Thursday, January 05, 2012

Wendy Kaminer Is Drinking the Flavor Aid

In a piece posted yesteray, she describes Ron Paul as "the only candidate standing up for individual liberties":
But for all his faults, Paul remains the only major candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has taken a stand against our endless wars (including the war on drugs) and the authoritarian national-security state -- the most urgent, dire threat to individual liberty today. It should be but isn't a shock to realize that he is the only major candidate to oppose presidential power to summarily assassinate American citizens.

So it's not surprising that Ron Paul has attracted younger voters than his Republican opponents and the support of the occasional left-wing civil libertarian (notably Glenn Greenwald1.) But liberal support for Paul is quite weak, and telling: it reflects the dangerous, anti-libertarian drift of today's liberals and progressives. With some exceptions, liberals tend to focus on Paul's alleged bigotry, his newsletters, and his opposition to anti-discrimination laws, while ignoring his lonely support for fundamental liberties.
In case you're wondering, "all his faults" are enumerated in the previous paragraph:
A most imperfect advocate for individual liberty, Paul favors state laws against flag desecration (core political speech) and federal laws against abortion, and he opposes separation of church and state, which is essential to the religious liberty of minorities.
Much shorter Wendy Kaminer: despite Ron Paul's opposition to fundamental individual liberties, Ron Paul is the only candidate standing up for fundamental individual liberties.

Setting aside the obvious point that Ron Paul's "civil liberties" positions aren't actually about civil liberties, I think this is an example (one of many) of an extremely distorted focus on a small handful of civil liberties issues at the expense of a much broader conception of civil liberties (that happens to be more consequential for more people). Look at all the civil liberties she's willing to trade away for the handful of narrow civil liberties issues where she thinks Paul agrees with her: reproductive choice; free political speech; religious liberty. (And she doesn't even mention his issues with the 14th Amendment.) The national security-based encroachments on civil liberties over the last 10 years are pretty bad, but calling them "the most urgent, dire threat to individual liberty today" doesn't pass the bullshit test. (More urgent than millions losing their right to vote? More dire than state-mandated forced childbirth?)

The reason there's so little momentum for undoing some of the post-9/11 abuses is that they directly affect so few people. That's frustrating for those of us who do care about them, but it's also a reality check: there are other civil liberties issues that have a much broader impact, and we can't dismiss them and still claim to support "civil liberties".

(The comments, by the way, are a toxic stew of anti-choice vitriol, Civil War revisionism, declarations of states' "rights", and other flavors of Paulbot lunacy. Kaminer is clearly trying to sell Ron Paul to liberals; the folks weighing in on her side will, thankfully, undermine that effort.)

2Oddly, I haven't seen any angry denunciations from Greenwald for this. Surely he'll accuse Kaminer of lying about him, right?

[And huge thanks to Steve M. for the opportunity to post here on a semi-regular basis. Steve has run one of the most consistently sharp and insightful blogs for about as long as blogtopia has been around, and it's a real honor to be able to share space with him and his other guests.

Also: this morning I did a 15-minute phone interview with Sam Seder that, if they use any of it, will run on Saturday's edition of Ring of Fire Radio. I hope I didn't come off as a complete idiot. If you're listening in and you hear a voice that I totally hate, that'll be me.


c u n d gulag said...

Oh for Christ's sake, if I stare hard enough, and maybe because I want to see it, I can jack-off to an image of Charlize Theron in a fucking Picasso cubist painting, but only because I really, really WANT to, and I'm horny enough to want to!

All anyone else sees is a series of fucking sharp angles with wide eyes - if, IF, the eyes are even included.

God, I'm so tired of this stupid fucking topic, where purported Progressives and Libarals look for salvation and love in 'all the wrong places!!!'


Will said...

It seems that Ron Paul is concerned about civil liberties on the Federal level, at the state level well it's not my problem

Improbable Joe said...

Why do progressives feel this pathetic need to find some Republican, ANY Republican, and pretend that they are a reasonable human being no matter what the evidence to the contrary? I guess it makes them feel "balanced" or some such, but it just makes them look stupid.

Will said...

There was all that Goldwater ass-kissing a few years ago, even liberal Jon Stewart got into it

aimai said...

Congratulations on the interview with Sam Seder, Tom, and also for coming to post regularly on SteveM's blog. I thought the post you did while he was away was just one of the best of the year but I couldn't get in to my account to post on it. Just fantastic. I look forward to reading you more frequently.


Brendan Moody said...

Kaminer is clearly trying to sell Ron Paul to liberals

In what sense? As someone to vote for and/or encourage others to vote for? Obviously not, since she writes "he has virtually no chance of becoming president." She presents Paul and his campaign as "an opportunity to organize and perhaps empower voters who oppose the Bush/Obama security state." One can disagree with that-- I think it reflects the persistent and pernicious liberal need to push issues via politicians instead of genuine popular action-- but it's hardly an endorsement of Paul and his entire platform. Which makes the notion that there are "civil liberties she's willing to trade away" an obvious straw man.

I'd also be more inclined to take the critique of her comments on the national security state seriously if it weren't linked to fanciful scare-mongering about "millions losing their right to vote" and "state-mandated forced childbirth," both of which exaggerate the very real danger of certain trends in precisely the way Kaminer is accused of. The actual (as opposed to theoretical, carefully-cultivated worst case scenario) effect of most contemporary encroachments on civil liberty is very low, so debating their comparative egregiousness requires a little more effort.

Steve M. said...

How can he "organize and perhaps empower voters" by means of a presidential campaign without that organizing and empowering having anything to do with the presidential campaign? Is he leading a movement? No. He's pursuing an office -- for himself. Is he going to lead a movement in the future? Not if the past is any predictor -- in fact, for a guy who thinks all kinds of presidential acts are outrageous and unconstitutional, he hasn't really done jack about them, except mouth off and run for president every so often. (Kinda reminds me of Nader, though Nader at least accomplished a fair amount when he was younger.)

Tom Hilton said...

@aimai: Thanks so much!

@c u n d: love the Picasso analogy!

@Brendan: The title of Kaminer's piece is "If Voters Cared About Liberty Ron Paul Would Be the Frontrunner". So, yes, Kaminer is saying Ron Paul is actually worth voting for.

This, of course, is on balance--"for all his faults"--after weighing his terrible civil liberties positions against those positions he takes which happen to coincide with certain items on a pro-civil liberties agenda. The "tradeoffs" are hypothetical rather than actual (since he'll never be President), but they are tradeoffs.

I'll grant that "losing their right to vote" is badly worded; it's actually a case of millions being prevented from exercising their right to vote. The number is, in fact, in the millions.

There is a very real danger of de facto prohibitions on abortion in some states (or de jure, down the road, if any of four Supremes gets replaced with an anti-choice justice). To outlaw abortion is, in fact, to mandate forced childbirth, so I stand by that characterization.