One of the most disturbing aspects of the fragmentary American Left today is the tendency of many leftists in the US (though, obviously, not just in the US) to make decidedly poor choices when it comes to selecting allies. One well-known example of this – tirelessly pointed out by Paul Street, Glenn Ford, and many others – was the combination of wishful thinking and denial that led so many progressives and leftists to hitch their wagons to the star of centre-right neoliberal Barack Obama, the darling of such classic Left institutions as Wall Street and the nuclear power industry.
Over the past couple of years, there has been a dawning realisation that this was a very bad idea indeed, and that many on the Left had fallen for a product of the PR industry specifically designed for them to fall for. It certainly was one of Madison Avenue’s great successes, so much so, in fact, that the Obama campaign beat out Apple in 2008 for the industry’s coveted award for best ad campaign. However, Obama’s PR makeover, which transformed a centre-right, neoliberal militarist only Citigroup could love into the darling of the anti-war movement, can’t hold a candle to the image makeover enjoyed by one Ron Paul. While Madison Avenue managed to transmogrify the centre-right Obama into a supposed stealth leftist, Ron Paul’s PR has managed to make a potential Left ally out of a far-right white supremacist who courts the favour of the sort of people Trotsky once suggested should be ‘acquainted with the pavement’. However, much less has been written about this continuing strategic cockup than the subject deserves.
In the following, I will briefly sketch the actual views of Ron Paul, to show what sort of person so many on the anti-war left have hopped into bed with. I will then propose an explanation for why this sort of thing happens, and keeps happening. The Ron Paul readers will encounter in the following will bear little resemblance to the sanitised Ron Paul who courageously rails against the current wars and declares himself to be against empire and the National Security State, and for personal liberty.
The Real Ron Paul
(Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-Communist philanderer, Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressmen [sic]. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan Approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.)
Listen to a black radio talk show in any major city. The Racial Hatred makes a KKK rally look tame. The blacks talk about their own racial superiority, how the whites have a conspiracy to wipe them out, and how they are going to take over the country and enact retribution. They only differ over whether they should use King’s non-violent approach (i.e., state violence), or use private violence.
– Ron Paul on the Civil Rights Movement
When, on occasion, I have attempted to discuss Ron Paul’s views with his fans on the Left, I have regularly been accused of ‘smearing’ him. The accusation is understandable, because Ron Paul espouses views with which no decent person would willingly be associated. As we will see below, Ron Paul, far from being an ‘almost unique’ politician who ‘transcends the left-right pseudo-divide,’ and ‘doesn’t want to make a country of the left or a country of the right”, can in fact be quite easily located on the far-right end of the ‘left-right pseudo-divide’, alongside such ‘almost unique’ politicians as David Duke, Pat Buchanan, and Paul Craig Roberts. All that is true in the laudatio quoted above is that Ron Paul most definitely ‘doesn’t want to make a country of the left’.
Before he rose to national prominence, Paul was a little less cautious about publicising his views. In 1996, the year Adolph Reed, Jr. became the first on the Left to call out ‘vacuous to repressive neoliberal’ politician Barack Obama, left-progressive Texan commentator Molly Ivins wrote:
Dallas‘ 5th District, East Texas‘ 2nd District and the amazing 14th District,which runs all over everywhere, are also in play. In the amazing 14th, Democrat Lefty Morris (his slogan is “Lefty is Right!“) faces the Republican/Libertarian Ron Paul, who is himself so far right that he’s sometimes left, as happens with your Libertarians. I think my favorite issue here is Paul’s 1993 newsletter advising “Frightened Americans“ on how to get their money out of the country. He advised that Peruvian citizenship could be purchased for a mere 25 grand. That we should all become Peruvians is one of the more innovative suggestions of this festive campaign season. But what will the Peruvians think of it?
This, it should be noted, is one of the relatively innocuous passages from the newsletters Ron Paul has sent out since 1978.
