Monday, January 9, 2012

Obama's Unofficial Progressive Challenger?

Could Ron Paul be Barack Obama’s unofficial progressive challenger?

Putting aside the Texas Congressman and presidential candidate’s troubling past, and his more unsavory stands on domestic issues for just a moment, let us consider how Paul is more progressive than President Obama when it comes to the defining issues of our time: war and peace and civil liberties.

As I wrote in the University of Maine’s Maine Campus, three years ago Obama’s propensity for war and military aggression has, in many respects, proved even greater than that of his predecessor. Between Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Syria (and Iraq which, contrary to numerous news reports, still contains some 30,000 “non-combat” troops and private contractors), Obama has expanded our military involvement abroad.

Additionally, the president recently signed a $662 billion defense authorization bill, despite similar media reports he is attempting to cut-down military spending. That particular spending-bill--the National Defense Authorization Act--also grants the U.S. President (not merely Obama, but all succeeding presidents) chilling new executive authority to indefinitely detain anyone deemed a “terrorist” anywhere in the world, without trial or due process. (You can read my entry on the NDAA here.)

Indeed, the transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama brings to mind the classic lyrics to the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”: “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.”

Ron Paul, meanwhile, is running on a strictly antiwar platform. He would end our military involvements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere. He is the only Republican candidate who opposes war with Iran. And Rep. Paul was part of a minority of House Republicans to vote against the horrendous NDAA. (Maine’s two “moderate” Republican Senators both voted in favor of the bill. Paul’s opposition to indefinite detention and torture, however, makes him a “fringe radical,” a curious distinction.)

When Paul mentioned the NDAA bill at a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire yesterday the audience immediately erupted into boos. “This is military law,” Paul said of the bill. “The military can come in and arrest an American citizen, and put [that person] in prison indefinitely and denied a lawyer. That has to be reversed or we cannot have a republic anymore.”

Having highlighted Paul’s admirable qualities, it would constitute a glaring omission to overlook his domestic views, which hew closer to the traditional right-wing ideology.

The Texas Congressman has repeatedly called for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, and the IRS among other government institutions.  Despite his years as a physician, Dr. Paul would repeal “Obamacare” and, while he claims he would make no attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, he has made his personal opposition to abortion quite clear. And Paul’s libertarian views of personal liberty also make him a staunch defender of the Second Amendment.

Perhaps most disconcertingly, Ron Paul seems to subscribe to the conservative “I’ve got mine, screw everyone else,” philosophy, which he likely learned from his literary hero, Ayn Rand.

(I have nothing new or insightful to add to the newsletter controversy, other than I recall the issue being raised during Paul’s 2008 presidential run as well. Not to minimize the significance of the matter, but the press’ exclusive focus on Paul’s racial views is quite hypocritical given Newt Gingrinch’s recent scolding of African-Americans to “get off food stamps,” and Rick Santorum’s comparison of homosexuality with bestiality. The fact is, the GOP has never opened its tent to minorities, and this current batch of presidential contenders does not seem in a rush to change that.)

Indeed, The Nation’s Katha Pollitt finds many progressives’ embrace of Ron Paul’s candidacy rather troubling (“Ron Paul’s Strange Bedfellows,” 1/23/2012).

“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,” Pollitt writes. “In Ron Paul’s America if you were not prudent enough or wealthy enough to buy private health insurance…you find a charity or die.”

Yet, if we focus merely on Ron Paul’s antiwar, pro-civil liberties views, he looks very attractive to a progressive voter. As blogger, Glenn Greenwald notes, it speaks volumes about the current sad state of liberal politics when it takes a Republican presidential candidate to draw attention to America’s entrenched military-industrial complex. Greenwald writes:

Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform… who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote — Barack Obama — advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.

In other words, support for Ron Paul need not be the all-or-nothing scenario progressives often make it out to be. It is possible and admissible, as Greenwald points out, to approve and even applaud Paul’s foreign policy positions, while still remaining critical of his others. Regardless of what one may think of him, Ron Paul has emerged in the presidential race as the only voice of peace. The Democratic Party—and, in particular, President Obama—would do well to listen to his message and take a few notes.

No comments:

Post a Comment