A Maverick, But Not the Good Kind

Reading between the Lines

For a brief moment in early October, the political punditry took note of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the long-shot libertarian candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Paul was the only Republican to raise more money in the third quarter of this year than the second quarter. In fact, with a haul of more than $5 million in the quarter, he has more cash in the bank than former front-runner Sen. John McCain.

If this were only a question of an obscure matter in some corner of the Republican universe, socialists probably wouldn’t give it any notice. However, Paul has managed to attract support from a wider layer of people, including those opposed to the Iraq war. To them, Paul comes off as a straight shooter who speaks unpopular truths against a two-party establishment that would rather not listen.

Indeed, that is probably one of Paul’s strongest qualities. Whatever one thinks of his politics–and most of this column will be sharply critical of them–he’s not a phony. He believes what he says, and he has a record of many congressional votes when he stood alone or with single-digit minorities against a tide of opinion. He’s no hobnobber or power broker. He annually returns to the U.S. Treasury money unspent by his staff.

But why would opponents of the war–generally thought to be on the left side of the political spectrum–be open to the appeal of one of only four members of Congress to endorse Ronald Reagan for president in 1976?

When it comes to the war, Paul does take a number of positions that put him to the “left” of Democratic Party liberals. While Democratic leaders were outraging their base supporters in approving the $124 billion war-funding bill last May, Paul voted against it. Antiwar activists would certainly find little to disagree with Paul’s explanation for his vote:

Only with the complicity of Congress have we become a nation of preemptive war, secret military tribunals, torture, rejection of habeas corpus, warrantless searches, undue government secrecy, extraordinary renditions, and uncontrollable spying on the American people. The greatest danger we face is ourselves: what we are doing in the name of providing security for a people made fearful by distortions of facts. Fighting over there has nothing to do with preserving freedoms here at home. More likely, the opposite is true.

Paul supports repealing the USA PATRIOT Act and dismantling U.S. military bases overseas. He opposes a U.S. attack on Iran. On the domestic side, he opposes gun control, the Real ID Act and calls on the U.S. government not to discourage the use of natural remedies and supplements that the big pharmaceutical companies oppose.

Taken separately, each of these positions would find a hearing among those who consider themselves on the left. But these stands can’t be separated from the rest of his transparently reactionary agenda.

That is because Paul’s positions, no matter how left-sounding, flow from a fairly (although not totally) consistent conservative worldview.

On the one hand, he promotes a libertarianism that verges on fantasy: he seems to advocate a pre-20th century world of rugged individualism, with minimal government and an economy based on the gold standard. On the other hand, a strong strain of “America First” nationalism runs through his positions.

According to Paul, “Property rights are the foundation of all rights in a free society.” So the “freedom” he advocates is a society with no income taxes, little or no government programs for the poor or disadvantaged, and no regulation of occupational safety and health or food and drug standards.

Interestingly, one exception to his views is abortion. Paul touts himself as anti-abortion, apparently seeing no contradiction between his views on personal privacy and the right of women to control their own bodies.

What should be equally disturbing to progressives is the “America First” character of Paul’s foreign policy, which bears a strong resemblance to right-wingers like Patrick Buchanan–or the even farther-out fringes of the nationalist right in the U.S.

A handwritten fundraising letter Paul sent to supporters earlier this month sounds as if a member of a right-wing militia or an old right outfit like the John Birch Society could have written it:

I don’t need to tell you that our American way of life is under attack. We see it all around us–every day–and it is up to us to save it.

The world’s elites are busy forming a North American Union. If they are successful, as they were in forming the European Union, the good ol’ USA will only be a memory. We can’t let that happen. The UN also wants to confiscate our firearms and impose a global tax. The UN elites want to control the world’s oceans with the Law of the Sea Treaty. And they want to use our military to police the world.

A substantial part of Paul’s foreign policy emphasizes “border security,” cracking down on “illegal aliens” and saving the U.S. from a NAFTA-based attack on U.S. sovereignty.

For this reason, Paul voted to bar the U.S. government from informing the Mexican government of the location of border outposts of the racist Minuteman Project vigilantes. And, belying his image as a down-to-earth country doctor, he voted in favor of reporting to law enforcement undocumented people who seek hospital care.

There’s no getting around the fact that the Ron Paul who is attractive to antiwar activists is the same Ron Paul who believes that the UN threatens “U.S. sovereignty” and that U.S. borders are being overrun by illegal immigrants.

This should lead us to a couple conclusions about the nature of Paul’s politics.

