Long-time Balloon Juice commenter (and friend of ABLC) TVHilton is guest blogging over at No More Mister Nice Blog, and he penned a post that is well worth reading:
Of course, this is laughable to anyone familiar with Paul’s positions on, say, abortion, or the Civil Rights Act (Dave Neiwert has a great piece on this). It’s also ridiculous in the light of the vicious racism in Ron Paul’s newsletters. Greenwald’s response on the former was to point to his terribly-clever1 use of the weasel word “many”; the latter, he dismissed with an airy “they all have serious flaws”.
Greenwald has since doubled down on his tweet, describing Paul as “the only candidate in either party now touting” the “foreign policy and civil liberties values Democrats spent the Bush years claiming to defend”. All of which says much more about Greenwald’s extremly narrow (Libertarian-friendly) conception of “civil liberties” than about either the President or Ron Paul.
But even on its own terms–even excluding niggling little concerns like women’s autonomy or enforcing the equal protection clause or separation of church and state–Greenwald’s comment is fatally wrongheaded. Paul’s positions on issues like military intervention, surveillance, and the drug war may converge with the positions of civil libertarians, but they aren’t really based on civil liberties as we liberals understand the term.
A lot of prog love for Ron Paul is based on his national defense policies: “Avoid long and expensive land wars that bankrupt our country….eliminat[e] waste in a trillion-dollar military budget.” An anti-war stance, naturally enough, sounds pretty good to anti-war liberals. Paul opposed the Iraq War from the beginning (as, of course, did Obama); that buys him a lot of goodwill.
But the nature of his anti-war stance is fundamentally different from that of liberal opposition to any given war. The tipoff is in his opposition to foreign aid, and his anti-United Nations position: he’s anti-war because the rest of the world just isn’t worth it. His is not the pacifism of the anti-war movement but the nativist isolationism of the America-Firsters; Paul is “to the left of Obama” the way Lindbergh was to the left of Roosevelt. (That may be true in a fairly literal sense, although I wouldn’t trust anything from Big Government without further corroboration.)
Similarly, Paul’s positions on civil liberties issues aren’t actually about civil liberties as we understand them; they’re about his opposition to Federal authority. (An opposition that is somewhat conditional, it should be noted.) For example, in talking about the death penalty, he makes clear that he opposes it only at the Federal level. His opposition to the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, and domestic surveillance come from the same root as his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He has no real objection to states violating the rights of their citizens; it’s only a problem if the Feds do it.
The assumption underlying this is that people are freer when states (as opposed to the Federal government) have more power. Now, it may seem obvious to some of us that the distinction between one arbitrary administrative unit and another isn’t exactly a human rights issue, but let’s just consider for a moment: does state or local control actually translate to more liberty?
I understand that progressives praise Ron Paul’s foreign policy and Paul’s anti-war stance, but I don’t entirely understand why. What I find puzzling is the belief that these views make Ron Paul liberal or liberalish or lefty. They don’t. I don’t believe that Paul’s stance stems from some expression of humanity or concern about the victims of U.S. drone strikes. (Notably (or perhaps not), the CIA has suspended drone strikes in Pakistan). I agree with TVHilton that Paul is isolationist and anti-government, and I think Paul maintains those positions only when it suits him. That Paul recently signed the personhood pledge along with the other GOP nutbags flies in the face of the “I heart civil liberties and personal freedom” mantra which civil liberties/libertarian bloggers (like Conor Friedersdorf and Glenn Greenwald) often ascribe to Paul.
And while I agree that a national conversation about our foreign policy and global imperialism is desperately warranted, ultimately, I’m not willing to give up, for example, my reproductive freedom to have such a conversation, a conversation that will ultimately be futile because any president that would seek to impose isolationist policies, including withdrawing aid to Israel, would without a doubt be hamstrung by Congress. Of course, Paul’s views that the Civil Rights Act impinges personal freedom are of great concern to me, not because I fear that he would somehow undo or attempt to repeal the Civil Rights Act, but because I fear that a Department of Justice under Ron Paul would simply stop caring about upholding the various provisions of the Civil Rights Act and would stop caring about how the Civil Rights Acts affects minority rights in this country. Would a DOJ under President Paul shoot down the South Carolina voter ID laws? I doubt it.
So, am I monster for caring more about my uterus and the rights of minorities and the underclass than I am about the victims of drone strikes in a foreign land? Maybe. But I’m ok with it.
[cross-posted at Balloon Juice]