obama!" He of course didn't say that. And it's a Tweet, for god's sake. Just so beneath you.

And you should take that ABL linked to it as bad news, not good. She is primarily concerned about personalities, Greenwald being her biggest target. She lives to yell "EMOPROG!" It is childish, substanceless, drivel.

LT said...

"Thanks for your comment. I would disagree with the idea that Ron Paul's anti-interventionism (or any other position) is, in fact, to the left of Obama. As I see it, positions that coincide with liberal position..."

God. Are you fucking kidding me? What weasel words. "What he said is true, but only because it *coincides* with the truth!"

No wonder ABL linked to this.

salvage said...

The problem is simple, Obama is still doing some pretty awful Bush/GOP like things.

ABL and her kind are comfortable with this compromise Glenn and his kind (I count myself among them) are not.

Yes Obama has done some very good things and yes Obama is better than Bush, McCain and any other Presidential candidate today and last election.

That doesn't mean he hasn't ordered the deaths of innocent people in drone strikes* and for that alone I think he sucks and would never vote for him even if I could.

*collateral damage is I'm sure how he'd put it if pressed of course no one is pressing so we have no idea what he says about it.

the bewilderness said...

Every now and again I am startled by the inability of people I admire to recognize white male supremacy when it is right in front of their faces.
Greenwald has a serious blind spot with regard to civil rights for my half of the population. It crops up fairly often in his writing.

Tom Hilton said...

@the bewilderness: Yes, exactly. The astounding thing to me is that he doesn't even bother to address it; it's as if for him civil rights just isn't an issue at all.

@salvage: I think there's plenty of room for criticism on the drone strikes (there's a very interesting and thoughtful thread at Ta-Nehisi Coates' place, and a more lively but slightly less thoughtful thread at Balloon Juice), but framing it the way you (and Greenwald) do--"he ordered the deaths of innocents"--actually undercuts any serious critique of the practice, for the simple reason that every President in (at least) the last century has ordered the deaths of innocents. It goes with the territory. The actual issues are different: whether the acts that caused those deaths were necessary; whether they were done in accordance with the law; whether the drone strikes caused more, or less, collateral damage than alternative methods; whether there is adequate oversight; etc., etc.

salvage said...

@Tom Hilton said...

>I think there's plenty of room for criticism on the drone strikes

No, there isn't. You can't legally fire missiles at people that you think might be terrorists.

Tell me how many innocent dead people do you need before you think it's a bad thing?

Me, it's one.

>"he ordered the deaths of innocents"--actually undercuts any serious critique of the

He orders drone strikes in populated areas, we know for a fact that people who where no threat to anyone are dead as a result of those orders.

What is more serious than that?

>President in (at least) the last century has ordered the deaths of innocents.

Let's say in the 80's the British started bombing Dublin to fight the IRA would that have been okay?

How many innocent people would have to die before you would think it unacceptable?

The fact is the same people who were screaming about this when Bush was doing it have gone a bit silent on the issue. Atrios sort of nudges it once in awhile.

It's criminal to fire missiles at people outside of an actual declared war. It doesn't matter that you only do it a bit, it doesn't matter that other people did it / do it, it's still criminal. I honestly don't know how anyone can think otherwise.

As for justification, if Obama canned the whole thing today do you think it would imperil America? What do you think the result would be?

I think that the terrorist threat would be about the same and that innocent people in Pakistan wouldn't be getting blown up by American munitions.

Tom Hilton said...

As for justification, if Obama canned the whole thing today do you think it would imperil America? What do you think the result would be?

That's a reasonable question. I don't think the answer is obvious or simple.

As for the rest, the drones are going after military targets (as identified by the AUMF). Setting aside the question of whether it's necessary at all to go after those targets, do you think alternative methods would result in more or less collateral damage?

If you aren't prepared to address that question, then you aren't thinking seriously about the issue.

salvage said...

>That's a reasonable question

You skipped my other questions so I'll assume you think them "unreasonable".

>I don't think the answer is obvious or simple.

Yes it is.

A drone strike on bin Laden would not have prevented the 19 men who were not bin Laden from flying planes into building full of innocent people.

In fact you could have drone striked all of Pakistan for the whole decade before 911 and 911 still would have happened.

What would have happened is a lot of people who were not terrorists or threats to the U.S. would be dead.

>s for the rest, the drones are going after military targets (as identified by the AUMF)

Uh huh.

168 children killed in drone strikes in Pakistan since start of campaign
As many as 168 children have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan during the past seven years as the CIA has intensified its secret programme against militants along the Afghan border.

You feeling safer and more secure with them dead children?

Let's say that in one of those strikes they did kill an honest to goodness terrorist. Worth it?

Are you for the death penalty? I'm not, even after a fair trial and incontrovertible evidence it's still the wrong thing to do for a few reasons.

