You’ve seen them skulking around a variety of left-wing protests. First it was the anti-war movement. Then came Occupy. They usually have a funny look in their eye, their clothes are a bit sharper than the average protest garb and they usually hit the road once a confrontation with the police is about to ensue. Yes, I’m talking about a Ron Paul supporter – an ideal type of that supporter for sure, but take a look next time and see if they fit the description. Just keep an eye out for an “End the Fed” sign.
Inevitably, after peeling past the pre-programmed slogans Ron Paulistas bring with them, you will discover a person – generally white and overwhelmingly male – looking for some alternative to mainstream politics. Ever susceptible to slick marketing campaigns thanks to a solid diet of American television, these zealots have bought it hook line and sinker in a typical conspiratorial fashion. The lynchpin is the Federal Reserve, a seemingly mysterious institution, which in the world of Ron Paul politics stands in as a more acceptable substitute for the variety of other conspiracy theories floating through far-right America including the Bilderbergs, the rich as secret lizard people and the Masons.
Yet, the idea that Ron Paul offers a kind of alternative to mainstream politics falls apart quite easily upon inspection. There are three primary reasons for this – two relate to Paul himself and the other is a function of mainstream politics more generally. In the end, it is more accurate to say that Ron Paul is mainstream politics unmasked, a raw version of what both Democrats and Republicans desire to become if left to their own devices.
Key to this is seeing Ron Paul economics for what they are. Forget the Fed. Leave aside all the slogans about “living within our means” and “punishing generations with debt” for a moment. Ron Paul is the most pro-corporate politician in the Presidential race. His economic policies would further unleash multinational corporations and the 1% who own them onto American society – with absolutely no restraints. Paul is virulently anti-union in part because unions give workers a collective identity in order to regulate worksites. He opposes government regulation on employers since he connects their activity to his notion of “liberty.” And he has repeatedly associated taxation, even taxation of the corporate world, as an affront to freedom.
Taken together, Ron Paul’s notion of economic liberty is an only slightly disguised version of the hyper-neoliberal ideas that have been circulating since the 1980s. What is different now is that the circulation is taking place in the aftermath of an economic crisis that has unmasked the bankruptcy of the very idea Paul is promoting – capitalist economics. Although Paul presents his economic proposals as alternative non-mainstream notions, they fit perfectly inside the rise of the multinational corporations and the deep enrichment of the 1%. Albert Einstein offered the best bit of advice on how to deal with folks like Ron Paul when he said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Giving corporate America a free hand to rampage through our economy, our communities and our environment is more of the same.
Ron Paul supporters mix this pro-corporate economic package with a fairly typical set of reactionary social policies. He has opposed any legislation in support of gay marriage on the Federal level and was neutral on the “don’t ask don’t tell” seeing the problem as less one of discrimination and more of “seeing people as part of groups.” Paul’s positions on race are even murkier due to his frequent open associations with white supremacists and the general acceptance of his ideas amongst this repugnant community. But his most explicit reactionary position is reserved for gender, more specifically the issue of sexual harassment. Here, Paul claims that anything less than penetration does not qualify as sexual harassment – words don’t matter. Females who file sexual harassment suits are, according to Paul, oppressing others. They should, instead, just exercise their right to choose a different job. Misogynist victim blaming at its worst.
The final reason that Ron Paul is not an alternative is the very reason that links him to mainstream politics. Just like Obama, Romney and Gingrich, he offers no concrete plans to address the problems that most affect people’s everyday lives. He doesn’t have a serious plan for housing. He would, just as his counterparts, continue the failed capitalist housing policies, probably adding some rhetorical flair about the liberty and freedom built into the feelings of anxiety most Americans feel when it comes to housing. His education policy is similarly irresponsible. Paul chooses to devolve education decisions onto state and local government while giving private enterprises a strong hand in further commodifying education in America. And on health care, his policies are merely a pumped up version of the pro-market policies of his Democratic and Republican counterparts.
Although Paul’s foreign policy position is trumpeted as being far off from his Republican counterparts, it contains many mainstream elements. Paul himself is always quick to indicate that his “non-interventionist” position does not mean that he wishes to radically transform the US military. He constantly issues the call for a “strong national defense” which translates into a well-funded military. As he stated directly in a recent interview, “My Plan to Restore America does not cut one penny of defense.”
Unfortunately, Liberals and even some Greens have taken the anti-war bait and Ron Paul has been able to make coalitions with otherwise ideological opponents such as Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader. This has given Paul some cred among anti-war types while creating confusion between having a position against military intervention and being anti-militarist.
While the “Ron Paul as alternative” charade rolls along, candidates carrying ideas clearly outside of the mainstream struggle to carve out some media attention. One is from my own organization, the Socialist Party USA – Stewart Alexander. Alexander is running campaign for President on a platform filled with radical ideas that would address many of the problems raised by the 2008 economic crisis. He has some new medicine for an old illness.
On economics, the Alexander/Mendoza campaign recognizes the destructive role of the 1%. Creating a progressive tax structure that captures the wealth at the top of society, designing a banking system that works like a highly regulated public utility and addressing the unemployment crisis by viewing a job as a human right means transforming an economic system that has failed the 99%. Similar proposals to open the education to all, to preserve our precious natural resources and to fund a worker owned and managed cooperative sector are clearly different than the re-hashed blather being served up by mainstream politicians.
Economic democracy is also connected to personal freedom. The Alexander/Mendoza campaign is one of the few that recognizes just how corporate power prevents Americans from fully exercising their civil rights. Corporations are not people and people need a voice – a voice that will be unchained as a result of electoral reform, the breaking up of media monopolies and the campaign’s support of people’s right to self-determination whether it be through marriage, adoption or alternative family structures.
Finally, Stewart Alexander is offering a radically different approach to the military. He is a passionate anti-militarist. Both he and his running mate, the ex-Marine, Alex Mendoza know the wasteful destruction that the US military has created. The pair call for a closing of all foreign bases, an end to security state measures and, unlike Ron Paul, an immediate 50% reduction in the military budget. They understand that anti-militarism is about more than opposing intervention – it is about re-thinking how our country relates to the rest of the world.
So, as the Presidential campaign heats up, it is important to see past the media spin – especially when the spinning is done in order to create false alternatives. The Obama campaign will certainly begin its own campaign to present their candidate as offering solutions beyond the mainstream. Such claims will be every bit as shallow as the notion that Ron Paul offers some new set of ideas worthy of the mantle of being alternative. There are some alternatives out there and their voices need to be heard. One of them will be running red, on the ticket of the Socialist Party USA and carrying with him the hope of moving past the miserable future created for us by capitalism.