Philosophy Weekend: What Does Ron Paul Represent?

I disagree with ultra-conservative presidential candidate Ron Paul on most issues, and I can not imagine myself ever voting for him (I’m a lock for Obama in 2012 anyway). Still, I recently found myself vigorously defending this controversial Texas politician to my journalist and fellow liberal friend Tom Watson. Tom has been a severe and constant critic of Ron Paul, and has called him the worst of the Republican presidential candidates.

I know that Paul has many flaws, but I think he’s clearly the best of the Republican presidential candidates, because he’s the only one who does not advocate a ridiculous “get tough” policy on Iran. This “get tough on Iran” idea is rooted in the same guerrophilia and bigotry as George W. Bush’s previous “get tough on Saddam Hussein” idea, and I really can’t understand how Ron Paul can be the only Republican candidate to understand the similarity. He is also the only Republican candidate willing to propose strong cuts in military spending and military activities around the world. The Republican candidates for 2012 are a raggedy bunch, but Ron Paul seems at least to be more clued-in than the others on military and foreign policy.

After reading a steady stream of anti-Ron Paul tweets by Tom Watson, I asked Tom why he puts so much effort into criticizing the one Republican candidate who has an antiwar platform, and who stands very little chance of getting elected, when other Republicans who have stated an inclination to invade Iran if they get elected are actually considered serious contenders. I also asked Tom why he doesn’t feel any optimism about the fact that Ron Paul is introducing an antiwar message to many conservative voters who have long ago shut their ears to antiwar messages from liberals or from the mass media.

A long discussion followed, and it turned out that Tom Watson and I have very different ideas about what Ron Paul represents in this country. My admittedly idealistic belief is that Paul’s popularity represents the beginnings of a long-awaited and much-needed awakening. American conservatives are finally realizing that antiwar activism is not only for liberals, but that reduced military spending makes sense from every point of view. War, after all, is the biggest kind of big government, the worst enabler for tyrants, the biggest creator of government waste.

Tom Watson sees it differently. He is appalled by Paul’s disregard for our social fabric, for the legacy of community spirit that has helped to make this country great. Tom presented his final argument on his blog, titled “Ron Paul’s America (Liberals Not Really Welcome)“.

Many of Watson’s words are eloquent enough, and I agree with him that Paul has many flaws (which is why I’ve never considered him a serious presidential candidate).  However, the one fatal flaw that lies within Tom Watson’s argument must also be pointed out.

Watson speaks of Ron Paul’s pacifism with frankly insidious imagery, suggesting that antiwar liberals (like me) are being suckered in:

Yet this is just the candy that a predator uses to lure his unsuspecting victim into the back seat of his car. If the left joins this right, our future is a wasteland.

But nowhere in Tom Watson’s appraisal does he show that he takes pacifism seriously, or that he sees any momentum towards worldwide adoption of an antiwar agenda. In fact, the peace platform is a platform that never rests, and there is always momentum in the world towards pacifism. The popularity of Ron Paul is one indication of the dynamic nature of antiwar politics, and the great Occupy movement that began on Wall Street (which is solidly and blessedly antiwar) is another indication.

Doesn’t Tom Watson hear the chimes of peace? Instead, his article seems rooted in nostalgic “good war” imagery, with enough World War II references for a Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg movie. Watson mentions “the great mid-century war against fascism and totalitarianism” … “11 months before Pearl Harbor with the certain knowledge of the national peril ahead” … “a man restocking the arsenal of democracy in order to fight and win a global war over both Atlantic and Pacific hegemony”. But these allusions to World War II are stale and inappropriate. Many recent history books like Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker and Breaking Open Japan by George Feifer have pointed out the many ways that our understanding of the motivations behind World War II has hardened into cliche, and led us to believe too easily that World War II was a “good war”. This causes us to forget the larger truth that there is no such thing as a good war.

I’ve observed in these pages before that pacifism is a lonely position. It’s lonely in the Democratic party and it’s lonely in the Republican party. Ron Paul has helped to make pacifists a little less lonely in 2011, and that’s why I’d rather praise him than bemoan his flaws. Next, maybe we can forget about Ron Paul and find a new Republican or Democratic or no-party presidential candidate with an antiwar platform … who isn’t unelectable for one reason or another. Then maybe we can finally get some changes made.

4 Responses

  1. Although most of Ron Paul’s
    Although most of Ron Paul’s ideas are abhorrent, the call for reducing the military is a good thing. If the idea takes root with those on the right that are typically pro-military, pro-war, perhaps those of us on the left that would like to see a reduction in military spending could find common cause and we could reduce the vast amount of money that we spend on the military.

    The legacy of the so-called “good war” – World War II – has been unstoppable increases in the military budget year after year and ill-advised and/or downright criminal meddling in governments around the world.

    At a time when the right is focused on the budget deficit, cutting back on military spending is a no-brainer way to remedy the problem. We already have enough bombs to blow up the world ten times over – why do we have to have military bases in countries like Japan and Germany, like some kind of pseudo-Roman Empire?

