more liberal frothing about Ron Paul

Fred Clark, normally extremely perspicacious, has jumped on the anti-Paul bandwagon with both feet, giving space to some pretty dreadful stuff from Kevin Drum, who calls Paul “the dictionary definition of a crank” and practically gets the vapors considering such radical Ron Paul ideas as legalizing all drugs and challenging the apparently inviolable orthodoxy that America’s involvement in World War II was The Best Thing The Ever Happened:

Now… you have the fact that Paul opposes the War on Drugs and supports a non-interventionist foreign policy. But guess what? Even there, he’s a crank. Even if you’re a hard-core non-interventionist yourself, you probably think World War II was a war worth fighting. But not Ron Paul. He thinks we should have just minded our own damn business.

Look, right here and right now, can we please add a corollary to Godwin’s Law that says that the first person to bring up the righteousness of World War II in any discussion of war loses, automatically? Like bringing up Nazis/Hitler, it’s a complete conversation-ender. And that’s exactly how people like Drum and Clark use it, too. “If you support/defend/are mildly interested in Ron Paul, YOU’RE SAYING WE SHOULD HAVE LET HITLER TAKE OVER!!!”

Fuuuuuck you.

Drum and Clark would also like you to believe that Ron Paul is irrelevant to the anti-war sentiment that has welled up in this country recently. Here’s Drum:

I’ll concede up front that it’s not possible to know for sure what impact Ron Paul is having on public views toward non-interventionism. But come on. It’s true that the American public is less enamored of war these days than it used to be, but the obvious reason for this can be summed up in two words: Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are more skeptical of military adventurism than they were ten years ago because the shock of 9/11 has worn off and we’ve gone through two spectacularly disastrous foreign wars. Ron Paul has played almost no role in this at all.

Horseshit. If Paul weren’t in the race, there would be no mainstream candidate giving a voice to that skepticism about military adventurism — especially among the young, and most especially among members of the military, who are Paul’s largest source of financing and who are four times more likely to donate to his campaign than to Romney’s. Maybe Drum should look at what the people who actually fight these wars are saying with their campaign contributions: Paul is the standard-bearer for people who would like us not to risk the lives of our fighting men and women on the whims of politicians.

Drum encourages anti-war liberals, disingenuously, to shun Paul (because he’s “toxic”) and seek out the “plenty of voices these days not named Ron Paul” that are speaking out against military interventionism. I say “disingenuously” because Drum knows perfectly well that those “voices” are not running for president. Who gives a fuck if you read Noam Chomsky? We’re talking about voting. And, I repeat — Paul is the only candidate within even hailing distance of a major party nomination who is taking a firm anti-war stance. (Obama has every bit the hard-on for foreign wars that Bush did, even if he’s smarter about executing them.)

Drum quickly fluffs his chickenhawk feathers, though, combining a pretty trenchant cynicism with straightforward neocon bloodthirstiness:

We won’t know for sure about this until some kind of serious military action rears its head again, but here’s a guess: if Iran makes even the slightest overt military move to block the Strait of Hormuz, the American public will be every bit as keen for blood as they’ve ever been. And frankly, that’s probably about as true among Ron Paul’s supporters as everyone else. They’ve always cared mostly about his economic crankery and his opposition to social welfare, not his foreign policy views….

I’m not a hardcore non-interventionist like Paul. If Iran seriously tried to mine the Strait of Hormuz, for example, I’d fully expect the U.S. Navy to put a stop to it, even if that meant sinking a few Iranian vessels.

Great. Good for you. Meanwhile, the sailors and soldiers you’d send over there to kill Iranians are sending checks to Ron Paul as fast as they can.

But the real disappointment here is Clark, a blogger whose work I’d previously always read first when starting up Google Reader. Clark is best known as a voice for liberal evangelicalism — yes, there is such a thing — and he often writes sensitively and wittily about the Christian obligation to give up one’s possessions and serve others. But here, while adding his own twists to Drum’s “DO YOU WANT HITLER TO WIN??” hyperbole (Clark starts with the idea of just war and, sadly, comes out in favor of the air strikes on Libya), he actually reproduces two WWII era cartoons by Dr. Seuss. They’re blatant, bullying, and kind of revolting pro-war propaganda, but maybe Clark figures that Seuss is some kind of sacred, unchallengeable authority for people who grew up in the last few generations.

I guess I’ll just say this: if Fred Clark loves “foreign children” so much, I hope he’s thinking about this, or maybe this, when he pulls the lever for Obama.

