Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perils of Papa Doc Paul

There's no way Ron "Papa Doc" Paul and his base constituency are going to be part of a political coalition that could be called liberal or progressive. At the same time, thanks to the nature of our media culture right now, the only kind of broad criticisms of US global military strategy and interventions that most people have heard on TV recently are those coming from Papa Doc. For liberal critics of those policies, Papa Doc's framing is a real problem, not only because of his kooky conspiracy theories but because he often couches them in the false-but-mainstream austerity-economics argument that the US is going broke and can't afford more borrowing or deficits.

Gene Lyons takes on Papa Doc and his movement for the second time in two weeks, Digging in Ron Paul's Survival Kit Arkansas Times 01/11/2012:

While he's often cagey about how he expresses it, Ron Paul's whole history as a conspiracy theorist is right out of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" — the 19th century forgery that's kept anti-Semites buzzing for generations. ...

Reader Mel Birge of Portland, Oregon argues that's precisely why Paul makes such a terrible spokesman. Complaining of "sitting in synagogue for the last dozen years listening to pseudo Middle-East experts give the same frantic talk about the danger of Iran nukes and how the US must stop it," he believes such a war "is no way in the United States' interest."

But he also thinks Paul's "anti-semitic paranoia allows AIPAC, the Neocons and their fellow travelers to paint the entire Iran war opposition with the Ron Paul brush. That's the danger of Ron Paul that you should speak of: He snuffs out substantive discussions on Iran. The media feasts on him and the Neocons love it because he's his own straw man."
Charlie Pierce in his look at the state of the Republican Presidential race, We're All in Romney's Great Adventure Together Now Esquire Politics Blog 01/11/2012, writes that we could have Papa Doc as a visible factor in the Presidential election for months to come:

Which leaves us with the fascinating question of Dr. Ron Paul. He finished a decent second last night, crushing the campaign of Jon Huntsman. He is in an odd place. He is not a contender for the nomination in any real sense. However, he can continue to move through the cycle, not seeking conventional success, but piling up delegates pledged only to him. (If the rumors around Manchester on Tuesday night are true, and Paul's campaign has managed to raise $10 million over the past few days, then he can go on forever. That amount of money to his campaign is $100 million to a more conventional one.) This will give him a center of personal power with which Willard, and the rest of the party, will have to find some way to cope. Paul has stubbornly - and shrewdly - refused to state categorically that he will not bolt the party in the general election. He can string the whole business along, talking in his giddy survivalist code about "fiat money," and nobody will be in any position to take him on. He is going to stay on his own hook; in 2008, across the river in Minneapolis, Paul set up his own convention in opposition to the Republican National Convention. He can do whatever mischief he wants from now until the end of the summer, and nobody's in any position to make him stop. That is the only story left, save for the epic Horatio Alger saga of Willard Romney, Boy of the Streets, proud American, and proof positive that, in this great country, any son of an auto millionnaire and former governor of Michigan can grow up almost to be president. [my emphasis]
Papa Doc is a destructive, retrograde influence in American politics, and not solely inside the Republican Party. But progressive critics of the militarism and interventionism of our current foreign policy also have to deal with the reality that, in the 2012 election cycle, the main general criticism of the current approach to foreign policy that many voters will hear - the only one many voters are likely to register - is that coming from Papa Doc.

That doesn't mean we have to pretend that Papa Doc's general perspective is anything other than the Old Right isolationism and Bircher conspiracy-mongering that it is. The core concept of Papa Doc's foreign policy is hyper-nationalism and xenophobia, which is how it fits in with anti-immigrant and pro-segregation parts of Papa Doc's toxic ideology. And it certainly doesn't mean that the motley crew of segregationists, militia types and assorted cranks who make up Papa Doc's core constituency are even potential allies in any meaningful sense of the word for a progressive movement.

But it does mean that we need to pay attention to which parts of Papa Doc's criticisms of foreign policy are resonating with the public, or have the potential to resonate with a larger audience.

Stephen Walt takes a careful look at Papa Doc's effect on the larger national security debate in Why Ron Paul may actually have something right Foreign Policy 01/06/2012:

... [D]espite his bizarre views on the gold standard, climate change, social security, and the like, Paul has put his finger on a number of issues that could resonate broadly with the American people, especially if discussion were not monopolized by think tanks and insiders who are strongly committed to the status quo. Unlike most foreign policy "experts" in both parties, Paul believes the United States is an extraordinarily secure country, with a robust nuclear deterrent, no powerful enemies nearby, and at present no major power rivals of much significance. He instinctively rejects the paranoia and worst-casing that has convinced Americans that we need to roam around the world trying to remake it in our image (a task, by the way, that we're not very good at). He believes that excessive interventionism and other failed policies are a primary cause of anti-Americanism around the world, and that the United States would be more popular and safer if we focused more attention on trade and diplomacy and domestic issues instead of emphasizing military dominance and overseas meddling. He believes that a bloated national security state and a quasi-imperial foreign policy inevitably fosters greater government secrecy and erodes traditional restraints on executive power. And like former president (and five-star general) Dwight D. Eisenhower, he thinks the current military-industrial complex wields excessive influence on our politics and has become a self-perpetuating engine for counter-productive meddling abroad.

These points are all debatable, of course, but Paul is the only person in the race who even wants to discuss them. The rest of the GOP candidates are mostly competing to see who can sound the most eager for war (usually with Iran) or most willing to toss more money at the Pentagon. Barack Obama is a lot more sensible than they are, but as we've learned over the past three-plus years, neither he nor his national security team are interested in making dramatic changes in America's overall grand strategy. Instead, Obama has emerged as a strong proponent of government secrecy, a staunch defender of maintaining U.S. primacy around the world, and as an enthusiastic user of drones, special forces, and other tools of U.S. power. He did eventually wind down the war in Iraq, of course, but it hardly took a strategic genius to figure out that this was the right course.
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