I’m a month late on this, but there’s a lot in Conor Friedersdorf ‘s post on progressives and Ron Paul that I agree with.
And if I were a 40-year-old Democratic politician, I’d conclude, after watching Obama, that I could hammer the Republicans as radical war-mongers, rally anti-war and civil libertarian voters, and then behave however I wanted in office without paying any price. Those are the incentives currently being signaled.
I want a left that is better. One where Russ Feingold mounts a long shot bid to primary Obama in 2012 just to pressure him on these issues. Because they matter. And the fact that so few on the left treat them as if they matter — along with even fewer on the right — is alarming. Ballot box push-back is needed.
Friedersdorf criticizes Matthew Yglesias and Adam Serwer because, in their discussion of Ron Paul, they “neglect to mention the War on Drugs at all.” This is ironic, since Friedersdorf’s post neglects to mention abortion rights at all.1
Friedersdorf spends a lot of time discussing what a President Paul could actually accomplish in office — the point being, it’s silly for progressives to worry about Ron Paul’s opposing the Civil Rights act of 1964, or favoring a gold standard.
It is indeed wrongheaded that he wants to return to the gold standard. And if America were on the cusp of protecting the civil rights of black people for the first time, I’d campaign against Paul, despite being quite sympathetic to his stance on other issues. Do you know why? It’s because I care about actual liberty enhancing outcomes, whereas both Yglesias and Serwer are evaluating Paul’s candidacy in a way that is curiously removed from the issues that confront us or what would plausibly happen if he won.
But as President, Ron Paul could do a lot to make abortion less available, or even illegal in many states. (Just one Supreme Court appointment could do the trick.) Crucially, many or even most members of Congress (depending on how the next couple of elections go) would be happy to join President Paul in cutting abortion rights.
In contrast, although an anti-drug-war President could do a lot of marginal good, he wouldn’t be able to end the drug war, because almost no one in Congress would go along with that.
Friedersdorf is right to think that President Paul would be better than Obama on many crucial civil liberties issues. But Friedersdorf makes it sound as if Obama is unquestionably worse than Paul on every plausible civil liberty issue. That’s simply not true. It’s wrong to evaluate Paul on civil liberties without mentioning his opposition to the drug war, but it’s just as wrong to evaluate Paul on civil liberties without mentioning his opposition to women’s right to abortion.
- Not counting the paragraph he quoted from Yglesias. [↩]