‘The criminals who terrorize our cities — in riots and on every non-riot day –‘, Paul’s newsletter proclaimed on one occasion, ‘are not exclusively young black males, but they largely are. As children, they are trained to hate whites, to believe that white oppression is responsible for all black ills, to ‚fight the power,‘ to steal and loot as much money from the white enemy as possible.’ Carjacking, we learn from a 1992 Ron Paul Newsletter, is the ‘hip-hop thing to do among the urban youth who play unsuspecting whites like pianos.’ This they may have learned by following the example of the ‘pro-Communist philanderer’ Martin Luther King, Jr., who ‘seduced underage girls and boys’, and ‘replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration.’ Not unsurprisingly, Paul’s newsletter described Martin Luther King Day as ‘our annual Hate Whitey Day’.
In another story, Paul regales us with tales of ‘needlin’, a new form of racial terrorism’. ‘At least 39 white women’, he claims, ‘have been struck with used hypodermic needles –-perhaps infected with AIDS—by gangs of black girls between the ages of 12 and 14.’ Against this background, it is probably not terribly surprising that Paul’s newsletter refers to African Americans as ‘the animals’, and suggests that a more appropriate name for New York would be ‘Zooville’.
Much has been made of Paul’s attempts to deny any connection to the statements above, and many, many more like them, attempts that he only began making when it became clear that he had a shot at national prominence. Back in 1996, when his opponent for a Texas congressional seat distributed Paul’s newsletters to the voting public, he was not as coy:
Dr. Paul, who served in Congress in the late 1970s and early 1980s, said Tuesday that he has produced the newsletter since 1985 and distributes it to an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 subscribers. A phone call to the newsletter’s toll-free number was answered by his campaign staff. […]
Dr. Paul denied suggestions that he was a racist and said he was not evoking stereotypes when he wrote the columns. He said they should be read and quoted in their entirety to avoid misrepresentation. […]
–Dallas Daily News, 22 May 1996
A campaign spokesman for Paul said statements about the fear of black males mirror pronouncements by black leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has decried the spread of urban crime.
Paul continues to write the newsletter for an undisclosed number of subscribers, the spokesman said.
—Houston Chronicle, 23 May 1996
Essentially, then, Paul’s argument back in 1996 was that his writings – which he publicly admitted were his – were being taken out of context, a symptom of ‘The Coming Race War’, no doubt.
Twelve years later, however, Ron Paul had apparently realised that his ‘Sure, I called black people a bunch of criminal animals who want to rob you of everything you have and give you AIDS, but I didn’t mean it in a bad way’ defence probably would not cut it with his new, left-leaning national audience:
The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts.
In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person’s character, not the color of their skin. As I stated on the floor of the U.S. House on April 20, 1999: ‚I rise in great respect for the courage and high ideals of Rosa Parks who stood steadfastly for the rights of individuals against unjust laws and oppressive governmental policies.‘
However, in Paul’s view, African American ‘animals’ are not the only threat we must face. As he explained in a 2007 interview with the white-supremacist website VDare.com (co-edited by none other than Paul Craig Roberts, another strange bedfellow), we face two other great dangers: undocumented workers, the social safety net, and the looming ‘United Nations government’:
Well, I start off with saying that [immigration is] a big problem. I don’t like to get involved with the Federal Government very much, but I do think it is a federal responsibility to protect our borders. This mess has come about for various reasons. One, the laws aren’t enforced. Another, the welfare state. We have a need for workers in this country because our welfare system literally encourages people not to work. Therefore, a lot of jobs go begging. This is an incentive for immigrants to come in and take those jobs.
It is compounded because of federal mandates on the states to provide free medical care—that’s literally bankrupting the hospitals in Texas—and free education.
So my main point is to get rid of incentives that cause people to break the law—entitlements as well as the promise of amnesty, citizenship.
I also want to revisit the whole idea of birthright citizenship. I don’t think many countries have that. I don’t think it was the intention of the Fourteenth Amendment. I personally think it could be fixed by legislation. But some people argue otherwise, so I’ve covered myself by introducing a constitutional amendment.
(emphasis supplied) The problem of undocumented workers taking our jobs is apparently compounded by something Paul calls ‘the racial component’. Honi soit qui mal y pense.
In the same interview, Paul also announced that ‘I don’t think we should have minimum wages to protect the price of labor. I want the market to determine this. At the upper level as well.’ The Haitian approach to labour law.
