I recently stumbled upon this April, 2011, Charles Davis post, entitled “I’ll take the reactionary over the murderer, thanks,” in which he decimates the liberal argument that, compared to Obama, Ron Paul is a corporate shill who will send the country back a few decades (or more).
As the title indicates, Davis argues we should be far more concerned with Obama’s murderous foreign policy – the one that kills innocent civilians, shields torturers from accountability, and starts wars of aggression destined to incur blowback – than with Paul’s freewheelin’ capitalism that would allow big corporations to control the government. Two reasons: Paul vows to totally reverse that murderous foreign policy, and the liberal criticism of Paul is already our current status quo under Obama. Read the post; Davis fleshes the argument out well. Not to mention Paul’s plan to end the disastrous war on drugs, crippling the poor for a senseless puritanical fantasy.
The point is, you can’t tout your progressive values and continue to think that Obama is going to act in your interests more than Ron Paul, because that’s not only false, but the exact opposite is true.
That all sounds pretty convincing. But my qualm with the piece is how it lays this all out in depth and detail, and yet dismisses the argument’s logical conclusion: voting for Ron Paul.
Some disclaimers: (1) I’m not (necessarily) advocating for Ron Paul. I’m curious about how voting for him now might effect longer-term goals. (2) I know that Davis is an anarchist (think more Chomsky’s definition than “Lord of the Flies”), and that asking why an anarchist wouldn’t vote is as idiotic as it gets. But I will anyway. (3) I don’t think this is the same as arguing that Democrats are – ever so slightly – less evil than their Republican counterparts, chiefly because I just don’t think they are.
My question is tactical: even if Ron Paul would continue to mostly serve corporate interests, and even if those interests run directly against the needs and interests of the citizenry, doesn’t the fact that he would end the global war on terror and the domestic war on drugs factor rather largely? Put another way, even if Paul wouldn’t serve your longer and longest term goals, don’t his extremely progressive short-term goals count for something – a step in the right direction?
Many contend that electing a single person is never going to constitute meaningful change, especially not change that works so strongly against the status quo. Yet as commander-in-chief, Paul would be able to actually withdraw from these aggressive wars and – this is key – stop murdering people. Furthermore, in the post in question, Davis himself makes the case for Paul’s unilateral potential in the war on drugs:
“Paul, on the other hand, has called for ending the drug war and said he would pardon non-violent offenders, which would be the single greatest reform a president could make in the domestic sphere, equivalent in magnitude to ending Jim Crow.” [Emphasis mine]
It remains difficult to reconcile that potential with the absolutist view that, categorically, “the electoral process [is] primarily a distraction, something that diverts energy and attention from more effective means of reforming the system.”
My primary hesitance in not advocating for Ron Paul, and for short-term goals in general, is born from the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, which for now brings back the confidence and ability to demand big, serious change to our system. “Dear 1%,” one #OWS sign reads, “We fell asleep for a while. We just woke up. Sincerely, the 99%.” I like the sound of that. (For the record, and this may well be irrelevant, Ron Paul has supported the Occupy movement.) The question remains, though, and I’m not just asking Davis, I’m asking people on the left throughout the country: if Ron Paul could produce that substantial change, and at least reverse our two biggest, most crippling wars – on terror and on drugs – isn’t that worth something?
1. As many argue, the primary cause of this mentality is partisanship, or what Glenn Greenwald terms ‘tribalism.’ People are often eager to toe the party line because allegiance to a monolithic party gives one a sense of values, without needing to actually confront those values head-on. Ron Paul has run as a ‘Libertarian’ candidate before, with little success, and has supported third-party candidates in the past. I think it’s worth noting that if he ran as an Independent in 2012, instead of as a Republican he could more clearly show progressives what is already true, that he’s to the left of Obama on some major issues.