As is often the case, it’s The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates who’s willing to really grapple with the hard questions. Here he confronts, head-on, Glenn Greenwald’s challenge to liberals to admit that a vote for Obama is a calculated vote to protect what remains of abortion rights and the American welfare state, at the explicit cost of the lives of Muslim children in foreign wars. Coates accepts, broadly, Greenwald’s framing, and admits that for him, that trade is worth it. And you know what? He’s probably right. It probably is worth it. Or at least saying that it’s worth it is a defensible position. But liberals should not kid themselves that there is no trade. (Except, I guess, “liberals” like Drum, who can’t wait for the Hormuz shoot-’em-up, and therefore feel no pinch of compromise at all.)

But Coates, a Civil War enthusiast, also brings out a far more damning argument against Paul’s anti-war credibility: namely, that he doesn’t know history, and therefore his anti-war stance is ill-informed. Watch this video of Paul explaining to the late Tim Russert why he thinks Lincoln really fought the Civil War:

“He did this just to, uh, enhance and… get rid of the original intent of the Republic.” Mmm, okay. So Lincoln’s motive was to undermine federalism, and he could easily have ended slavery by buying out the slaveholders, but chose not to. As Coates notes drily,

It’s dismaying to see that we don’t have press corps that might challenge him on facts, as opposed to just looking at him incredulously and repeating the question. Not to speak ill of the dead, but journalists should have at least a passing familiarity with the secession documents and Alexander Stephens “Cornerstone Speech.”

Read Eric Foner’s Lincoln biography. Or at the very least google Lincoln and compensated emancipation.

Maybe there is no credible anti-war candidate. Or maybe, at the end of the day, Paul has too much other shit going on to attract liberals, even if his anti-war positions are both sincere and credible. But is this really a cause for the kind of righteous smugness Paul critics like Drum and Clark are exuding? Is it really acceptable for major voices in the liberal blogosphere to say, “Sorry this guy’s not good enough, but there are still plenty of ‘voices’ expressing your concerns, so why are you complaining?” I submit that it is not, in a season where the supposedly liberal candidate for president can’t get past his fantasy of himself as the country’s Cowboy-In-Chief.

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5 Responses to more liberal frothing about Ron Paul

  1. Eric says:

    Having made the WWII point myself, I feel obligated to point out that just as Godwin’s Law is inapplicable when somebody is actually makes a Nazi argument (whether explicitly or implicitly), so to it’s only fair when somebody makes isolationist arguments like Paul’s to make it explicit that they would have opposed a war against multinational fascism that had the incidental but important side-effect of thwarting massive acts of genocide. You don’t get to have it both ways, any more than a liberal who votes for Obama to protect the tatters of the welfare state gets to take a pass on the incidental effects of Obama’s foreign policy being that innocents get killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. (Indeed, I have to politely point out that you yourself are engaging in a kind of Greenwaldian Godwinism and–I’m sorry if I’m being rude to you in your own house, but I have to be honest–slight hypocrisy when you try to absolve Paul of a heinous and discreditable view of American engagement in WWII with one hand while slamming interventionist liberals by strongly implying they’re okay with the deaths of children with the other.)

    I certainly don’t mean to invoke WWII as a conversation ender. One could certainly reply that they think Paul is right, that we shouldn’t have gotten involved in WWII, and that what was happening in Manchuria and Poland was none of our business. If it feels like a conversation ender, then it’s surely because Paul’s argument is against the tide of historical progress: however pragmatic and selfish American motivations for entering the War might have been (and let’s be honest: the United States did not enter WWII to nobly end fascism and genocide, but to protect our military and economic interests, primarily in the Pacific and secondarily in Europe), the international sentiment at the end of the War when the accounting came due was clearly that (1) some acts are so atrociously cruel that they constitute crimes against humanity and (2) that such acts are the concern of all civilized nations and not merely internal matters of sovereign states. It is a logical conclusion and corollary to Paul’s isolationist views that neither of those points are true, and as I’ve said before, that conclusion cannot possibly be the right result. That is, it could be, insofar as there’s a strong logical and pre-War historic argument for it, and it certainly would be advantageous to American concerns if the idea of crimes against humanity didn’t apply to us, but the gut recoils, doesn’t it?