First, libertarianism–at least the type that Paul, the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for president, upholds–provides no way forward for people who lean left. Those who are impressed by Paul should recall that Milton Friedman, the archconservative economist whose free-market ideology has devastated millions of lives, also opposed the military draft.

Second, while traditional conservatives have criticized U.S. expansionism and interventionism, this doesn’t make them allies of the left. One of the strongest opponents of NATO and the Marshall Plan in the 1940s was Republican Sen. Robert Taft, the leading conservative of the day and chief sponsor of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act.

Those on the left who admire Paul’s stands against the Patriot Act and the war should recall the old adage that “even a broken clock is right twice a day.” They should take a deeper look at the rest of his politics–because most of them wouldn’t want to live in the kind of society that Ron Paul wants.

Lance Selfa writes for the Socialist Worker where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Lance, or visit Lance's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rich said on October 10th, 2007 at 5:19am #

    Its interesting how we pick apart any scratch on ron pauls positions,
    while ignoring the basketball size cancer tumors that cover ALL the other candidates. if i were Dr. Paul, I would take it as a compliment….

  2. Bill Moore said on October 10th, 2007 at 6:11am #

    Wow, I used to think I was a liberal progressive, but after reading some of the things that this Ron Paul guy advocates I’m starting to think I’m a libertarian. Being so staunchly pro-freedom on the social side and pro-freedom economically is a breath of fresh air. I’m surprised this man is not well known in Washington.

  3. DLong said on October 10th, 2007 at 6:19am #

    Hi Lance, 

    Thanks for your post regarding Ron Paul, while you offer a very postive view of value to the anti-war crowd I feel certain had you researched issues regarding the Unitied Nations, NAFTA, North American Union you would hopefully support Dr. Paul’s postion’s agaisn’t the UN, etc.   Allow me to share a few points which were not discussed in your articl.  It’s clear to me and others who follow congress as well as Paul’s campaign that Paul is on target with his information. 

    Congress just debated H.C.R. 40 titled “Expressing the sense of Congress that the United States should not engage in the construction of the North American Free Trade Agreement Superhighway system or enter into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada” I would suggest anyone who questions Paul on this issue study the issues presented in congress…. Nafta is in many ways the heart of the North American Union and will cause harm to our nation. I have over 800 documents obtained via a gov request to prove the treat should be a concern for every American.

    In regard to the UN to confiscate firearms: I have a UN film called “Armed to the Teeth” the film supports the only use of guns should be used by the police and armies and should be the only legal means of gun ownership.  Yes, that is correct it’s an actual UN film. 

    Additionally, I think the report was dated June, 1999 or July 1999 but I may be wrong with the dates but I do have the documents. Either way the UN “Small Arms” report stated gun control in many nations, including weapons destruction and turn-in programs should be in enforced to disarm the civilian population in Somalia, Kosovo and other nations…. I have the report I just can’t locate it at the moment.  If you are really seeking the facts then just study for a short time the UN’s role for gun control in Australia

    You must understand as our leadership trusts the UN with more powers our ability to arm our citizens, and lose of freedoms are under threat.  It will not happen over night but it’s slowly being challenged. 

    Ron Paul as any member of congress has taken an oath to defend the constitution against foreign and domestic threats.  He is simply maintaining his oath to office to discuss topics which threatean our nation from within and abroad. 

    Lance, if needed I can mail you a copy of my UN documents and I can make sure you see the UN movie if needed.  The copy I have is an actual film so if you promise to expose this issue I will send it to a video source who can transform the tape into a digital format.  I don’t know how long it will take to meet this request but I should have done this years ago.  I think it should be seen by everyone. 

    In closing I feel certain the details I have presented should be more then enough to dispel your concerns. 

    Please let me know how if you would like the information I have offered you have my email address from this post.  

    Live well,

    D Long

  4. Greg C. said on October 10th, 2007 at 7:41am #

    I am sure Ron Paul has done more to help poor people than any welfare proponents. ever have. Libertarians simply believe in private compassion and charity, not forcefully taking it at the end of a gun.

    It’s easy to use force to appropriate others to fund your pet causes. It’s much more Peaceful when consenting individuals choose to help causes that are important to them.

    I am sure Paul, as an OBGYN, has delivered a lot of babies and provided a lot of services for the poor at reduced or no cost. However, when REAL compassionate individuals choose to “help” people they don’t need to have a press release or brag about it. They don’t need recognition. They do it out of their own heart. And they certainly don’t need to force others to pay them for it.

