Election 2008 has officially kicked off and the only real excitement thus far is the explosion of grassroots support for the Republican antiwar candidate, Ron Paul. The 10-term Congressman’s anti-government, pro-market platform has rallied a-never-before-seen online mobilization, filling his campaign’s bank account with almost $20 million in the last quarter alone. That puts him on par with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s fundraising prowess.
Many progressives, including myself, believe some of the libertarian fiscal ideas Paul espouses would be a disaster if they were ever implemented. Nevertheless, the policies of all the other leading candidates aren’t about to change the course of the economic apartheid that is already plaguing most people in this country. They’d simply continue it.
The upside of Paul’s campaign certainly outweighs the potential downsides. The critical issues now aren’t Paul’s plea to dismantle the welfare state (although cutting off all subsidies to corporate American would be fine by me), but his call to restore the Bill of Rights and drastically curb American Empire. I think most Iraqis living under US occupation would probably concur that ending the war ought to be priority number one for US voters this year. So why aren’t we listening? At this point Paul is the only candidate calling for a radical change in our Middle East foreign policy.
The Ron Paul rebellion, with the antiwar component at its core, represents a potential crisis for the Democratic Party. In the absence of a Ralph Nader—type candidate and a coexisting movement, Paul’s crusade is the only major force to align with to stop the war in Iraq and, on a longer-term level, represents a politically activated and more mainstream segment of American society worth trying to reach out to.
Many left-leaning writers and respected activists have recently latched on to John Edwards’ anti-corporate campaign, claiming, as author Norman Solomon recently did, that if Edwards were nominated he "would be the most progressive Democrat to top the national ticket in more than half a century."
It seems the litmus test for the lauded "progressive" label is pretty damn weak these days. Edwards may be touting populist rhetoric along the campaign trail, claiming he’ll clamp down on corporate crime, which garnered him Ralph Nader’s endorsement, but Edwards has utterly failed to challenge the US-Israel relationship and even President Bush’s lies regarding Iran.
During a speech broadcast at a security conference in January 2007 in Herzliya, Israel, Edwards echoed a dangerous neoconservative position. "Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world," he claimed, "Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons." Later in his speech Edwards went as far as to say that "all options" should be left on the table, hinting, if not admitting outright, that he believed military action may be necessary to contain America’s new arch nemesis.
Most antiwar activists have been quiet regarding Edwards’ I-won’t-promise-not-to-nuke-Iran pose, but have gone to great lengths to discredit Ron Paul, calling him a racist because of the support he’s received from the likes of David Duke and other bona fide nut jobs. Guilty-by-association politics are petty and naïve. How soon we forget the smearing of Ralph Nader in 2004 because Republicans were supporting his campaign. Some may call us hypocrites for slandering Paul in the same way.
The Left so often swallows its own head with overt sectarianism, it’s downright embarrassing. Here’s Ron Paul electrifying a new contingent of voters. Thousands of them. He’s raking in millions for his antiwar campaign, yet he’s completely written off as a whacko libertarian. Many, if not most, of his supporters are new the electoral game. Sure some may indeed be rednecks, but what the hell is so wrong with hard-working folks who oppose Empire? Disregarding or pooh-poohing Paul’s movement because he’s not a progressive and some of his followers have odd world views, makes us look like elitist snobs.
Plus it is just silly.
The Paul demographic is essentially the same group of people the Left was attempting to organize at its apex in the 1930s, before we became a mostly irrelevant group of detached naval gazers, and postmodern-bullsh***ers. If we want any kind of revolution, large or small, we better stop being diversity-mongers, claiming we embrace everyone, aside from those we disagree with. How the Left could be so out of touch with regular Americans is beyond me.
Ron Paul, unlike any other candidate in the hunt this year, including John Edwards, has tapped in to a true populist current. The people who don’t typically vote and are generally disgusted with big government. And that is exactly what the Left should try and understand, if not replicate, even if they don’t care for Paul or the majority of his positions.
Joshua Frank [send him mail] is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008.