    The gut recoils at the deaths of Pakistani children, too. But the tragic distinction between slamming Paul for his isolationism and liberals for their interventionism–and this does not absolve us of responsibility for even a single death–is that there is always a consequence of acting or not acting and one must weigh both. What I am getting at while trying to avoid the empty euphemism of “collateral damage” is that one can accept that Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were criminal evils while accepting that they were necessary criminal evils; along that same path, if one accepts that military strikes against anti-American, terrorist cells are necessary (a more debatable proposition, I grant you), one must simultaneously accept that the wrong people will be killed as a regular incident of these acts. (An irony here is that Paul, I believe, has accepted that intervention might be necessary to confront “existential threats”–if international terrorism counts as such a threat, shouldn’t it follow that drone strikes and the accidental murders of children follow anyway, even within the context of an isolationist policy? Or does Paul not consider terror cells an existential threat–a notion that I agree with, actually, but that I admit is debatable and even reasonable minds may differ re: ?)

    All of this gets at a further problem with Paul’s isolationism: that it is naively reductionist. I would agree that force is a last resort only to be resorted to when all else has failed and after as much consideration of all options as circumstance permits, that it ought to be entered into with plenty of checks and options for revocation. As a philosophical pacifist who believes killing is inherently wrong, I instinctively recoil at the thought of deploying military force at all. But as a realist (I hope), I admit that it may be the sole option available and, while evil, may be a necessary evil and a lesser evil. Paul’s isolationism is a one-size-fits-all tool that boils every situation in the world down to American policy for Americans. My liberal interventionism is a hope for nuanced tools that try (however ineffectually) to minimize suffering for the greatest number of people anywhere. Maybe Paul’s ideas would have been more likely to keep us out of mistakes like the Second Iraq War (a war I didn’t support, either)–but they’d keep us out of any other situation in which America’s force might be a good for humanity as a whole. That isn’t insignificant and shouldn’t be glossed over.

    • thehandsomecamel says:

      Eric, I guess this is exactly my point. Generally, I don’t want to use America’s force in situations where it “might be a good for humanity as a whole.” What I’m trying to get at in needling Fred Clark and Obama about dead kids in Pakistan is that the philosophy of humanitarian intervention, even when it occasionally nets us good results, also gets us perpetual warfare. I repeat my statement from our previous discussion: there is always a Saddam Hussein. There’s always evil in the world that needs a boot to the face, but that boot tends to rain down on the just and the unjust alike, and in the name of averting humanitarian crises and confronting evil we get the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq 1&2, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and now our looming fight with Iran. (And that’s just in the last 50 years.) Color me skeptical that this is of benefit to the world.

      And what I’m getting at about Godwin’s Law is just this: World War II was extraordinary, in that it was perhaps the only war in history against parties who truly threatened everyone on the globe. (Let’s leave aside the Cold War for now, which involved a complicated and different kind of threat.) So yes, in the extreme case where the entire global system is being threatened, I would say even the most passionate isolationist or pacifist might make an exception.

      Even Ron Paul eventually gets there — as documented in this exchange between Paul’s campaign manager and The Weekly Standard:

      TWS: Does Ron Paul think that if Hitler didn’t declare war on the United States, that the U.S. should not have invaded Europe?

      BENTON: This gets abstract. Many conservatives have criticized World War Two as being largely the result if a bad after [sic] from World War I. Dr. Paul is sympathetic to that argument. But if Ron were President, before Japan bombed us and Germany declared war on us, he would have had open dialogue with the Congress, asking if the Congress, the voice of the People, wanted to declare war and come to Europe’s aid. If Congress declared war, Dr. Paul as commander and chief would have fought it and won it by any means necessary.

      This doesn’t sound like intractable isolationism on the subject of World War II to me.

      And anyway, to return to Godwin for a moment, the point is that World War II is so unusual, so off the map, that it is an inapposite point of comparison for any of the other wars we’ve contemplated since. That is my point — that people need to stop bringing it up to justify other wars.

      Also, when the TWS journalist presses Benton on whether Paul thinks we should ever engage in war for humanitarian reasons, he responds:

      Dr. Paul is not an absolutist. He thinks our military’s job is defend this country. As President, he would be very cautious about so-called “humanitarian” war. Much like the arguments for the domestic welfare state, humanitarian arguments are often used to get American involved in engagements that are not in our best long-term interests. Dr. Paul is first and foremost, however, a Constitutionalist. If the American people decided, through the Congress, to declare a war, he as Commander in Chief would fight it and win it.