As a professed ‘libertarian’ (in the appropriated, right-wing sense of the word, not the traditional sense), Paul loves words like ‘freedom’ and liberty’. Indeed, he has said that: “On the right-to-life issue, I believe, I’m a real stickler for civil liberties,’ except those of women:
It’s academic to talk about civil liberties if you don’t talk about the true protection of all life. So if you are going to protect liberty, you have to protect the life of the unborn just as well.
I have a Bill in congress I certainly would promote and push as president, called the Sanctity of Life Amendment. We establish the principle that life begins at conception. And someone says, ‘oh why are you saying that?’ and I say, ‘well, that’s not a political statement — that’s a scientific statement that I’m making!“
I know we’re all interested in a better court system and amending the constitution to protect life. But sometimes I think that is dismissing the way we can handle this much quicker, and my bill removes the jurisdiction of the federal courts from the issue of abortion, if a state law says no abortion, it doesn’t go to the supreme court to be ruled out of order.
I’ve heard his Left (yes, Left!) defenders respond to me that Paul merely wants limited government on the issue of abortion, to get the federal courts and government out of the matter so that the states can decide. I wonder how they square that with his vote in favour of the federal ban on the life-saving dilation and extraction (D&X) procedure, upheld by the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Gonzales v. Carhart.
Not surprisingly, then, Ron Paul generates enthusiasm in the sort of people the Left generally do not like to be associated with. The Neo-Nazi website Stormfront donated $500 to his campaign, which Paul pointedly refused to return. For their support, Stormfront leaders were rewarded with a photo-op. As a Stormfronter with the evocative handle ‘Wolfsnarl’ noted:
If we can get them to defend their race without them actively thinking they are doing so in those terms-through mainstream anti-immigration groups like NumbersUSA or Ron Paul activism for example. After all, how many foot soldiers of the jewish [sic]/communist takeover actively thought of themselves as communists or whatever?
Klan leader David Duke, too, ‘like[s] Ron Paul’s campaign’ enough to offer him some free advice on What Ron Paul Must Do to Win, even though ‘Ron Paul does not do enough to defend the heritage and interests of European Americans.’ Note that Duke’s criticism is not that Paul isn’t a white supremacist, but that he isn’t enough of one.
Now, it’s true that a person can’t entirely be faulted for the fans they accumulate. Anyone with any public persona at all will probably acquire a few fans whose views they do not share. Barack Obama, for example, still has quite a few left-progressive, antiwar fans.
However, a person can be faulted for how she deals with those fans. Barack Obama has made valiant efforts to show that left-progressives’ Obama admiration is not mutual. He has ridiculed and disparaged them on numerous occasions, and has pursued an agenda that stands for everything they stand against. Clearly, then, Obama cannot be faulted for the fact that some people just can’t take a fucking hint.
Not so Ron Paul. First of all, as we’ve seen above, Ron Paul does share the views of the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in his cheering section. Indeed, he has long actively courted them, through his newsletter, by appearing at their meetings, by talking to their media (e.g., VDare), by taking their money, and by grinning into the camera at photo-ops with some of their leaders. This does not sound like the behaviour of a man who opposes everything the swastika-wearing Right stands for; this is the behaviour of someone who considers their views at least palatable, and who values their support. At the very least, Paul is a little too comfortable in the presence of people who would like to beat his Left supporters to a bloody pulp.
Ron Paul: A Symptom of Left Dysfunction
Despite a consistent, decades-long record of public pronouncements that, in any other country, would have anti-fascist activists shouting him down at every public appearance, quite a few left-leaning people in the US will defend Ron Paul to the death, attacking any critic who points out the niggling little matter of his positions on the issues. Why?
Most Left Paul supporters I’ve encountered sum up their support for him more or less as follows: He is anti-war, anti-USA PATRIOT Act, anti-empire, and for the legalisation of drugs. Any reference to the fact that he is also a misogynistic white supremacist who is virulently anti-labour is dismissed either as ‘smears’ or ‘fear-mongering’.
In other words: ‘He’s with us on one or two issues, so we have to support him. Who cares what kind of society he wants to build. You can’t have everything!’
