The Ron Paul delusion

Some writers on the left are sliding down the slippery slope of single-issue voting in their support for Ron Paul.

BACK IN 2000, Bill Clinton still occupied the White House, and his neoliberal agenda remained alive in the left's collective consciousness. In that context, Ralph Nader's presidential campaign easily filled stadiums across the country, as activists and left-wing celebrities embraced Nader's third-party candidacy as a blow against both corporate parties.

Columnist: Sharon Smith

Sharon Smith Sharon Smith is the author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States, a historical account of the American working-class movement, and Women and Socialism, a collection of essays on women’s oppression and the struggle against it. She is also on the board of Haymarket Books.

Those were also the heady days of the global justice movement, when optimism prevailed and solidarity grew, christened by the "Teamster-Turtle" alliance during the Seattle anti-WTO protests in 1999.

Then along came George W. Bush. The attacks of 9/11 catapulted the idiot president to the role of revered statesman virtually overnight, while his reckless band of neocon advisers moved from the margins to the center of imperial policy.

That dismal period demoralized the broad left and many sheepishly returned to the folds of the Democratic Party. "Anybody But Bush" was the clarion call for this surrender to the logic of lesser evilism, which has kept the corporate duopoly in power historically.

Nader's 2004 election bid thus witnessed the mass defection of liberals and antiwar activists, who flocked to Democrat John Kerry's campaign while heaping invective on Nader as a "spoiler" who would aid Bush's victory.

Alas, Kerry needed no help in spoiling his own chances for soundly defeating Bush: his pro-war, neoliberal campaign failed to sufficiently inspire the Democrats' traditional voting base on Election Day. Once again, the chosen candidate of the well-organized Christian Right carried the day.

The 2004 election, therefore, marked the disintegration of the broad left that had risen so spectacularly in the final years of the 20th century. Now, as the 2008 election approaches, the left is fracturing yet further amid a spurious debate over the merits of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, which has surfaced on numerous left Web sites, including CounterPunch.

With breathtaking speed, self-avowed anti-imperialists and even former Nader supporters have embraced the logic of single-issue voting to justify support for this right-wing libertarian--based solely on his opposition to the Iraq war.

To be sure, Paul's vigorous opposition to the war has provided a breath of fresh air during the otherwise stultifying presidential debates of both parties.

Paul famously ruffled fellow Republicans' feathers when he remarked last May at a Fox News-sponsored debate, "[W]e're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting."

But Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel and Bill Richardson have likewise offered a refreshing departure from the antiwar posturing of this election's crop of pro-war Democrats. During a September debate sponsored by MSNBC, Kucinich declared that he would remove troops from Iraq within "three months after I take office."

But welcoming such departures from what currently passes for debate among the chosen candidates from the two corporate parties does not require endorsing the candidates who advance them. Rhetorical flourishes notwithstanding, an alternative worldview is in order, and no candidate from either party is offering one in this election year.

Since 2004, Kucinich has unapologetically advocated gay marriage and abortion rights in addition to opposing the Iraq war. But he backed Kerry, while abandoning any fight for an antiwar platform, at the Democratic Party's 2004 convention. In so doing, he betrayed himself as unwilling to build a coherent alternative to the party establishment.

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Ron Paul's right-wing worldview

RON PAUL is a longstanding Republican who brandishes his right-wing credentials. His lone appeal to the left is his vocal opposition to the Iraq war. Otherwise, his campaign consists of standard reactionary fare--much of it in line with that of traditional states' rights segregationists and the Christian right.

One need look no further than Paul's own policy statements to determine the overarching character of his campaign.

His opposition to immigration is linked to his opposition to basic welfare provisions for U.S.-born workers. In an article entitled "Immigration and the Welfare State," Paul argued, "Our current welfare system also encourages illegal immigration by discouraging American citizens from taking low-wage jobs." It is no coincidence that Paul was one of the first presidential candidates to cross a picket line of striking Hollywood writers.

Opponents of U.S. imperialism should also take note that Paul's focus on restricting immigration targets the U.S.'s southern border with Mexico and migrants from so-called "terrorist" [Arab and Muslim] countries. U.S. imperialism has historically regarded Latin America as its low-wage backyard, while rising racism against Arabs and Muslims has accompanied more recent imperialist forays in the Middle East.

Paul's television ad prior to primary voting in Iowa and New Hampshire summarized his views: " No amnesty. No welfare to illegal aliens. End birthright citizenship. No more student visas from terrorist nations. Standing up for the rule of law."

Paul was also the only member of Congress to vote against the 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, justified in an article entitled "The Trouble With Forced Integration," in which he argued, "The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the federal government unprecedented power over the hiring, employee relations and customer service practices of every business in the country...[B]ureaucrats began forcing employers to hire by racial quota."

Paul's opposition to abortion rights is not a mere "side issue" as some of his left supporters have suggested. Twice in the last year, Paul introduced the Sanctity of Life Act, proclaiming, "[H]uman life shall be deemed to exist from conception." But Paul also opposes federally funded contraception programs. Last February, he sponsored the Taxpayers' Freedom of Conscience Act, banning the use of federal funds for "family planning activity."

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Who's holding back the left?

YET PAUL'S anti-imperialist supporters have responded with vitriol to those unwilling to surrender once cherished left principles merely to advance Paul's presidential campaign. In a CounterPunch article dated January 4, for example, Stan Goff lashed out at the "program-intoxicated, 'I won't endorse this-n-that position' liberal-left. Ron Paul is backward on abortion, passively racist, anti-immigrant, and on and on."

This begs the following question: Is Goff suggesting that immigrants who are rightfully angered by Paul's focus on the Mexican border and migrants from so-called "terrorist states" are guilty of enabling imperialist conquest? Are African Americans who refuse to surrender the merits of the 1964 Civil Rights Act standing in the way of ending the war in Iraq? Are women who shudder at the thought of supporting Ron Paul, an anti-abortion zealot, holding back progress? I think not.

On the contrary, by advocating single-issue voting, Paul's left-wing supporters are endangering the survival of the U.S. left. Single-issue voting requires choosing one superceding issue above all others in a given election year--pitting constituencies against each other as if their interests are counterposed--and effectively accepting the notion prevalent in bourgeois politics that "interest groups" are in competition with each other.

In reality, the rights of women, African Americans, immigrants and gays are not counterposed to, but aligned with, those oppressed by imperialist war.

This was demonstrated vividly with the rise of the Gay Liberation Front in the late 1960s--which, inspired by the armed struggle of the North Vietnamese against the forces of U.S. imperialism, chose its name as a formal identification with the National Liberation Front (NLF), the Vietnamese resistance.

Single-issue voting was once the bastion of Democratic Party liberals, including pro-choice organizations that supported Bill Clinton in the 1990s because he favored abortion rights, and then sat silently as he dismantled the New Deal welfare state, impoverishing poor women and children across the country.

This faulty logic proved the death knell of liberalism in the U.S. by the end of the 1990s. The same logic now threatens the survival of the U.S. left, which is teetering atop a slippery slope--and is perhaps headed into oblivion.