The Paul Problem
I think a couple commenters have been persuasive that I was too charitable toward Ron Paul, as my closing line implies that he’s having a meaningful and positive impact on the debate. It would probably have been better just to say that he is indeed better than Obama on a handful of issues in addition to having hideously immoral positions on countless issues, because Paul’s impact probably isn’t positive. The first problem, as Kevin Drum notes, is that his handful of good positions are just false positives generated by an exceptionally pernicious and reactionary worldview:
Can we talk? Ron Paul is not a charming oddball with a few peculiar notions. He’s not merely “out of the mainstream.” Ron Paul is a full bore crank. In fact he’s practically the dictionary definition of a crank: a person who has a single obsessive, all-encompassing idea for how the world should work and is utterly blinded to the value of any competing ideas or competing interests.
This obsessive idea has, at various times in his career, led him to: denounce the Civil Rights Act because it infringed the free-market right of a monolithic white establishment to immiserate blacks; dabble in gold buggery and advocate the elimination of the Federal Reserve, apparently because the global economy worked so well back in the era before central banks; suggest that the border fence is being built to keep Americans from leaving the country; claim that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and should be dismantled; mount repeated warnings that hyperinflation is right around the corner; insist that global warming is a gigantic hoax; hint that maybe the CIA helped to coordinate the 9/11 attacks; oppose government-sponsored flu shots; and allege that the UN wants to confiscate our guns.
This isn’t the biography of a person with one or two unusual hobbyhorses. It’s not something you can pretend doesn’t matter. This is Grade A crankery, and all by itself it’s reason enough to want nothing to do with Ron Paul. But of course, that’s not all. As we’ve all known for the past four years, you can layer on top of this Paul’s now infamous newsletters, in which he condoned a political strategy consciously designed to appeal to the worst strains of American homophobia, racial paranoia, militia hucksterism, and new-world-order fear-mongering. And on top of that, you can layer on the fact that Paul is plainly lying about these newsletters and his role in them.
All of this might be acceptable if his presence might actually make opposition to the War on (some classes of people who use some) Drugs or anti-imperialism more common in American political discourse. But, of course, it will do no such thing. If you think either issue will play any role in the upcoming election, or that either candidate will pay a price for ignoring them, all I can say is “care to make it interesting?” Indeed, his constant neoconfederate arguments that federal power is inherently illegitimate — which Greenwald skated over in his tendentious-in-the-extreme comparison of the candidates, pretending that the differences between Obama and Paul on economics, civil rights, civil liberties protections against the state governments most likely to abuse them, and regulatory enforcement are marginal — is far more likely to affect political discourse than the handful of good positions he espouses.