This is the same thinking that has people in the Palestine solidarity movement approvingly quoting the likes of Jeff Blankfort, Paul Craig Roberts, and Gilad Atzmon.
Overall, the idea seems to be that we on the Left are alone in a corner, and can’t be choosy about our friends. ‘Well, if you don’t like Ron Paul’, I’ve often been asked, ‘name a politician you do like.’ The idea that there is no need to limit ourselves, in our search for ‘friends’, to the narrow-spectrum, ‘one-and-a-half-party’ political class, it seems, doesn’t even occur to them. No grass-roots movement building, no eschewing the corporate-managed electoral system in favour of exerting pressure from below and without – You picks yer candidate, and you tries yer luck. You can’t have everything. This is the thinking that allowed the Barack Obama campaign to sedate all of the grass-roots activism of the Bush years.
This is compounded by the often stunning political illiteracy one encounters in the American Left, where conspiracy theories from the far right have a disturbing tendency to migrate leftward (with certain modifications).
Witness the Fed conspiracy theories. The first time I heard someone (falsely) claim that ‘no one knows who owns the Fed’, and go on to (falsely) claim that the Fed is privately owned, it was in a ‘documentary’ called Freedom to Fascism. In this ‘documentary’, we hear that American workers enjoyed an almost utopian degree of freedom and prosperity until 1916, when the income tax was passed into law (women were free to not vote, all working people were free to not join a union or get shot, workers were free to be paid in company scrip instead of real money, African Americans were free to be photographed amongst grinning psychos whilst being burned at the stake, you know the drill). Luckily, the ‘documentary’ informed us that there was no law actually requiring us to pay income tax, quoting a number of notorious hucksters to this effect. Other examples of the looming ‘fascism’ cited by the film included the fact that, during Hurricane Katrina, white Louisiana residents were actually being investigated for opening fire on un-armed black Louisiana residents who made the fatal mistake of crossing a bridge into their neighbourhood in hopes of finding safety.
Two years later, I discovered that this Coughlinesque nonsense about an ‘international (Jewish) bankers’ conspiracy in the form of the ‘privately-owned’ Fed had been lapped up by quite a few left-progressives. Of course, the original narrative of the pre-union rights, pre-income tax, pre-women’s suffrage utopia wouldn’t sell in this crowd. Luckily, someone has come up with an alternate Utopia Lost narrative, using everyone’s favourite war criminal, JFK. JFK had long been the subject of misguided adulation on the American Left based on the idea that he had super-secret plans (so secret that they find not even the slightest hint of support in the declassified record) to end the war that he started and wholeheartedly supported. Now, not only was inveterate red-baiter John Fitzgerald Kennedy secretly going to end the occupation of Vietnam – he was going to take on the Fed by issuing silver certificates.
My intention in bringing this up is not to refute this or any other right-wing conspiracy theory that has made its way leftward – others more masochistic than I have already done an excellent job of that. Instead, my interest in this is that it parallels the dysfunctional choice of ‘friends’ we see in so many people on the fragmentary American Left. The appeal of these theories is not their veracity – they are so false as to be insulting. Their appeal – like that of Ron Paul and those like him – is that they appear, at least superficially, to be challenging powerful capitalist institutions. Moreover, they do so in a way that justifies inaction (they’re all-powerful, the ‘Sheeple’ just won’t listen, etc.), and appears to explain why we have no functional Left in this country without ever assigning any blame to the failure to engage in any sustained organising effort, the failure to distinguish healthy pluralism from dysfunctional opportunism (witness Ron Paul), and the failure to distinguish insistence on principle from insular sectarianism.
To be sure, there is plenty of blame to go around. We have decades-long attempts to infiltrate and undermine Left organisations by the FBI and local red squads, a propaganda system that convinces 80% of the population that they’re in the minority with their views, a Democratic Party that pretends to be progressive when they’re not in office, a Republican Party so scary that the Democratic Party looks good, and any number of other obstacles. However, those external obstacles do not absolve us from the responsibility to take a serious look at our internal dysfunction. There is little that a weak, fragmented, insular Left can do right now about the massive structural obstacles we face, but we can certainly do something about the mess in our own house.