Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ron Paul, the drug war and the rightwing mind-bend

One thing I've experienced pretty much my entire adult life is that when I try to follow the thought process of far-right crackpottery is that I get to a certain point and I feel like my brain is being twisted out of shape. That's kind of my signal to step back and say, this just doesn't making any freaking sense, and it's foolish to try to treat this as logic gone awry and instead start thinking about clinical explanations.

The original Hawaii Five-O series had an episode in which Andy Griffith played the patriarch of some hillbilly family cult that murdered people and then stole their money. (I'm a Family Crook - Don't Shoot!) When McGarrett and his team finally caught them, the matriarch of the group (Joyce Van Patten) explained they thought it was a sin to steal. McGarrett asked her then why did they kill to get their money. She explained cheerfully that if they were daid, it wasn't stealing to take their money. Even the reliably unflappable McGarrett was a bit "flapped" by that, getting a totally perplexed expression with a sound-track wrinngggg noise to go along with it.

That's what I mean by the mind-bend moment. The first time I recall experiencing it was from a story my mother was telling me. She worked at the local public health department in our town in Mississippi. Sometime circa 1972, she got a call from a guy who grew up as one of our next door neighbors. He had grown up to be a hardcore white racist and of course was a big supporter of the county's third-rate "segregation academy" that whites had set up so their children wouldn't have to be put in a situation that made them nominally equal to black students. This guy called the health department one day and was ranting at my mother because he said that the health department was spreading a rumor that kids at the seg academy had head lice. Which wasn't true, but this guy was totally convinced and was going off on her, even though she didn't set the department's policies in any case, which he certainly knew.

Stuff like this can't be explained by misunderstandings or twisted logic. In segregationist thinking, accused the pure white children at the seg academy of having head lice would be hanging a favorite segregationist stereotype of African-Americans onto the teenage members of the supposed higher race. Somehow, this metastasized through some strange projection mechanism into being a plot by the gubment-run health department to accuse the seg academy of something that segregationists would make up about black kids. It was just whacked.

I also got that feeling today when I read about the defense that Ron "Papa Doc" Paul's supporters are making against the latest publicity about his hardcore segregationist, white racist politics. Papa Doc, you see, has criticized the drug war and has even criticized it for having racist origins. So if he's racist he's also kind of anti-racist, too. Or something. [Sensation of brain being twisted sets in.]

David Dayen takes a cautious analytical look at that argument in On Ron Paul and Progressivism FDL News 12/27/2011.

Ryan Grim provides some historical background from his own research on the politics of race and drugs in Ron Paul: Drug War In U.S. Has Racist Origins Huffington Post 12/27/2011.

David writes:
Those defending Paul on the racism charge do make a keen argument, that his critique of the US drug war is in its own way a condemnation of historical racism. ...

I don’t think you can separate virtually any figure supporting the drug laws in this country from the roots of racism, if you wanted to make the connection. So you have to choose between someone who allowed unfortunate racist comments to go out under his name, but who parted ways with the policy most likely to put minorities in chains over the last century, and more mainstream figures, who abhor such public expressions of racism but support these structurally racist policies.
Here's the thing. I get that that for some people untangling Papa Doc Paul's words can be confusing. But there's a key to processing them: Papa Doc is a hardcore, unrepentant Southern segregationist and Bircher conspiracist. Period. Anyone who thinks Papa Doc opposes the drug war because he thinks it's racist against black people, or thinks he gives a flying flip about the Constitution for anyone except rich old white guys, just doesn't understand what a segregationist is. And though it's true that the war-loving Republicans get upset at his nominal criticism of various wars, his reference-point is xenophobic Bircher isolationism, which is completely consistent with Papa Doc's anti-immigrant nativism. The reason someone like Dave Neiwert, who knows the American far right as well as anyone I could name, is consistently harsh about Papa Doc is because Dave does understands very well where Papa Doc's coming from.

Both David's and Ryan's posts include Papa Doc's reference to the origins of the drug war, both apparently without recognizing what he's saying in the Bircher context. Here's the passage in question from Ryan's piece which David also quotes:

In 1988 Paul made a presidential campaign stop at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws while running on the Libertarian Party ticket. "What was so bad about the period from 1776 to 1914?" Paul wondered, referring to a time in American history when drugs were legal on the federal, and, in many towns, local level. "In the 20th Century, the doctors, like all business people, decided that there ought to be a monopoly. 'If you wanted a little bit of codeine in your cough medicine, it would be much better if you come to me so I can charge you $25 for a prescription.'"

Paul, in a speech aired at the time on C-SPAN went on. "Before the 20th Century there was none of that and it was the medical profession as well as many other trade groups that agitated for the laws. And you know there’s a pretty good case made that this same concept was built in with racism as well. We do know that opium was used by the Chinese and the Chinese were not welcomed in this country," Paul said. "We do know that the blacks at times use heroin, opium and the laws have been used against them. There have been times that it has been recognized that the Latin Americans use marijuana and the laws have been written against them. But lo and behold the drug that inebriates most of the members of Congress has not been touched because they're up there drinking alcohol." [my emphasis]
Papa Doc doesn't want the government to regulate medicine or drugs, whether it's an inadequately tested drug from Big Pharma or fake cancer cures from "alternative medicine" scamsters. The stuff about racism is just fluff for Papa Doc and his brand of Patriot Militia "libertarians."

Yeah, they want rich white people to have unrestricted access to their recreational drugs of choice. But if poor blacks, Latinos and "white trash" wind up robbing good Christian white folks to be able to buy their drugs and state governments send them to prison in far disproportionate numbers, will President Papa Doc's Justice Department under Attorney General Joe Arpaio step in to do something about it?

If you think there's even a tiny chance of that happening, you really, really don't know segregationists!

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