Tim Wise is one of the most dynamic and smart anti-racism theorists out there. I deeply respect his work, which is why I have a lot of trouble with his latest post, going after Glenn Greenwald and others on the liberal side of the aisle for discussing the positive aspects of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.
Wise frames his piece by describing an anti-war, anti-Wall Street national politician who also has problematic views about race. While many people familiar with the Ron Paul debate would assume that’s who Wise is describing, Wise reveals he’s actually been talking about David Duke all along. Wise sees this point as a striking victory against liberals who think Ron Paul’s policies on war and peace, civil liberties, and torture are laudable.
Yes, that David Duke: former head of the nation’s largest Ku Klux Klan group and lifelong neo-Nazi, who once said Jews should go into the ashbin of history, and that it would be possible to do what Hitler did, even in America, if white supremacists could just “put the right package together.”
But ya know that whole racist thing doesn’t matter, right? Because he’s against wiretapping.
Make no mistake, Wise offers up truly devastating arguments against the straw men he’s set up to deconstruct. The problem is, no one of any note, particularly not Glenn Greenwald, have taken the positions that Wise is arguing against.
First, the relevance of Ron Paul as a foil to current American policies regarding who we go to war with, who we drop bombs on, who we imprison and torture indefinitely, who we spy on and who we throw in jail is not that he opposes current US policies in these areas. No, Paul’s relevance is that as a candidate for President, he is talking about them and influencing national debate through the microphone afforded by his candidacy.
David Duke, on the other hand, is not a presidential candidate. It’s not as if the liberals discussing Paul set out to proactively find a racist, homophobic politician who wants to destroy social services but is good on civil liberties and ended up landing on Ron Paul arbitrarily. Ron Paul is relevant because of his candidacy. David Duke is no more relevant in the context of these policies than Cornel West or Rachel Maddow. This is not about a search for a dream presidential candidate, it’s about looking at what the existing presidential candidates are saying and assessing them accordingly. To wit, Jon Huntsman wants to break up the too big to fail banks, investigate robosigning, and punish banks for foreclosure fraud. Huntsman is wrong on lots of other issues, but his stance as it relates to Wall Street is notably to the left of not only his Republican opponents, but President Obama. This has been observed by many of the people who are favorably discussing aspects of Ron Paul’s candidacy (see Matt Stoller at Naked Capitalism for one example).
The other relevant point is the continued insistence by critics of those on the left who say good things about parts of Ron Paul’s platform that such criticism is tantamount to endorsing Ron Paul for President. Wise unfortunately falls squarely in the absolutist camp here too:
And please, Glenn Greenwald, spare me the tired shtick about how Paul “raises important issues” that no one on the left is raising, and so even though you’re not endorsing him, it is still helpful to a progressive narrative that his voice be heard. Bullshit. The stronger Paul gets the stronger Paul gets, period. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger libertarianism gets, and thus, the Libertarian Party as a potential third party: not the Greens, mind you, but the Libertarians. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger become those voices who worship the free market as though it were an invisible fairy godparent, capable of dispensing all good things to all comers — people like Paul Ryan, for instance, or Scott Walker. In a nation where the dominant narrative has long been anti-tax, anti-regulation, poor-people-bashing and God-bless-capitalism, it would be precisely those aspects of Paul’s ideological grab bag that would become more prominent. And if you don’t know that, you are a fool of such Herculean proportions as to suggest that Salon might wish to consider administering some kind of political-movement-related-cognitive skills test for its columnists, and the setting of a minimum cutoff score, below which you would, for this one stroke of asininity alone, most assuredly fall.
Obviously this is just getting nasty at this point. Like many critics of Greenwald, Wise is setting out his own boundaries for what acceptable debate for liberals is and isn’t shy about refereeing the boundary lines. Saying anything nice about any Republican, let alone a libertarian with crazy followers, is tantamount to being one of those crazies. The lack of willingness to discuss the issues at hand is truly startling. It’s almost as if this is an area where honest debate and honest listening is impossible.
What’s most frustrating, again, is that the discussion Greenwald and Stoller are trying to have is about real policies held by real presidential candidates. Neither have endorsed Paul. They’re discussing what is actually happening now and the policy debate that these candidacies raise. The scorn which is thrown their way is monumental and a sign of the incapacity of some people to actually listen to what’s being written.
Wise closes with a rejoinder that if you’re not happy with Obama, it’s because the left has insufficiently organized to produce good results. Presumably this is meant to inoculate the President from criticism from the left, as it’s all our fault that he’s using drones to kill children in Pakistan and Afghanistan or start wars without congressional approval in North Africa. While I certainly agree that progressives and populists need to be in the street creating change through organizing and through protest, I’m not sure what Wise thinks these critics of Obama are responding to. Greenwald and Stoller and many others who are discussing aspects of Paul were some of the earliest and strongest supporters of Occupy Wall Street, as well as some of the most consistent advocates for continued resistance to American policies of indefinite detention, surveillance, and war — policies which were widely protested when Bush did them, but are now only rarely organized against by the left as there is a Democrat in the White House. That is, the people Wise thinks he is attacking are the ones who have been consistently doing exactly what he is urging them to do.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t support Ron Paul’s candidacy. I won’t vote for him or any other Republican. But with no primary challenger to the President raising questions about American policies of war and peace, civil liberties, the rule of law or drug policy, I’m glad that Ron Paul is raising these issues. It’s a stain on American liberalism that we are in a position where the purported political party of the left is getting out-shined by a racist, homophobic radical on values that should be core to liberalism. In a dream world, someone like Cornel West or Rachel Maddow or Stephen Lerner or any number of truly liberal figures would be running for President and could be raising these issues. But that’s not the world we live in, any more than the one where David Duke is currently a candidate is.