I could never vote for Ron Paul, for a thousand reasons. I have been arguing against many of his policies and the worldview that generated them for the entirety of my adult life. But I have to value his voice in the national debate because almost no other national political figures will raise these issues at all. I would love if these issues were being expressed by politicians and pundits who combined them with righteous views on domestic policy. But here, too, mainstream progressivism deserves a great deal of blame. Left wing politicians like Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich have embraced discussion of foreign policy and civil liberties, and for their trouble they have been dismissed as unserious by the self-same progressives who now dismiss Ron Paul’s ideas. For far too long, mainstream progressives have signaled their “seriousness” precisely by denying the validity of people like Kucinich or Sanders, so taken with some bizarre definition of the reasonable that they effectively silence the leftist non-interventionists they say they want. If you want left wing criticism of our militarism and surveillance state, stop ridiculing those who express it.
The notion that there is something less disqualifying about support for murder and oppression than support for regressive and racist policies cannot stand scrutiny. The right to not be killed precedes all other rights. It is the foundation on which all other rights rest. What value can any rights have if they are not protected by a right to not be killed? Freedom of expression is no solace to a corpse. Likewise, what value do other rights have if those rights are not protected by rights of the accused? There is no value in freedom of assembly or religion if you can be thrown into a cage without a trial where you can invoke those rights. The right to protest has no meaning if the executive can respond to that protest by killing you without accountability, legal challenge, or review. Civil liberties are not merely right on principle. They are the necessary bedrock on which all conduct in a free society must rest.
I think this is right, though it’s worth noting that freedom to eat in restaurants regardless of race or freedom to make choices about one’s own body or freedom to marry whoever one is in love with are also questions of civil liberty. But yes, it’s hard to enjoy these liberties if you’re dead.
De Boer expands on the question of propriety of criticism, which I have looked at throughout this debate.
The whole argument has revealed American progressives at their absolute worst: incurious about the bad consequences of their positions; totally convinced that righteousness in intent can only lead to righteousness in effect; preemptively contemptuous of criticism from the left; dismissive of arguments that they themselves made under the last administration; and ultimately just as partisan as the conservatives they railed against three short years ago.
I want those who profess belief in liberalism and egalitarianism to recognize that they are failing those principles every time they ignore our conduct overseas, or ridicule those who criticize it. What I will settle for is an answer to the question: what would they have us do? If you can’t find it in you to accept our premises, at least consider what you would do if you did. For those of us who oppose our country’s destructive behavior, there is no place to turn that does not result in ridicule. Every conceivable political option has not only been denied by establishment progressives, but entirely dismissed. The idea that one should criticize the President from the left is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. The notion of primarying President Obama is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. The idea of supporting a candidate from a different party is not just wrong but self-evidently ridiculous. Every conceivable path forward, for those of us who demand change in our conduct overseas, is preemptively denied. I want my country to stop killing innocent people. What am I supposed to do?
This earnestness of this objection to the two party straightjacket that many progressives find themselves in is powerful. There are strong pressures from conservatives of both parties to make their ideas normative and marginalize actual liberal politicians. Sadly this is often adopted by ostensible liberals as well (as De Boer reminds us with reference to Sanders and Kucinich). In the eyes of political partisans, there is just no appropriate way for objections to be noted, outside of the Democratic Party’s own processes (excluding primaries) or private, off-the-record meetings with administration officials.
This is the heart of the tension within the American left today. I see it as very much tied to the duel problems of the Democratic Party being the sole instantiation for affecting progressive change and the failure of the Democratic Party and its leaders to map their ideological goals onto liberalism. In the absence of a political party which can stop us from killing innocent people, as De Boer asks, what options are there? What is appropriate? Or will the desire to confront these policies and the leaders who enact them meant to fail to find any outlet, as something which must be forced back into the closet where we can wear its shame in private? I don’t have a solution to the incuriousness of our citizenry, let alone of Democratic partisans. But I don’t see an alternative to continuing to raise these issues over the objections of pearl clutchers who want to silence criticism from the left.