This? What Obama is doing? Is no trial, no due process, some guy says some guy is a terrorist and that other guy agrees and that's it, he's dead.

And anyone standing around him.

Why they have so much proof it's the right thing to do they shouldn't even have to bother showing it to anyone.

It's WMD all over again.

This isn't a war, it's some bizarre preemptive vigilantism.

Honestly, if Bush were still doing you would not be trying to excuse it would you?

>do you think alternative methods would result in more or less collateral damage?

Alternative means to what end? Are you saying you have to kill these people, there isn't a choice not to kill them so killing them this way rather than an all out war is better?

Terrorists are dangerous, yes but they're not going to bring America down. They're not fucking super villains that must be stopped at any cost or all is lost! They're not even Nazi Germany.

So no, it's not worth bombing the shit out of innocent people because it's not going to stop any terrorist attacks.

Let's say there was a cell and it got hit, they're all dead. Is that it? The end? America safe or is America still in the exact same position as it was before they blew up the village of brown people?

How long would you want it to go on for? Let's see there hasn't been any terrorist attacks since the drone attacks started so I guess as long as that continues they attacks should continue? If there was an attack would you stop the attacks or would you think that there would have been more attacks if the drones hadn't been killing people.

Do you think that these attacks empower the terrorists in terms of motivation and recruitment?

If you survived one of these attacks and your family didn't would you be understanding that America needs to desperately protect itself at any cost?

Or would you pick up a fucking gun?

Look you want to support Obama no mater what he does, I get that, the GOP are worse there's no doubt but don't try and make it out like it's something it isn't.

Or tell me you supported preemptive strikes when Bush was selling it.

Treg4RonPaul said...

When it comes to Progressives getting half a loaf of bread thru a President Ron Paul (complete change in foreign Policy & Drug War) and getting nothing from the Status Quo President Obama, Progressives choose Status Quo. That is terribly sad. If the roles where reversed, and a Denis Kucinich or an Alan Grayson or some Progressive had a chance to win the DNC nomination, libertarians would take that half a loaf in a new york second. They would change registration and work over time for his success against the Status Quo Democrats. Libertarians know that no person is perfect, but sometimes putting the right person in the right place can do the right thing. Think about it. Most of all, stop and realize that if you put all the status quo Republicans and status quo democrats together, they outnumber progressives and libertarians 10 to 1. Hence, we need each other. Time for the "your a commie" and "your a racist" kind of talk to end between us. Its time we came together to change the foreign policy of this nation. Think what nixon kissinger did carpet bombing Cambodia and Vietnam, Reagan in ElSalvador, Bush in Panama & Iraq, Clinton in Bosnia, and Bush in Iraq and now Obama following the same foreign policy of empire. Think about the millions in prison for smoking a joint. Think about the violent drug war and its attack on us all, an attack that is not equal but racial as Ron Paul pointed out at his NORML speech. Think about the death penalty and its racist problems. Libertarians and progressives, like it or not, Need each other simply because there is NOT ENOUGH of us to beat the STATUS QUO politicians. Lets get a long and support each other when and where we agree.

John said...

It's easy to criticize what Greenwald said about Ron Paul.

No one's arguing about what he said about Obama, though!

Cetamua said...

This week, Tom wrote the most dishonest post about GG that I've read in a long time.

Greenwald specifically wrote about Ron Paul:

"As soon as his candidacy {Ron Paul] is discussed, progressives will reflexively point to a slew of positions he holds that are anathema to liberalism and odious in their own right"

Anyone with reading comprehension 001, and not afflicted with blinding partisanship or personal hatred can understand the above.

But not Tom.

Tom Hilton said...

@Treg4RonPaul: if you genuinely believe that the bombing of Cambodia = intervention in Bosnia = the Iraq war = the Libya action = support for death squads in El Salvador, then it's no wonder you would support a guy like Ron Paul. I'm wasting my breath here, but for future reference: things that are different are not the same.

@John: I didn't get into that because it wasn't the focus of the post, but Matt Osborne has an excellent post eviscerating many of Greenwald's criticisms.

For myself, I'll just add what I said at The Mahablog: there are grounds for criticism of the President on “civil liberties” (in the overly narrow way that Greenwald defines the term), but Greenwald’s criticism is worthless–because it mixes potentially legitimate issues (expansion of the security state) with fanciful pseudo-issues (the supposed illegality of killing bin Laden); treats open questions as settled issues, and potentially troubling actions as crimes against humanity (drone strikes; the killing of al-Awlaki); blames the President for problems that originate in Congress (Guantanamo; the NDAA; the AUMF, which is the real basis for most of the actions Greenwald criticizes); and, in support of these points, distorts opponents arguments and misrepresents the authorities it cites.

@Cetamua: that ignores the central point of my post, which is that Ron Paul's supposedly "progressive" positions are inseparable from his positions that are "odious in their own right", because they proceed from the same set of premises.