Ron Paul’s danger runs deep
Every generation has some historical or popular figure that out of context is so bizarre, grotesque or comical that they will never make any sense to following generations. Examples include the Spice Girls, Joseph McCarthy and Liberace. I submit that our generation has already ensured infamy for its most perplexing figure, which is the bizarre and terrifying phenomenon that is Ron Paul. Paul’s real base is reactionary and old, but his stances on national defense and the U.S. War on Drugs have won him a small but perplexing fan-base in left-leaning young people who go to Occupy events and wear stupid tee shirts.
But I digress, his opinions on these issues do at least have some merit, but for the entirely wrong reasons. He is perhaps the only major political figure to seriously question the drug war. But this position is not out of a concern for the social destruction that these policies have created in America’s inner cities and prisons, but rather from simple apathy. A humanitarian critique of the drug war would include heavy regulation and taxation to benefit treatment programs along with decriminalization.
Paul’s position on national defense seems refreshing in an era that the U.S. has not fought a legal war in decades. However, this is the same isolationism that led him to state that U.S. intervention in World War II would have been unwarranted if only to stop the Holocaust. The popular young pseudo-left has become so tied up in issue politics that a segment of it is willing to tolerate the deletion of a century of liberal reform for the sake of apparent victory on key issues.
These liberals should look more closely at what Ron Paul’s America would look like, and they would find that it’s actually a pretty dark place. Like any conservative politician, Ron Paul positions himself (or has been positioned by his supporters) as the defender of patriotism, the Constitution and individual freedom, while only using these terms as hollow justifications for building a more unequal, prejudicial and deeply unfree society.
As the broader right slavishly devotes itself to the Constitution, they routinely forget separation of church and state, equal protection to all citizens and the guarantee of native citizenship while pushing legislation like the Patriot Act and Stop Online Piracy Act. Instead of defining himself just with the GOP’s hypocritical but functionalist constitutional interpretation, Paul and others on the “libertarian” ultra-right interpret the Constitution as a fundamentalist views the Bible: unendingly stubborn in his interpretation, and lacking the imagination or common sense to recognize that the original document cannot, practically or justly, be the only legislator of the modern world.
And so Ron Paul refuses to sign any legislation not explicitly endorsed in the original document, barring any hope for government protection of Civil Rights, Labor Rights and public safety. Remember that those twentieth century movements that made the most gains for the freedom of American workers, women, minorities and immigrants have been recorded by legislation. Would we be a more free society without legislation such as the Wagner Act or the Civil Rights Act? A truly free person can only live in a society where her age, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic background do not impede the ability to live life with dignity.
Individual rights can only come from a mixture of government intervention and restraint. The common conservative cry that government intervention is necessarily synonymous with tyranny is getting old. It also seems entirely false — the social democracies of Northwestern Europe all have a vastly higher rate of public expenditure, or a “bigger government,” than the U.S., while ranking highest in the globe for levels of political, social and economic freedom by Freedom House. Paul is right to hoist up the flag of fighting tyranny, but forgets that the most terrific personal tyrannies of American life do not come from government oppression, but from the organic patterns of poverty and prejudice that prevent people from living a free and civilized life.