    Dr. Paul has actually said that it would not be practical to completely dismantle the welfare state overnight, anyway. A lot of hardcore self described libertarians ( though probably more in the anarchist/ anarcho-capitalist vein) think he is not libertarian enough. For example, I am pretty ssure he believes in making sure Social Security is kept intact for those who have been promised it. He also makes a point to say that if we werent paying a trillion dollars a year on foreign wars, that we could afford to help people more at home with situations like Katrina. Hardly a cold-hearted libertarian stance.

    Even his immigration stance ( which I am more of an “open borders” libertarian myself) is very humane. He does oppose illegal immigration, but he always makes it a point to say that he opposes “scapegoating immigrants” and that under his administration there would probably be even MORE legal immigration and that we would have such an economy that we would welcome it.

    His abortion stance is influenced more by his medical experience IMHO, than any religious stuff. And he has repeatedly refused to condemned comdemn homosexuals for the same reasons ( has refered to his experience in medicine, science,etc.). The religious right pretty much hates him and boos his debates becaue he is the only Rep. not playing into the whole “Jesus hates homos and abortionists” rhetoric.

    The thing that the “right” and “left” don’t get is Ron Paul’s views are entirely consistent, reasonable and PEACEFUL. If someone is for PEACE, he can’t be “anti-war” but for the use of force against our own citizens. And vice versa. He takes the stances that are absolutely REQUIRED if one is to be 100% consistently “pro-peace/anti-war”

  5. Greg C. said on October 10th, 2007 at 8:05am #

    Also, I am not aware of any milton Friedman free market ideas that have actually been implemented. Unless you are saying you oppose tax withholding? I believe that was one of his ideas- payroll taxes. It could be argued THAT has harmed millions of people. He has had some socialist ideas implemented, but I am not aware of any “free market” ideas of his, or any that have even been implemented. We have never had anything resembling a free market. So it’s hard to blame something that has never existed.

    Again, it IS 100% CONSISTENT that Friedman opposed a draft and supported economic FREEDOM. As bill Moore said above, the libertarian philosophy consistently supports eocnomic AND social freedom ( whereas apparently “right” and “left” these days support neither).

    The Taft union issue could be argued that he didnt oppose unions so much as support people who actually wanted to work. Do socialists oppose people who want to work and fee their families free of political coercion?

    As far as why “‘The Left” ought support ( or consider supporting) Paul on his War and Patriot Act stances, while disagreeing with his freedom philosophy- Well, look on “the left”..is there anyone on the left who opposed the Patriot Act and War? Kucinich, right?/ Anyone else? Most of “the left” is pro-war and anti-freedom. Sometimes, especially in politics, you have to work on issues on an Ad-Hoc basis. Align yourself with people who agree and can help on the issues that matter. Also consider the “separation of powers.” If Paul were President and Congress were controlled by a Left that were truly “anti-War” maybe they could actually accomplish something on war, civil liberties,etc. If Paul proposed something kooky and libertarian, the Congress could keep him in check. And so on. Though I would hope your “left” would not oppose Paul when he frees all the non-violent drug offenders, among other things.

  6. Thomas said on October 10th, 2007 at 11:00am #

    I am constantly astounded and moved as to the articulate and well-argued defenses which Ron Paul’s supporters will write out to defend the man. It is one of many reasons I am proud to be counted among his promoters. I have often believed that the ideas which frighten both sides of a spectrum are the ones which elevate us beyond said spectrum and I think we are seeing evidence in these attacks from both liberals (too free-market, they cry) and neo-cons (too soft on war, they bellow) which reminds me of the rare unity which democrats and republicans can achieve only in swatting down those who question and challenge their presumed authority to regulate our very lives.

  7. Deadbeat said on October 10th, 2007 at 5:36pm #

    The capitalist libertarians who have come to DV to defend Ron Paul fail to analysis the contradiction of their position. Thomas about used “the fallacy of the middle-ground” to support his argument. Greg uses the distorting rhetoric of the Taft-Hartley “right to work” that extended capitalist power and weaken workers and union organizing.

    Socialist like Selfa are concern that Paul’s appeal will cause workers to not fully analysis Paul’s advocacy. The problem is that the capitalist economic always favor the rich and therefore government power is needed to balance these economic factors. Libertarans all too often support and favor the authortiarian power of government and the capitalist economy disguised as “small government” except for military and police (authority) and the “free” (should be really FEE) market which is inherently authoritative.

    Clearly Paul’s support of Ronald Reagan is troubling since Reagan created HUGE deficit spending by expanding military spending while cutting taxes for the rich and shifted tax burden on the middle class and poor by falsely claiming with the aid of Alan Greenspan that Social Security was in crisis thus leading to raising the payroll tax and the cutting of social programs. Clinton continued this trend by maintaining large military expenditures while repealing welfare and expanding the Prison Industrial Complex.