      This actually strikes me as the minimum amount of caution a president should exert in flexing our muscle around the world for supposedly humanitarian causes. Reasonable minds may differ, I suppose, but I don’t think the above is wildly out of the mainstream or the raving of, as Drum would have it, a “crackpot” with an inflexible policy of complete American isolationism. Paul is saying he wants to loop the people and their representatives back into the process whenever the U.S. is not directly under attack. How does that differ, substantially, from your view, or mine, that there should be a lot of checks in place to slow the rush to war?

      • thehandsomecamel says:

        But you’re right — this post is overly harsh, and I am slamming people. What can I say? I’m tired, Eric. Tired of a decade of war, and tired of the blitheness with which we get ourselves into it. Not trying to lay into you… or, probably, in the light of day, Fred Clark. Still think Drum probably deserves it, but, again, I’m speaking from a place of being tired and angry.

  2. Eric says:

    I understand the war weariness (and share it), but the War Powers Resolution and related Constitutional issues is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. The problem there, actually, is that the Constitution is fundamentally broken in the way it forces Congress or the President into unconstitutional territory due to the profound differences between America’s geopolitical status since WWI versus its status at the founding and the technological changes that have occurred in how wars have been fought between the founding and the end of the 19th Century. Giving Congress the power to declare war and the President the power to fight war is an excellent principle in theory and on paper; in practice, it means that Presidents are practically forced by exigency to use ridiculous euphemisms like “police action” while Congress either abrogates their authority by letting the President fight undeclared wars (until its politically expedient to complain) or exceed their authority by passing legislation that effectively trods on the President’s Commander-In-Chief boots. I don’t have a good answer, frankly.

    I also just can’t help pointing out that Benton’s first quoted-comment, “But if Ron were President, before Japan bombed us and Germany declared war on us, he would have had open dialogue with the Congress, asking if the Congress, the voice of the People, wanted to declare war and come to Europe’s aid,” is Just Simply Stupid. While this is a spokesperson talking, it’s this kind of thing that gets Paul dismissed as a crank and crackpot. The United States and Japan were on the verge of war throughout most of the 1930s. Confrontation was inevitable because the United States clearly challenged Japan’s desire for economic hegemony in the Pacific. Further, Japan’s invasion of Manchuria impinged on Chinese sovereignty–an issue that even many otherwise-isolationist Republicans felt passionate about and were willing to see force deployed to protect. Japan pre-emptively attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor in a futile attempt to indefinitely delay any American response to Japan’s previous invasion of Chinese, French and Dutch Asian/Pacific interests; it is worth noting that the Roosevelt Administration was already–as per Presidential prerogative as CIC–planning and preparing for what was shaping up to be an inevitable clash, though the administration was surprised that the Japanese acted, so-to-speak, “too soon”. Japan’s declaration of war (received after the attack) was followed by a German declaration, and Congress declared war on Japan on December 8th and Germany on December 11th. The point of all this being that it goes back to my first paragraph in this comment: things simmered for a decade and then exploded into a boil within hours, with action and reaction by various parties and the Roosevelt Administration and Congress acting within their prerogatives albeit not necessarily strictly within the express bounds of the Constitution (a precursor to Pearl Harbor occurred in 1937 when the Japanese attacked the Panay, but one can wonder, in this context, if the Panay “should” have been in the Yangtze at all, or shouldn’t have been sitting neatly in port in the States, waiting for a Congressional declaration of war); this talk of “open dialogue” with Congress and the people sounds nice but it’s really very quaint and naive–as if wars were still fought with wooden ships and the United States had nothing going past the east banks of the Mississippi River. Paul reduces very, very complicated political, legal, technological, moral, historical and diplomatic issues to a simplistic interpretation of the legalese of 18th-Century gentlemen farmers who figured state militias, mercenaries and pirates could hold off the British (or maybe the French or Spanish) until a national army might be raised. It just doesn’t work anymore, and that’s likely a fault in the documents itself and not just in Paul’s scattered thinking, except it’s like everybody else has kind of had some kind of evolving sense of this since probably 1898 and Paul’s just not even close to figuring it out.

    Forgive me if I’m pummeling a dead (or dying) horse at this point. But all of this, all of it goes to the accusation that Paul’s like the broken clock that’s right twice a day. (It’s even an apt cliche insofar as Paul’s clock is stuck on a time and date no later than the Gilded Age.) And I’m not going to extend credit to him just because he said the Iraq War was wrong and I said the Iraq War was wrong. I’m just not.

  3. Pingback: deep defense cuts: more brains, less muscle | The Handsome Camel

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