Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, January 1st, 2012.


Libertarianism vs. Liberty

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Obama Administration

When did the Mayans say the world would end, exactly? Before the Republican National Convention, I hope. It would really suck if we have to live through that first.

Anyway — I fear Glenn Greenwald finally jumped the shark with this post. Yes, there’s plenty to criticize about President Obama’s civil liberties record. But holding up Ron Paul as some paragon of virtue on civil liberties is nuts. See also Scott Lemieux.

And here is Tom Hilton:

Paul’s positions on civil liberties issues aren’t actually about civil liberties as we understand them; they’re about his opposition to Federal authority. (An opposition that is somewhat conditional, it should be noted.) For example, in talking about the death penalty, he makes clear that he opposes it only at the Federal level. His opposition to the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, and domestic surveillance come from the same root as his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He has no real objection to states violating the rights of their citizens; it’s only a problem if the Feds do it.

The assumption underlying this is that people are freer when states (as opposed to the Federal government) have more power. Now, it may seem obvious to some of us that the distinction between one arbitrary administrative unit and another isn’t exactly a human rights issue, but let’s just consider for a moment: does state or local control actually translate to more liberty?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — modern libertarianism was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. That’s when President Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce desegregation of the schools and protect nine African-American students from being torn apart by a howling mob for attempting to enter a school.

Ever since those years, white racists have embraced the argument that only the authority of the federal government is oppressive. Whatever the state does, is OK. The philosophical basis of this argument is that state governments are closer to the people and therefore more responsive to them.

Considering that Jim Crow laws were mostly state and local laws, the only way you could believe that is to assume that Jim Crow laws were not, in fact, oppressive, and that African Americans prior to the 1960s could have stood up for themselves at the state and local level if they had just tried harder. And anyone who really believes that is either an abject racist himself or utterly ignorant of American history.

Eventually the more literate elements of the Klan would join forces with the McCarthyite Right and march together under Ayn Rand’s banner to evolve into the libertarians we know and don’t love today. I watched this happen with my own tired eyes. These days I concede it may be possible to be a libertarian and not be a racist, although see comment above about ignorance of history. But no one should have been surprised at the recently uncovered connections between Ron Paul and white supremacy.

And we see once again that reproductive rights are a mere “chick” issue, not worthy of consideration, or at least not in the same league with other rights. Ron Paul is no supporter of reproductive rights, and any progressive woman with functional brain cells must realize that “returning the abortion issue to the states” is code for banning abortion in most of the nation (and all of it eventually).

If you’re a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy, the knowledge that your legal choices have been eliminated by a state legislature rather than a federal one is not a consolation.

Weirdly, Paul has compromised his own anti-government position where gay rights are concerned. He supports the Defense of Marriage Act and sponsored a Marriage Protection Act, which would have barred federal judges from hearing cases pertaining to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. If that’s not stomping on the constitution’s separation of powers, I don’t know what is. I would think a gay man like Glenn would be a little more sensitive to these things.

How people come to their conclusions is important. A lot of progressives gravitated to Paul when they heard he was against the Iraq War. But IMO there’s a big difference in being against the war because you could see it was a ham-handed and grossly counterproductive way to address U.S. interests in the Middle East, and being against the war because you’re an ignorant sot about the world and don’t care what goes on outside the U.S.A. Here’s Tom Hilton again:

The tipoff is in his opposition to foreign aid, and his anti-United Nations position: he’s anti-war because the rest of the world just isn’t worth it. His is not the pacifism of the anti-war movement but the nativist isolationism of the America-Firsters; Paul is “to the left of Obama” the way Lindbergh was to the left of Roosevelt. (That may be true in a fairly literal sense, although I wouldn’t trust anything from Big Government without further corroboration.)

Glenn writes,

Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform — certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party — who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial.

Paul is doing no such thing. His “advocacy” of civil liberties is a throwback to the days of Orval Faubus. Just because he manages to frame it in a non-racist context doesn’t change that. The notion that “liberty” depends on weakening the ability of the federal government to protect citizens from oppression by state government is dangerous. This is not at all a “compelling and crucial” policy view; it is idiocy.

Then Glenn writes,

As Matt Stoller argued in a genuinely brilliant essay on the history of progressivism and the Democratic Party which I cannot recommend highly enough: “the anger [Paul] inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.” Ron Paul’s candidacy is a mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception.

That is unmitigated crap on several levels. I am a lot older than both Glenn and Matt Stoller, and maybe they’re both too young to remember the days of desegregation, but there is no excuse for being ignorant of those things. The anger Paul inspires in me is that I recognize a real and present danger to my civil liberties when I see it. If Greenwald and Stoller are too blind to see it, then I can’t take anything else they write seriously.

By all means, continue to call out President Obama whenever he deserves to be called out. But, fellas, do try to avoid being drooling idiots about it in the future, OK? Thanks much.

Update: See also Steve M.

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