Thursday, January 05, 2012

Papa Doc Paul, antiwar politics and the significance of mainstreamed Bircherism

Tuesday's Iowa primary didn't mark the end of the discussion and debates on the left side of the American political spectrum over the politics of Ron "Papa Doc" Paul, the guy who, in Charlie Pierce's words, "played footsie for his entire career with a bunch of cowflop brownshirts plotting revolution down at Goober's Gas 'n Sip."

A hardcore Southern segregationist and xenophobic Bircher conspiracist, in other words. Complete with absolute crackpot theories about gold and "fiat money". The latter is a technical term for currency whose value is not tied to a physical commodity like gold or silver. In Papa Doc's neck of the political woods, it means that US currency is actually worthless. (I'm not making this up.)

I definitely have been coming down on the side of the debate that says Papa Doc is a far-right segregationist who I have no interest in supporting or promoting in any way. I don't admire him. I don't think he's "principled." I think he's a mean old white guy who's a hardcore Southern segregationist and xenophobic Bircher conspiracist and scamster, though he's likely genuinely fanatical enough to believe a lot of what he says, and what he pretends he didn't write or even know about in his infamous newsletters.

I do think that Matt Stoller has a point in saying that Papa Doc's prominence in this campaign has posed an important challenge to liberals and the Democratic Party: "Ron Paul's stance should be seen as a challenge to better create a coherent structural critique of the American political order." (Matt Stoller, Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals Naked Capitalism 12/29/2011)

I'm coming from an inside-outside perspective on what the Democratic Party base needs. There needs to be genuinely independent movements like Occupy and the peace movement that continually criticize the current state of affairs from outside the Democratic Party national security state/neoliberal consensus. And there needs to be primary challenges within the Democratic Party at all levels to assert those goals and values. It worked for the Christian Right/Movement Conservatives/(latest label:) Tea Partiers in the Republican Party. Something more positive and constructive can make a similar change in the Democratic Party.


But delegitimizing the current national security-state consensus isn't going to be easy or quick - although events like a war with Iran could conceivably cause a rapid shift of intensity in opposition to militarism. It's almost by definition unpredictable, just as no one could have easily predicted something like the resonance of the Occupy movement at this time last year. In January of 2011, "the 99%", "one-percenters", even "occupy" didn't have the same meaning they do today, a reflection in language of a real political shift in society.

The real significance of Papa Doc's campaign this year is that Bircherism - Old Right isolationism and conspiricism - are now an influential part of the criticism of US militarism and interventionist foreign policy. The are not allies or potential allies in anything that remotely deserves the name of a progressive or left political movement.

They may agree with progressives on this issue or that. Individuals like Papa Doc and Baby Doc (Rand Paul) may have an occasional pungent criticism of some foreign policy foolishness or some civil-liberties outrage in between warning of the dangers of race war and paper money.

But Birchers are not progressives. The don't much care for democracy. Or black people. Or liberals. And their foreign policy comes from the same mindset that makes them despise immigrants. They will not be supporting humanitarian relief for Darfur. They won't be supporting arms-control treaties or the International Criminal Court or international law. They will not support helping any country that still might want to ask us for advice on how to develop democracy. For that matter, it's a Bircher commonplace that the Constitution created a republic, not a democracy and that democracy is evil. They are perfectly at home with flat-earther Christian nationalism.

Gene Lyons weighs in on the Papa Doc question, and really gets it right in Ron Paul, still loony Salon 01/04/2012. He reminds us that even on the positions he supposedly shares with progressive, Papa Doc is coming from a whole different place:

Look, this guy’s no more a Libertarian than I’m a Rastafarian. Even when he’s right, as on bombing Iran, he’s wrong. (Hint: It’s about the Jews.) What he’s got against the federal government is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Anyway, call me old-fashioned, but sanity matters.
Also at Salon, Gary Weiss makes similar point in Progressive beer goggles for Ron Paul 01/05/2012:

What I find objectionable about Ron Paul is very much related to his positions, which I view as an organic whole, divergent from progressive values on every single vital issue, including the foreign policy views that are the main attraction he holds for some liberals. Unlike Greenwald and Stoller, I don’t find any solace in his positions on foreign policy, or his desire to disentangle the U.S. from Afghanistan. I can’t quite so comfortably carve out Paul's views on defense and foreign policy.
This is also an intersting piece from a conservative who once worked for Papa Doc: Eric Dondero, Statement from fmr. Ron Paul staffer on Newsletters, Anti-Semitism Rightwing News n.d., apparently from 12/26/2011. According to him, Papa Doc takes the standard far-right isolationist line on US participation in the Second World War. But Dondero's also kind of clueless about the actual history of the Second World War; he seems to think the entire official purpose of the war was to stop the Holocaust, which was in reality a side-effect of the defeat of Germany. It wasn't the causus belli, as the lawyers say.

Katha Pollitt can be annoying to a lot of people, including me at times. But she is basically right about Papa Doc in Ron Paul's Strange Bedfellows The Nation 01/04/2012: "Ron Paul has an advantage over most of his fellow Republicans in having an actual worldview, instead of merely a set of interests - he opposes almost every power the federal government has and almost everything it does."

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