An Open Letter to My Liberal Friends
by Jeff Taylor
rights for all; special privileges for none."
the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will,
to be rightful, must be reasonable . . . the minority possess
their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate
which would be oppression."
purpose of representative government is] to curb the excesses
of the monied interests."
influence over government must be shared among the people. If
every individual which composes their mass participates in the
ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because the corrupting
of the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth."
then, has been our principle, peace is our interest, and peace
has saved to the world this only plant of free and rational government
now existing in it."
commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances
You asked for
a treatise to explain my support for the "lunatic" Ron
Paul. Since you asked, I'll send you some thoughts.
Americans left-of-center with commitments to peace, justice, and
democracy see Congressman Paul as a real option rather than as
a right-wing wacko? That's the question. Several years ago, I was
hoping that Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) would run for president
in 2008. He's a principled statesman with a consistent record of
opposition to war and empire, and support for democracy and civil
liberties. He also has the potential to reach beyond his base of
liberal Democrats to conservatives and libertarians with his stance
on government frugality and bureaucratic waste. So, I was excited
about a Feingold candidacy until he bowed out of the race.
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) did not appeal to very many voters in 2004
and he is repeating that dismal showing in 2008. Part of his problem
was his flip-flop on abortion when he entered the '04 race. A principled
pro-choicer like Feingold and a principled pro-lifer like Paul can
earn respect from a wide range of people, but it's hard to admire
someone who jumped from pro-life to pro-choice seemingly as a matter
of political convenience. As if the Democratic power brokers would
ever consent to the nomination of Kucinich, regardless of how enthusiastic
he becomes for "reproductive freedom"! So, from the get-go,
Kucinich hobbled his efforts by undercutting his strongest selling
point: his integrity.
candidate for the '08 Democratic presidential nomination is Mike
Gravel, former U.S. Senator from Alaska. But Gravel, like Kucinich,
is treated as a joke by the mainstream media, has not raised substantial
money, and languishes at the bottom of the polls. Thomas Jefferson
was not perfect, but the founder of the Democratic Party had a platform
that is not only remarkably good but still applicable and popular
in 21st century America. Leavened with the racial egalitarianism
of King, Abernathy, and Hamer, the Jeffersonian platform could be
used by politicians for electoral success and wise policy.
and Representative Paul, who have often voted together on major
issues of the day despite being tagged as a "liberal Democrat"
and "conservative Republican," are examples of modern
Jeffersonians. Senator Gravel is the most Jeffersonian candidate
running among the Democrats this year, but he has failed to catch
on with a wide portion of the citizenry. That's where Ron Paul comes
Not only does
Ron Paul represent Jeffersonian values usually termed "conservative"
or "libertarian" today (fidelity to the Constitution,
frugal government, states' rights, Second Amendment, national sovereignty),
but he is also a leading example of support for Jeffersonian positions
nowadays described as "liberal" or "leftist"
(e.g. opposition not only to the Iraq War but to war in general,
anti-imperialism, ending the federal war on drugs, hostility to
the Patriot Act and other violations of civil liberties). This accounts
for the wide appeal of the Paul campaign. It's precisely the sort
of trans-ideological, cross-generational populist-libertarian-moralist
coalition that I was hoping to see with a Feingold presidential
If we stipulate
that a candidate polling at least 5% in national polls is a "major
candidate," there is simply no other major candidate in 2008
who is more Jeffersonian, more committed to peace, justice, and
democracy, than Ron Paul. He puts pretenders like Edwards and Obama
to shame. I like a lot of what John Edwards is saying on the campaign
trail today, but I don't think he means a word of it. He's a limousine
liberal phony when it comes to the rich/poor issue. He supported
the Iraq War until it became widely unpopular. He voted for the
Patriot Act. He claims to be against outsourcing of American jobs
but he voted for permanent normalized trade relations (MFN) for
I think Barack
Obama would be much preferable to Hillary Clinton as president,
but his campaign is built on glossy generalities like "hope,"
"youth," and "unity." It's more about style
than substance. If you study what he's had to say about foreign
policy when addressing elite audiences, you see that he's not much
different from Clinton and the DLC crowd. He's in the mainstream
of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its perpetual commitment
to empire and globalization. Even his strongest selling point for
the left his opposition to the Iraq War in 200203 is suspect
upon close examination. In his October 2002 speech, he told the
anti-war crowd FOUR times that he was not opposed "to all wars."
He summed up his philosophy by saying, "I am not opposed to
all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars." There is nothing about
war in general that is offensive to Obama. He objected to the Iraq
War only on strategic grounds, not ethical grounds.
the U.S. Senate authorization vote of 2002, in July 2004, Obama
told the New York Times, "What would I have done? I
don't know." Asked about the pro-war votes of Kerry and Edwards,
Obama told NPR, "I don't consider that to have been an easy
decision, and certainly, I wasn't in the position to actually cast
a vote on it. I think that there is room for disagreement in that
initial decision." Not exactly a stunning statement of the
peace position! Obama told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs,
in November 2006, "We cannot afford to be a country of isolationists
right now. 9/11 showed us that try as we might to ignore the rest
of the world, our enemies will no longer ignore us. And so we need
to maintain a strong foreign policy, relentless in pursuing our
enemies and hopeful in promoting our values around the world."