    Paul, to his credit, and to many libertarians argue for the need to reduce defense spending. I disagree with Selfa that this is “nationalistic”. Cutting military spending is desperately needed in order to have the money here in the U.S. to spend for infrastructure, health care and for the general welfare and well being of all U.S. citizens.

    Also I agree with Paul regarding a tax cut. Ralph Nadar has proposed the elimination of all income taxes on everyone making less than $100,000 and replace that revenue with a transaction tax on stock transfers. That will have the effect of transforming the stock market from the day trading casino into a real market for investments. He also like Paul advocates cutting the payroll tax since the government is collecting more than it requires for Social Security and the fact that the tax is regressive.

    While I agree with Selfa, general tone and I would advice caution regarding Paul’s advocacy, the war is the/i> most critical issue facing all Americans and listening to Paul during the Republican debate yesterday, he was the most cogent. The other Republican are clearly board line fascist fill with hate and fear and are their economic polices will only worsen disparities.

    While I think “Libertarian” are a confused lot economically they are not completely unwilling to compromise so long as you make strong arguments. In addition there are socialist who are hard nose on their position make incorrect analysis as well. Many on the left has proclaimed that the war in Iraq is solely for oil which is an incomplete analysis.

    I wish Paul luck in the Republican primaries because if it came down to Ron Paul vs Hilary Clinton I’d vote for Paul before I vote for a Zionist.

  8. j4ck said on October 11th, 2007 at 3:18am #

    Ron Paul is a constitutionalist. You can’t write an article about him without taking notice of this fact.
    Seems like a lefty hitpiece to me that makes no difference between corporatism and capitalism. (generally a problem of the ‘left’…and especially of course of the unionists.)
    The true left should anyway support him just to clean up the system and to pause economic and military intervention by the US empire..get pragmatic.

  9. Deadbeat said on October 11th, 2007 at 6:50pm #

    Seems like a lefty hitpiece to me that makes no difference between corporatism and capitalism

    It’s not a “lefty hit piece”. What is does advices is to analyze Ron Paul “Libertarianism” or better yet libertarian capitalism. Corporatism as you call it is they outgrowth of capitalism.

    What you fail to understand is that capitalism is profoundly UNDEMOCRATIC and concentrates power and wealth in the hand of the few. Liberals helped Capitalism evolve into a managerial class that has shifted power into the hand of the their corporations. The “evolution” was inevitable because Liberals wanted to “reform” Capitalism rather then smash it by enabling more power and participation of the people.

    Liberals like to encourage people NOT to participate by making people believe that they need “leaders” and “manager” to give them stuff. In the meantime, Liberals did everything they could to smash the left to the roaring cheer of those who are unfortunately duped to believe that capitalism equates to democracy.

    Paul advocacy at best is reformist and will do nothing to get to the root of the problem. What socialist like Selfa is concerned about is that people will put their support behind Paul and even if he wins he won’t change the core of the causes that has lead to crisis.

    However because the crisis has gotten so bad that Paul advocacy is “progressive” when compared to the Liberals who are so ingrained with their imperialist, militarist and racist agendas.

    That being said, while I prefer another candidate, if there is no third party effort and if it comes down to Paul vs. Clinton, I’d vote for Paul because the major issue facing the country is the illegal war in Iraq and Clinton is a flaming Zionist.

  10. j4ck said on October 11th, 2007 at 9:25pm #

    No that is not correct..true liberals fought corporatism..the left was it who betrayed the workers with their acceptance of the new deal. (come on that bull was written down by the big business leaders inspired by Mussolinis policy – and the left is still referring to it as a great ‘workers achievement’)
    That was when the Business leaders finally took over America and started their imperial rampage all over the World.
    +Corporatism is not the natural outcome of Capitalism, i don’t agree with Marx.
    ‘and if it comes down to Paul vs. Clinton, I’d vote for Paul’
    +You don’t have to fear his old right views anyway..the rest of the government will still be in the hands of big business who will always advocate a socialist policy. (that’s another problem i have with this article)

  11. Deion said on October 11th, 2007 at 10:10pm #

    First, if you’re a radical socialist who believes the corporations are out to get us, why are you so skeptical of gun freedom? Second, think about whether anti-“militia kook” rhetoric might have a tinge of classism to it. Third, wouldn’t this be a good opportunity for entryism?

