Ron Paul and the People
I think John Nichols is way too excited about the unquestionably momentary and ephemeral Ron Paul boomlet; but this, at least, is probably correct:
Ron Paul is not a progressive. He takes stands on abortion rights and a number of other issues that disqualify him from consideration by social moderates and liberals, and his stances on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and labor rights (like those of the author of the Taft-Hartley Act) are anathema to economic justice advocates. But Paul cannot be dismissed as just another robotic Republican. Indeed, he is more inclined to challenge Republican orthodoxy on a host of foreign and fiscal policy issues than Barack Obama. He does so as something that is rare indeed at the highest levels of American politics: a conservative.
I’m more likely to unapologetically endorse the oeuvre of Michael Bay than I am to argue that someone should vote for or support Ron Paul. But I’ve come across a significant number of people lately on the internets — people I respect — who have insisted that supporting the Texas Congressman, blemishes and all, is worth it.
Acknowledging that I’m speaking for others and generalizing to a large extent: the idea is that Paul’s nomination would highlight, to a degree not only unprecedented but basically verboten, the neo-imperial militarism of the Democratic Party (and more or less everyone else in DC besides Paul). I’m not swayed; but it’s not a ridiculous justification for supporting the man, provided that one understands the assumptions baked-in to the proposition.
There are two:
- that the American electorate is unaware of its nation’s hegemonic foreign policy
- that if they are aware, their opposition goes almost completely ignored by the powers that be, due to any number of reasons
Short version: people who support Paul because of his foreign policy worldview, and a desire to see it injected further into the national debate, don’t believe — whether they know it or not — that American foreign policy represents the will of the people. I’m really skeptical that this is the case. I think that nationalism is as influential a force in politics as any other, and that the lure of empire is great. Many people see human history through the transition from one hegemon to another for a reason.
What’s more, the US’s self-mythology as humanity’s redeemer, Freedom’s guardian, God’s favorite — this is all the kind of stuff that makes it especially difficult to convince Americans that a humble, mature foreign policy is best. A foreign policy that values life above glory, and doesn’t try to smother its existential fear (consciously or not) by constructing meaning through bloody struggle; despite what Americans may say now, after nearly 10 years of anti-climax and failure, it leaves many voters rather cold.
Maybe I’m being too cynical or, rather, fatalistic. But after a week or so of paeans to Hitchens, a man who embodied the Nietzschean vision of geopolitics with more frankness and verve than most, I doubt it.