The Dueling Identities of Congressman Ron Paul

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Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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  1. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    I think – or at least hope – that the LoOG is at the point of being officially exhausted of discussing Ron Paul, but this post should make a rather constructive last word.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    Just a shout out to Elias, for an excellent post. And also to Corey Robin: I hope the main thesis of The Reactionary Mind will become recognized as an indispensable tool for framing contemporary American political issues. Until, of course, reactionaries corrupt the concept in an attempt to make it their own.Report

  3. Avatar Robert Greer
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    says:

    I think MacLeod and Robin are right to point out that American libertarianism is usually guilty of rank privilege-denial.  Ever since Locke, there’s been an irritatingly-vocal group of people who contort the language of liberty and rights in the defense of repression.  But while I don’t think Ron Paul can escape this charge entirely (I am a Marxist, after all), I also think it’s quite unfair to ignore his very real departures from conventional reactionaryism.

    Let’s get the racist thing out of the way first: Paul’s opposition to the standard liberal program to ameliorate past injustices is best understood as emanating from his deep skepticism of the state rather than animus toward minorities.  His rationale for opposing the Civil Rights Act is explicitly that hierarchical institutions are more likely to co-opt, corrupt, and delegitimize pro-minority movements than to sincerely advance them.  There’s nothing inherently reactionary about these anti-establishment instincts — it’s the same philosophical loam that germinated #OWS’s desire to devolve decisionmaking to the local level.

    Besides, I’m skeptical that  the race-relations approach favored by the North is unambiguously better than the one in the South.  Blacks may be the clear underclass in Dixie, but they’re better integrated into white culture there than in the North, where you’ll find the most segregated places in the country.  (As someone who recently moved to Chicago, I can assure you that the city is essentially under apartheid.)

    In my more cynical moments, I wonder if a lot of the resistance to Paul from liberals doesn’t stem from Northern chauvinism against a Southern candidate.  Northern liberals who are tempted to thwack Paul for cultivating the support of racists should acknowledge that their side is not innocent of racial politicking — ugly nativist elements within the labor movement have long been cultivated as part of their coalition.  (How often have Democratic politicians blown the racial dog-whistle of NAFTA?)  I think leftists would do well to interpret Paul’s anti-government stance more charitably: Instead of seeing it as reactionary, try to see it as anarchism for people who say “y’all.”

    This brings us to the real value of Paul’s candidacy: his ability to bridge the gap between Occupiers and Tea Partiers.  Paul is not libertarian in the stereotypical Greenspan sense — he’s the first serious Republican candidate in a long time to question entrenched wealth in any systemic way.  He’s acceptable to the Tea Party contingent because he situates these criticisms well within the individualist ethic that has always dominated the American political consciousness.  Paul’s fulminations against the coziness between Wall Street and the Federal Reserve are hard to characterize as a cloaked defense of privilege, but at the same time, nobody could accuse him of creeping socialism.

    Of course, Paul’s critique of entrenched wealth is incomplete because it’s predicated on individualism.  But because this individualism is undeniably a very strong strain in the American political consciousness (probably the strongest), I have severe doubts that the left can vanquish it in the near term anyway.  Obama was a promising candidate for the left because he’s skilled at using individualist themes in the service of leftish economic policies, but his usefulness in this realm has, I fear, been exhausted.  He is blocked from making large populist electoral inroads because of his Northern urban persona, and he can’t make a mad dash for redistributionist policies because of the Democratic Party’s reliance on campaign contributions from the financial industry.  Ron Paul’s anti-establishment campaign, on the other hand, could open up the broader political discourse to an deeper examination of economic privilege, if only in a limited way.  Of course I’d like to see a more fundamental reckoning than what Paul would offer, but sometimes a reliable running play is preferable to a Hail Mary pass.

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  4. Avatar Robert Greer
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    says:

    A related thought I had: Part of my attraction to Paul probably results from my fear of Romney as the Republican nominee.  While I think Romney would be a decent president domestically, I think his foreign policy could very well lead to apocalypse.  Right now we need nothing more than a de-escalation of world conflict through a drawdown of American power, and Romney is very much the anti-Paul in this regard: While Paul believes (uniquely among Republican candidates) that America has no special role in international affairs, Romney literally believes in American exceptionalism as a matter of religious doctrine.  Report

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