Greenwald vs. Pollitt on Ron Paul

Lindsay Beyerstein

Katha Pol­litt of The Nation is get­ting tired of the tongue baths Ron Paul has been receiv­ing from her fel­low pro­gres­sives late­ly. And they are most­ly fel­lows, per­haps because one of Paul’s most glar­ing defects is his desire to crim­i­nal­ize abor­tion. Pol­litt prais­es some of Paul’s posi­tions, but she has no illu­sions about whether pro­gres­sives should find his ide­ol­o­gy attrac­tive as a whole:

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. Giv­en Washington’s enor­mous reach, it stands to rea­son that pro­gres­sives would find tar­gets to like in Paul’s whole­sale assault. I, too, would love to see the end of the war on drugs” and our oth­er wars. I, too, am shocked by the cur­tail­ment of civ­il lib­er­ties in pur­suit of the war on ter­ror,” most recent­ly the pro­vi­sion in the NDAA per­mit­ting the indef­i­nite deten­tion, with­out charge, of US cit­i­zens sus­pect­ed of involve­ment in ter­ror­ism. But these are a hand­ful of cher­ries on a blight­ed tree. In a Ron Paul Amer­i­ca, there would be no envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, no Social Secu­ri­ty, no Med­ic­aid or Medicare, no help for the poor, no pub­lic edu­ca­tion, no civ­il rights laws, no anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law, no Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act, no laws ensur­ing the safe­ty of food or drugs or con­sumer prod­ucts, no work­ers’ rights. How far does Paul take his war against Wash­ing­ton? He wants to abol­ish the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Author­i­ty and its pesky air traf­fic con­trollers. He has one mag­ic answer to every prob­lem — includ­ing how to land an air­plane safe­ly: let the mar­ket han­dle it.

That para­graph neat­ly sums up the good and the bad of Ron Paul’s can­di­da­cy. He’s a crank with a few great ideas.

Pro­gres­sives can draw dis­tinc­tions as fine­ly as they like when dis­cussing Paul because he’s nev­er going to win the GOP nom­i­na­tion. Most of us will nev­er have to go into a vot­ing booth and make the deci­sion to pull the lever for Paul vs. any­one else.

When 3quarksdaily linked to Pol­lit­t’s col­umn, a hand­ful of 3qd com­menters con­de­scend­ing­ly point­ed to Glenn Green­wald’s post about pro­gres­sive fal­lac­i­es” on Paul as a cor­rec­tive to Pollitt.

That Green­wald piece is like a shock of cold water, isn’t it?” wrote com­menter uncon­trar­i­an, I have long admired Katha Pol­litt, per­haps more for her style than her polit­i­cal views, but clear­ly Green­wald has pre­sent­ed the more nuanced and mature (not to men­tion pro­gres­sive) view of the Paul can­di­da­cy in ref­er­ence to Oba­ma’s polit­i­cal­ly ambiva­lent presidency.”

If you liked Green­wald’s col­umn, you should also respect Pol­lit­t’s. If you think that Green­wald’s argu­ments apply to Pol­litt, you’ve mis­un­der­stood one or both columns. Green­wald’s col­umn came out first, so we know he’s not address­ing Pol­litt direct­ly, but I’m jux­ta­pos­ing the two because the 3qd com­menters lat­er cit­ed it as a good rebuttal.

Green­wald writes:

The thing I loathe most about elec­tion sea­son is reflect­ed in the cen­tral fal­la­cy that dri­ves pro­gres­sive dis­cus­sion the minute Ron Paul” is men­tioned. As soon as his can­di­da­cy is dis­cussed, pro­gres­sives will reflex­ive­ly point to a slew of posi­tions he holds that are anath­e­ma to lib­er­al­ism and odi­ous in their own right and then say: how can you sup­port some­one who holds this awful, destruc­tive posi­tion? The premise here — the game that’s being played — is that if you can iden­ti­fy some heinous views that a cer­tain can­di­date holds, then it means they are beyond the pale, that no Decent Per­son should even con­sid­er prais­ing any part of their candidacy.

Pol­litt does not fall prey to Green­wald’s cen­tral fal­la­cy.” She read­i­ly prais­es parts of Ron Paul’s candidacy.

Pol­lit­t’s col­umn strikes a bal­ance that Green­wald’s lacks. Unlike Green­wald, Pol­litt is can­did about which aspects of Paul’s plat­form she admires and which she holds in contempt.

Iron­i­cal­ly, Green­wald agrees with Pol­litt and dis­agrees with Paul about the mer­its of the social wel­fare state, abor­tion rights, and count­less oth­er issues. He is not okay with racism, homo­pho­bia, or black heli­copter con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries which Paul has asso­ci­at­ed him­self with over the years in his newslet­ters – by either writ­ing those ideas him­self or by sign­ing his name to ghost­writ­ten prod­ucts express­ing those views and get­ting rich off them.

Green­wald is adamant that he’s not endors­ing Paul, i.e., not telling peo­ple they should vote for Paul. Okay. But he’s pret­ty sym­pa­thet­ic to Paul with­in the con­text of the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry. After all, Paul’s the clos­est thing civ­il lib­er­tar­i­ans have to a stan­dard bear­er on the nation­al stage right now.

It is rhetor­i­cal­ly inef­fec­tive and embrass­ing to admit that your guy is strong on drugs and war, but a com­plete crank on eco­nom­ics who wants to destroy the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to save the Republic.

Instead of tak­ing the mea­sure of the man in full, Green­wald goes on the offen­sive against a large­ly imag­i­nary con­tin­gent of fal­la­cy-prone pro­gres­sives who won’t let any­one say any­thing nice about Ron Paul.

Green­wald choos­es to deflect atten­tion from the more nox­ious aspects of Paul’s ide­ol­o­gy that he must con­sid­er ugly for much the same rea­son that some par­ti­san Democ­rats are squea­mish about con­test­ing Oba­ma’s record on indef­i­nite deten­tion, the war on drugs, and the war in Afghanistan. They’ve decid­ed that they like their guy enough to talk up his good points, despite his flaws.

That’s basi­cal­ly what Green­wald is doing for Ron Paul in the pri­ma­ry, except Green­wald has the lux­u­ry of know­ing that Paul has no chance of becom­ing president.

Lind­say Bey­er­stein is an award-win­ning inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Not­ed. Her sto­ries have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Mag­a­zine, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Her pho­tographs have been pub­lished in the Wall Street Jour­nal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hill­man Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a pub­li­ca­tion of the Sid­ney Hill­man Foun­da­tion, a non-prof­it that hon­ors jour­nal­ism in the pub­lic interest.
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