who’s a real progressive?; or, why i’m supporting ron paul
January 10, 2012
Who’s A Real Progressive?
It’s rather sad that nearly every article written by a non-libertarian about Ron Paul begins with a disclaimer that the writer is not endorsing Paul for president. Yet, with a virulent case of Ron Paul Derangement Syndrome plaguing partisan Obama loyalists, it bears repeating if only to preempt future mischaracterizations and slander: I am not endorsing Ron Paul for president.
That said, I believe the argument being forwarded by progressive-minded Paul supporters is significant because it embodies a calculating pragmatism that highlights uncomfortable truths both about liberal priorities and about presidential power.
To review the basic Paul profile: When it comes to government social spending and regulation, Paul is more antithetical to progressive goals than any candidate running for the White House. This is indisputable. At the same time, though, when it comes to war, surveillance, police power, bank bailouts, cutting the defense budget, eliminating corporate welfare and civil liberties, Paul is more in line with progressive goals than any candidate running in 2012 (or almost any Democrat who has held a federal office in the last 30 years). This, too, is indisputable.
In seeing Paul’s economic views, positions on a woman’s right to choose, regulatory ideas and ties to racist newsletters as disqualifying factors for their electoral support, many self-identified liberal Obama supporters are essentially deciding that, for purposes of voting, those set of issues are simply more important to them than the issues of war, foreign policy, militarism, Wall Street bailouts, surveillance, police power and civil liberties — that is, issues in which Paul is far more progressive than the sitting president.
There’s certainly a logic to that position, and that logic fits within the conventionally accepted rubric of progressivism. But let’s not pretend here: Holding this position about what is and is not a disqualifying factor is a clear statement of priorities — more specifically, a statement that Paul’s odious economics, regulatory ideas, position on reproductive rights and ties to bigotry should be more electorally disqualifying than President Obama’s odious escalation of wars, drone killing of innocents, due-process-free assassinations, expansion of surveillance, increases in the defense budget, massive ongoing bank bailouts and continuation of the racist drug war.
By contrast, Paul’s progressive-minded supporters are simply taking the other position — they are basically saying that, for purposes of voting, President Obama’s record on militarism, civil liberties, foreign policy, defense budgets and bailouts are more disqualifying than Paul’s newsletter, economics, abortion and regulatory positions. Again, there’s an obvious logic to this position — one that also fits well within the conventional definition of progressivism. And just as Obama supporters shouldn’t pretend they aren’t expressing their preferences, Paul’s supporters shouldn’t do that either. Their support of the Republican congressman is a statement of personal priorities within the larger progressive agenda.
Hence, we reach one of those impossible questions: From a progressive perspective, which is a more legitimate camp to be in? In terms of ideological allegiance to the larger progressive agenda, I don’t really think there’s a right or wrong answer. But in terms of realpolitik, there’s a strong case to be made that Paul’s progressive-minded supporters understand something that Obama’s supporters either can’t or don’t want to: namely, that a presidential election is a vote for president, not a vote to elect the entire federal government. As such, when faced with candidates whom you agree with on some issues and totally disagree with on other issues, it’s perfectly rational — and wholly pragmatic — to consider one’s own multifaceted policy preferences in the context of what a prospective president will have the most unilateral power to actually enact.
With Paul, it just so happens that most of the ultra-progressive parts of his platform (and legislative career) correspond to the presidential powers that are most unilateral in nature. As President Obama so aptly proved when he ignored the War Powers Act during the Libya conflict and started drone wars in various other countries, a president can start and end military conflicts with the stroke of a pen — and without any congressional check on power. Likewise, as President Obama showed when he assassinated American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and then his family without so much as a single criminal charge, a president can now trample or expand civil liberties with the stroke of the same pen. The president also appoints the chairman of the Federal Reserve bank, which now unilaterally grants trillions of dollars in bailouts without intervention from Congress. And, as President Obama proved with his administration’s crackdown on California’s marijuana laws, a president has far more operational control over the drug war than the congressional committees charged with oversight.
By contrast, the policy areas where Paul is most at odds with progressives are the areas Congress has far more control over — specifically, budgets and regulatory statutes —