Antebellum libertarianism

Antebellum libertarianism

by digby

It's loads of fun watching the Ron Paul war erupt on the internet. Again. Especially on the left where it often leads to the accusation that you are a rank imperialist pig if you fail to support him. Good times

But it's not just the racist newsletters or the fact that he's a John Birch Society favorite. As a liberal (and a human being) my problem with Paul is this:

“A healthy, 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides: You know what? I'm not going to spend 200 or 300 dollars a month for health insurance, because I'm healthy; I don't need it,” Blitzer said. “But you know, something terrible happens; all of a sudden, he needs it. Who's going to pay for it, if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

“In a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him,” Paul replied. Blitzer asked what Paul would prefer to having government deal with the sick man.

“What he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself,” Paul said. ”My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not be forced —"

“But he doesn't have that,” Blitzer said. “He doesn't have it and he's — and he needs — he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?”

“That's what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.,” Paul said, repeating the standard libertarian view as some in the audience cheered.

“But congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die,” Blitzer asked.

“Yeah,” came the shout from the audience.

I fundamentally disagree with his stance, although in fairness he did say that churches used to give charity and so that's how things could be dealt with in the future. Since he also believes that Medicare and Social Security are unconstitutional, I'm guessing they'll have their hands full:

He usually votes against the wars (although not always) and he's a defender of civil liberties for which I am grateful. There are few on either side of the aisle to take those stances. He also votes against policies like the Ryan plan which is very useful. In the latter case, however, it's because he thinks Paul Ryan is a bit of socialist who doesn't go far enough. Indeed, on domestic policies in general, where he isn't an incoherent kook --- an anti-choice libertarian is an oxymoron, I'm sorry --- he's a champion safety net shredder.

I think the problem is that some people are confusing legislative and movement politics. In American legislative politics, alliances are traditionally formed across all kinds of unusual lines. Until the recent purges of non-doctrinaire conservative Republicans it was nearly required that all legislation have bipartisan sponsors and it often resulted in very strange bedfellows. It's only because it's so unusual these days that people point to Ron Paul working with Alan Grayson on the Fed and come to see Paul as some sort of ideological ally. He isn't. He has a viewpoint that is iconoclastic in today's GOP which leads him to vote to cut defense spending along with Medicare and student loans, unlike his Republican brethren. But his worldview and ideology are the antithesis of modern progressivism. When you support a politician (as opposed to working with him or her in discrete areas) worldview and ideology are important.

There are people for whom a particular issue is paramount and they may decide to support a politician solely for that reason. An anti-war activist or someone who's life work is dealing with the results of the drug war or maybe someone who really, truly believes in the Gold standard or dismantling the Fed above all else in political life, can justify support for Ron Paul for that reason. But they should be honest about it and say that's why they are making that choice. Too often what we are dealing with is a truckload of fatuous rationalization.

To insist for instance, as Paul supporters often do, that I should support Ron Paul even though he's anti-choice and wants to dismantle the welfare state because he would allow states to enact their own laws guaranteeing a woman's right to control her own body or programs to support the old and the sick, is to say that the United States of America doesn't really exist. That's more than a difference of wordview, it's a fundamental difference of identity. We fought a big war over this question and it's settled.

Libertarians who believe that "statism" is ok if comes from state of California but not the US government are not only living in the early 19th century, they are basically saying that their only real beef is if the government abridging individual freedom is the federal government. Tyranny on a smaller scale isn't their concern. And that isn't liberal or libertarian. It's just plain old antebellum era American politics -- which is what Ron Paul truly believes when you see his positions on issue after issue. And perhaps that explains those notorious newsletters better than anything else. The antebellum south is where his philosophy really comes from --- and where it leads. (And by the way, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the other famous congressional goldbug of the last quarter century was Jesse Helms. Birds of a feather...)

I have no beef with Ron Paul running. He has every right and a legitimate following who deserve to be heard in our politics. He's giving the conservatives heartburn because as much as they love his Antebellum politics when it comes to domestic issues, they're completely at odds with the right's jingoistic national chauvinism --- something that cuts to the heart of American conservatism. (And truthfully, in that as in so much else, Paul works against the tribal lines. Pre-civil war Southern culture was nothing if not martial. And it still is.)

But he cuts equally to the heart of progressive politics with his rigid dismissal of egalitarianism. You simply cannot find a worse candidate for the current era of gilded age inequality. He has absolutely no answers for the most pressing problem our country faces beyond telling us to basically dissolve the union. Somehow, I suspect that isn't going to get the job done.


Case closed (on the letters)?

The Dallas Morning News -- May 22, 1996.

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.

Dr. Paul also took exception to the comments of Mr. Bledsoe, saying that the voters in the 14th District and the people who know him best would be the final judges of his character.

"If someone challenges your character and takes the interpretation of the NAACP as proof of a man's character, what kind of a world do you live in?" Dr. Paul asked.
In the interview, he did not deny he made the statement about the swiftness of black men.

"If you try to catch someone that has stolen a purse from you, there is no chance to catch them," Dr. Paul said.