    The other good idea Paul puts forth is legalization of drugs. Here is another area, using the appropriate term “war” on drugs, where “war “ means wasting vast amounts of money and time with no discernible results. Our first “war on drugs” – Prohibition – was a colossal flop. That has not stopped us from spending decades in the latest “war”. Education, treatment, controlled distribution – these could be done at a fraction of the cost of what we now spend.

    All this said, the ideas are good, and if they gain traction with the right, I would count that as progress. But Paul himself is unacceptable as a presidential candidate. For once I agree with Newt Gingrich, who called Paul’s social program “radical right-wing social engineering.”

  2. Since I’m not a state, I
    Since I’m not a state, I don’t care much for Paul’s hard-on for states rights. However, I do think a Paul candidacy gets people at least talking about the military industrial complex and the security state. I’m hoping he runs as an independent or joins with Gary Johnson on the Libertarian ticket. I wouldn’t vote for them, but I think it’s time to put real pressure on the status quo and put the heat on Obama since he hasn’t had to answer for his administration in a primary.

    I do get the worry that the anti-war message could be a way to attract people into a movement that really wants to establish a laissez faire corporate state. Paul and his allies have tried a variety of causes to get their message across and build support. In the 60s and 70s they were trying to get the anti-war and pro-drug crowd too. In the 1980s and 1990s it was the white separatist Ruby Ridge types (hence the controversial stuff in Paul’s newsletters).


    nobody gets into office without being allowed so by TPTB. national offices do not matter as nations no longer do. this is not a national situation we are in, it is a transnational corporate one.

    war is an industry, a deeply vested and extraordinarily profitable one just like prisons. it’s woven deeply into our daily lives from the clock that awakes us to the breakfast we then eat and the clothes we then put on. peace is what makes that possible; the peace of the cooperation of the powers that be amongst themselves.

    ‘motivated reasoning’ and ‘manufactured consent’ has its dissenters and debates, but as it is right now any outcome of such has zero bearing on what’s done or going to be done.

    peace between peoples is not as absent as this debate seems to suggest -it is irrelevant.

    peace between governments is not as absent as this debate seems to suggest -it’s irrelevant.

    it’s not then any question of making peace a larger and more profitable industry, it’s a question of remanifesting the form of it’s power back to what it no longer is, rooted in the sovereignty of the individual -in short tied to actual liberty, physically and cognitively. as it is now, what we’re actually up against is gross depopulation in horrific forms; bread and butter humanity has never been more expendable on this scale in our history before -worse even, a veritable dillemma to TPTB vis a vis material resources.

    ron paul?? elections?? ye gods, the scale of things beggars imagination and you’re debating elections and pacifism?? it goes without saying pacifism is a good thing and militarism bad -to us -but these very things are no longer what they once were. posse comitatus is gone now that habeaus corpus’s absence enabled that, and to support our troops now means agreeing with their right to do anything at all they want to each of us personally. we *are* the ‘enemy’.

    the war is for war itself. for oil and such, sure, but ultimately for power itself, just like in a prison. prison culture dictates that nobody can remain unaffiliated. independent.

    ron paul is as much for corporate privilege and the governance facade as dick cheney is.

    to speak well for the cause of independent thought is not necessarily to support individual action -even such collectively done en masse.

    conformity proactively supports what passivity enables by default… to compromise is to be compromised.

    philosophy might be seen as the art of dispelling obfuscation and ‘motivated reasoning’. when it becomes motivated reasoning itself, it is the brainwashing against the resistance to brainwashing. it’s no coincidence that one of the most powerful ‘cultures’ earth’s ever seen in it’s humans is powerfully anti-‘intellectual’. screw the intellect and follow the path with heart i say or the middle path as it were. like the tao te ching. that which rings. that which rings exhibits solidity more than rigidity. even as water…

    didactic sage writing bores, generally speaking, and none so much as one’s own. let us do so til we finally gag and take to paint pots…

  4. Hi Levi,
    (I wrote a very

    Hi Levi,

    (I wrote a very long answer and lost it to a glitch in the system at 11:45am), but here goes:

    In a nutshell, I think Ron Paul represents a critical view of modern American society’s relation to its own government: the criticisms are a) that we have an unnecessary and a misguided dependence on the Federal government’s initiatives as the answer to the problems of living as individuals in society, leading to legislative initiatives which are aimed at unwarranted and illegitimate restrictions on freedom in the name of social justice and b) that the Federal government has been given (allowed) too much power to interfere in the lives and associations of individuals (States and citizens, per se). His remedy to this invidious extrapolation of power is a renewed insistence on the constitutionally delimited role of the federal government.

    It is actually a view which is much more subtle than is often thought, for it looks to the Constitution as a guide, not a blueprint. His message seems to be, Beware forfeiting your rights (or those of others) just to gain a short-term advantage or a speedy social result of legislation! For once you have given up the right, it is hard to get it back.

    I don’t expect him to win: his message is not palatable to pashas, who view their political gains as inheritable rights. And we have largely become a nation of pashas. Still, it is interesting and instructive once in a while to listen to a voice that tells the truth. We would be better off without an imperial president – but the NDAA has pretty much sealed that issue shut. We are each, individually, now at the beck and call of Emperor Obama and whichever snipe may follow him. Ron Paul’s message is too little, too late –and we have only ourselves to blame.

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