So 9/11 occurred during a period in our history when we were minding
our own business (practicing "isolationism")? That's a
novel explanation of events!
In April 2007,
Obama told the CCGA, "I reject the notion that the American
moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century
cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt,
we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the
ultimate good. I still believe that America is the last, best hope
of Earth. We just have to show the world why this is so." Spoken
like a true neoconservative. This messianic imperialism continues
throughout the speech: "In today's globalized world, the security
of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of
all people. . . . World opinion has turned against us. And after
all the lives lost and the billions of dollars spent, many Americans
may find it tempting to turn inward, and cede our claim of leadership
in world affairs. I insist, however, that such an abandonment of
our leadership is a mistake we must not make. . . . We must lead
the world, by deed and example."
endorsed the Persian Gulf War of 1991, a bloodletting that had nothing
to do with U.S. national security: "No President should ever
hesitate to use force unilaterally if necessary to protect ourselves
and our vital interests when we are attacked or imminently threatened.
But when we use force in situations other than self-defense, we
should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation
of others the kind of burden-sharing and support President George
H.W. Bush mustered before he launched Operation Desert Storm."
to Obama's narrow and perhaps opportunistic reasons for opposing
the Iraq War, Ron Paul has consistently opposed every U.S. military
intervention since the 1970s. He's the only major candidate who
openly speaks out against the American empire and imperialism. Can
you even imagine Hillary Clinton or John Edwards using the e-word
or the i-word? Not in connection with our own government! When it
comes to foreign policy, Ron Paul sounds as radical as Noam Chomsky.
In fact, Paul is more radical because he refused to vote for Bush
in 2004 while Chomsky was willing to vote for Kerry over a real
anti-empire candidate like Nader. Paul not only talks the talk;
he walks the walk. Yet he's more acceptable to Middle America than
someone like Chomsky or Howard Zinn because he volunteered to serve
in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1960s and he has an obvious patriotism
that makes him less vulnerable to the "hate-America" smear.
Ron Paul is
the only major contender who calls for cutting off the billions
of dollars of foreign aid we give to the Israeli government each
year (and all other foreign aid as well, including the money going
to Egypt and Colombia). None of the "progressive" Democrats
care about justice for the Palestinians or dare to question the
power of the pro-Israeli-government lobby. Congressman Paul does.
None of the
leading Democrats voted against the Iraq War or the Patriot Act.
Paul voted against both. All of the leading Democrats have voted
time and again to fund the war in Iraq, thereby ceding the only
power they have to end the war. Paul has always voted against Defense
Department appropriations which include funding for the war. Unlike
leading Democrats in the ClintonGore-Kerry tradition, Ron
Paul opposes the death penalty because he believes in the sanctity
Only Ron Paul
funds his campaign without the assistance of PACs and the corporate
rich. There is simply no other Democrat, including John Edwards,
who has an equal record when it comes to relying on grassroots support,
opposing plutocratic policies, and earning the enmity of Big Business.
This is why the Wall Street Journal and FOX News detest the "Ron
Paul Revolution." The revolution includes stripping the overprivileged
of many of their political and economic privileges. While the Manhattan-K
Street-Hollywood crowd disdain Paul, supporters working on his behalf
raise $6 million in a single day from the "common people"
(average contribution: $100). If that's not democracy at work, I
don't know what it is.
Ron Paul opposes
both the warfare state and the welfare state. The welfare state
includes much-publicized handouts to poor people (although far fewer
than in the past, thanks to the Bill ClintonNewt Gingrich
gutting of AFDC), but even more importantly it includes middle-class
entitlements and billions in taxpayer giveaways to the wealthy.
Paul's opposition to NAFTA and GATT is motivated not only by his
belief in national sovereignty, but also by his suspicion of cozy
deals between Big Government and Big Business.
Ron Paul does
not play favorites. He wants to end corporate welfare across the
board. His monetary policy of using sound, constitutional money
would help the poor by curtailing the hidden "inflation tax."
A Paul effort to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and
other manifestations of federal big government would make special
interest lobbies unhappy but they would not hurt poor or average
citizens. On the contrary, it would free up money and power to deal
with problems at the state and local levels. Lower levels of government
have been far more "progressive" than the feds in most
policy areas over the years, in things ranging from corporate regulation
to health policy to medicinal use of marijuana.
Ron Paul is
not perfect as either a candidate or a policy maker. I don't agree
with him on everything. He has a few personal flaws and weaknesses.
He has some disreputable supporters (e.g., racists and anti-Semites
who like his opposition to globalization and plutocracy). As I write
in my book, in contrasting the mainstream media's depiction of politicians
like John Kerry to more genuine liberals like Cynthia McKinney,
"The disingenuous nature of their careers and campaigns is
politely ignored while the flaws, real and imagined, of party mavericks
are trumpeted by the smug talking heads and the frothy news magazines."