  12. Deadbeat said on October 12th, 2007 at 4:47pm #

    j4ck: No that is not correct..true liberals fought corporatism..the left was it who betrayed the workers with their acceptance of the new deal. (come on that bull was written down by the big business leaders inspired by Mussolinis policy – and the left is still referring to it as a great ‘workers achievement’)

    That is not true. FDR initially advocated a balance budget during the Great Depression. FDR was forced to move leftward due to the populism of Huey Long and the threat of the workers movement. During the 1930, workers were looking for alternatives to capitalism. It was that “threat” that forced FDR to move to the left. However FDR in the end was not as “Liberal” as he’s made out to be. It’s all relative. Nixon was in fact more “liberal” than Bill Clinton.

    Corporatism is not the natural outcome of Capitalism
    What is a “natural” outcome of Capitalism is the concentration of power. What you call “corporatism” is just how the concentration of power has manifested under modern day capitalism. Liberals abetted this form of capitalism because they are elitist who encourage citizen NOT to participate but to defer to “leaders” while at the same time crush left wing opposition.

    +You don’t have to fear his old right views anyway..the rest of the government will still be in the hands of big business who will always advocate a socialist policy. (that’s another problem i have with this article)

    Your remarks clearly demonstrate you know little of what socialism is. Socialism is DEMOCRACY. Socialism is about a government that is ruled by the people and for the people. You can have government ruled by rulers for rulers or the opposite. Big business desires are government ruled by an oligarchy and capitalism encourages this kind of governance and tendencies. Liberals favor the rule of the elites with some bones thrown to the people. What happens is that over time the elites become drunk with power and wealth and favors using the authoritarian power of government to extend their rule over everyone.

    What you confuse is the rhetorical attack upon socialism as “big” government. It’s not about the “size” of government, it is about the citizens level of participation with society and making power accountable to the people — DEMOCRACY.

    I’ve read “hit pieces” from the ISO before, especially their take on Lenora Fulani endorsement of Ralph Nader in 2004. This article on Paul advices folks on the left to scrutinize his economic plan. However I do agree in the case of Paul that there is something to be said about pragmatism if it comes down between him and Clinton. Cutting the military budget as well as getting the troops out will save lives than reduce the wasteful spending. I think Paul can be convinced to spend more on domestic needs and if that can occur then he would be worth my vote.

  13. Louis said on October 15th, 2007 at 12:55pm #

    Ron Paul has real supporters, unlike the other candidates’ half-hearted supporters who only lend that “support” because they wish to be on the “winning team.” And they assume the winning team will be whatever candidate garners the most mainstream media support (which does NOT reflect actual grassroots support). Why do you think he was able to raise that $5 million? No huge corporate sponsors or lending to ones own campaign to be found. All grassroots contributions.

    The fact of the matter is that party grassroots have been disenfranchised by their “leadership,” and those are the individuals finding out about and coming to support Congressman Paul.

    How can you call Dr. Paul’s agenda reactionary? He has been stating the same thing for at least the past 20 years. You’re trying to paint him as being like the other candidates, who are fake, and do indeed tell people what they think they want to hear only to get their vote.

    Ron Paul puts “America first” because one can only clean one’s own house before even beginning to think about what’s wrong around the world. He understands the basic common sense that we can only improve the world by setting a good example and inspiring others to follow our lead. And that doesn’t mean invading other nations to “bring them democracy.”

    Please don’t attempt to paint the Good Doc as an uncaring politician who is insensitive to the needs of the poor. Dr. Paul’s prescription for improving our economy and EVERYONE’S quality of life is what we need here in America. Only when poor people realize the damage their apathy toward political and societal involvement causes can we begin to move forward as a nation. In my opinion, that is also a moral issue, involved restoring the integrity of the family unit and its role in shaping society. With that said, Ron Paul has not alluded to abruptly ending any social welfare program currently in place. We need to wean people off of these programs for their own good. I come from a poor family, so I feel at liberty to speak with confidence on this matter.

    What makes the abortion issue complicated is the fact that you have two individuals involved in a life-or-death situation. Yes, the woman has power over her own body, but then it is undeniable that a fetus also has rights. If not, as Dr. Paul argues, why would legal ramifications arise as the result of one causing the injury or death of another’s fetus? I think the case for fetus’ rights has been clearly established. All Ron Paul is saying, in so many words, is, “Leave the Federal government out of it. Let the States decide.” His principle is correct: the more complex the matter, the more local its deliberation and resolution should be.

    I was going to pick apart the rest of your article, but I’m getting bored and have better things to do–like some grassroots activism for the Ron Paul campaign. Goodbye.

  14. Quixoticus said on October 16th, 2007 at 3:33pm #

    The one great thing I deeply envy with regards to America; is Ron Paul. I wish to God we had one of him here in Canada. We must resist the planned NAU which will destroy any hope for either of our futures.
    Fight on!