(p. 256) As with possible Green Party candidate McKinney, Paul's
real and imagined flaws are in the process of being magnified by
the mainstream media as his popularity rises.
with the corporate press are enthusiasts of war, empire, global
capitalism, political correctness, Leviathan statism, and other
respectable projects of the Power Elite. Such things are the antithesis
of Ron Paul. If you're forming your opinion of Paul on the basis
of coverage by the New York Times, The New Yorker, and NPR, it's
not surprising that you think he's a "lunatic." If you
listen carefully, you'll "learn" that he's not only a
lunatic, but a dangerous "racist lunatic." It's not true,
but the truth is irrelevant when the special interests of the wealthy
and powerful are threatened.
a perceptive leftist like Alexander Cockburn recently wrote, "Huckabee's
single rival as a genuinely interesting candidate is another Republican,
Ron Paul, who set a record a few days ago, by raising $6 million
in a single day. Unlike Huckabee, Paul's core issues are opposition
to the war and to George Bush's abuse of civil liberties inscribed
in the U.S. Constitution. His appeal, far more than Huckabee, is
to the redneck rebel strain in American political life the
populist beast that the US two-party system is designed to suppress.
On Monday night Paul was asked on Fox News about Huckabee's Christmas
ad, which shows the governor backed by a shining cross. Actually
it's the mullions of the window behind him, but the illusion is
perfect. Paul said the ad reminded him of Sinclair Lewis's line,
that 'when fascism comes to this country it will be wrapped in a
flag and bearing a cross.' In the unlikely event they had read Lewis,
no other candidate would dare quote that line." (CounterPunch,
they disagree on some policies, Cockburn can respect a Republican
who publicly warns against imperialism and fascism, and who views
the Constitution as a still-binding set of rules . . . instead of
"just a G**-d***** piece of paper," as George
W. Bush was quoted as saying to members of Congress in 2005.
I know it's
hard for many to see the possibility of any good Republican, but
it's worth remembering that the GOP heritage includes not only the
plutocracy of Calvin Coolidge but also the democracy of Robert La
Follette, not only the Wall Street of Thomas Dewey but also the
Main Street of Robert Taft. Paul is in that La Follette-Taft tradition
of anti-monopoly at home and non-intervention abroad. If the Gravel
or Kucinich campaigns had caught fire during the past year, we would
see some anti-war Republicans crossing party lines to support one
of their candidacies as the vehicle of choice in 2008. Instead,
we're seeing some Democrats backing Paul.
While the stray
neo-Confederate may like Ron Paul, he is also the recipient of more
African American support than any other Republican. Paul is backed
by both realistic veterans and idealistic pacifists, Christians
and atheists, John Birchers and NORML members. It's a kaleidoscope
campaign not of pandering or double-talking but of an honest commitment
to an array of deeply held American values. Liberty and peace are
popular. It's not a cult of personality like Obama.
Who's the real
kook: the middle-class woman in Peoria concerned about the unconstitutional
monetary system or the neoconservative in Washington who wants to
remake the world in our image through the barrel of a gun? Who's
the real threat: the yahoo in Mississippi who thinks multiculturalism
is destroying our traditional culture or the corporate lobbyist
who buys and sells elected officials? Who's the real xenophobe:
the young person who doesn't want to tell people in other countries
how to live their lives or the intellectual who turns our nation
into the pariah of the world by sending Americans off to kill foreigners?
I don't expect
that you'll support Ron Paul during the primary season, but I wanted
you to at least understand why he could have some appeal for a three-time
Nader voter such as myself. Many anti-war, pro-limited-government,
grassroots democracy advocates will support Edwards, Obama, or some
other mainstream candidate in the coming months, but I think we're
selling ourselves short when we do so. We may well end up with crumbs
from the table in the end because that's how the system is set up.
But if we start the process by making it clear that we'll settle
for crumbs, we ensure that we'll never get anything more. Radical
change will never happen because the Establishment understands that
progressive voters can be taken for granted. In the end, most will
fall into line behind the candidate with the (D) behind her/his
name, no matter how unprogressive s/he is.
To me, voting
for Kucinich, Gravel, McKinney, or Paul makes some sense even though
they're unlikely to win. At least we're asking for something honest
and principled during the first round of voting. Ron Paul isn't
the perfect candidate and his Jeffersonianism is not as full-bodied
as I would prefer (e.g., he's too weak on the ecological dimension),
but at least he's a step in the right direction and his ability
to attract a wide range of grassroots support is commendable. He's
not the only good choice, but he's no lunatic and there is some
logic behind his campaign. It's not everything, but it is something.
In a rigged system with a populace divided by secondary issues and
exploited by a bipartisan elite, it may be the best we can do in
The Ron Paul
campaign does not represent a madness brought on by the moon. It's
closer to the truth to say it's a hopeful manifestation of the sun
shining on the political realm. It brings some clarity and accountability
Taylor [send him mail] is a
political scientist. His book Where
Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and
the Jeffersonian Legacy was published last year by University
of Missouri Press. He contributed a chapter to the book A
Dime's Worth of Difference (Cockburn and St. Clair, eds.).
Visit his website.
© 2008 Jeff Taylor