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Racial Opportunism, the Left, and Paulite Baggage: Notes


The batch of emails leaked by Anonymous concerning Ron Paul’s proximity to white supremacists is not a mushroom cloud, but it verifies longstanding suspicions of Ron Paul’s opportunism.

So far, I’ve seen no emails from Ron Paul himself, and no screenshots of the emails Anonymous has leaked. There are some excerpts, not from Paul, but from white supremacist buffoons who seem very proud to have been around the silly old man. These are damaging, but not in the way the most vociferous Paul-haters want them to be, at least so far.

They are damaging because Paul has shown himself to be a racial opportunist. Faithful to capitalism, Paul will take money and labor from anybody. It just so happens that a lot of people who categorically hate the federal government are also hostile to non-whites. Part of this is fourth-generation blowback from the Civil War. But another part of it has to do with the socioeconomic and cultural advantage offered to whites in a truly “libertarian” world–free of checks on economic exploitation or civil rights laws designed, at least nominally, to establish a norm of political equality. The arguments that racial preferences are private, and that regulating them is a greater evil than allowing economic or political discrimination against people of color, are arguments that privilege the white race, at least in effect. Whether Ron Paul is a genuine racist is not as important as the extent of Paul’s racial opportunism.

And that’s where it gets a little more complicated. People, including many progressives, feel perfectly comfortable, even exhilerated, condemning blatant racism, but are less comfortable calling out racialist associations, acknowledging racial privileging, and condemning the existence of racism. Whether by questionable assertions of its inevitability, or moral excuses based on free association and conscience, even a good deal of the left is reluctant to really take on the monster.

A few weeks ago, in an effort to express the degree of disgust I believe warranted by racism, I compared it to child rape, in an attempt to describe the disturbing passive embrace of Paul by some prominent folks on the left. Response to my analogy wasn’t generally good. Those who don’t like it really don’t like it, and a good number of people who don’t like Ron Paul also don’t like the analogy between racism and child molestation. It’s my fault. I was trying to explain the level of moral disgust inspired by both, but it involved too many inferential leaps. My bad. As thought-experiment/analogies/effective rhetoric goes, Tim Wise’s comparison of Paul to David Duke is much more effective than my comparison of Paul with sex abusers. He is also better at calling out racism on the left than I am, something he’s done in other contexts as well.

Nevertheless, the Ron Paul phenomenon raises questions concerning what we’re willing to tolerate in political candidates, both directly and, as one reader derisively described my arguments, “by association.” That racism is deontologically, categorically unacceptable is not a huge controversy. Its effects are also terrible, though, and this consequentialist impact exists alongside the categorical wrongness, and is part of the reason some people find it unacceptable to support Paul the racial opportunist even if he’s not as bad as David Duke or even if there are some good ideas that sprout from his pile of bad ones. If you believe all forms of moral persuasion against racism violate the libertarian right to conscience, however, then you believe my vitriol against racism is a kind of totalitarian thought control, and that’s just as bad. And there are your Paul supporters in a nutshell: libertarians who agree with Paul’s economic ideas and believe that the portion of his supporters who are white racists have the right to be so; and from the whole spectrum of American political ideology, people who agree with Paul on militarism and the war on drugs, who believe any private racism Paul facilitates is simply outweighed by the benefits of having any mainstream candidate address these issues. To them, I’m a purist because, while I don’t question, in a political, rights-based sense, one’s “right” to be racist, I do believe racism should be expunged from the public sphere–through public arguments against it. I am not suggesting we ban racists, or facilitators of racism, from running for office, lock them up, etc. But it’s not the law the racialist libertarians are concerned about. Objecting to any kind of moral coercion, they find my contempt for Lew Rockwell less acceptable than Lew Rockwell’s antipathy toward blacks.

Paul will not win. Neither will the Green Party, Socialist Party, or Justice Party candidates, and so I don’t understand why otherwise sensible people don’t just invest in those campaigns to begin with. I’m much more concerned about the progressives who were drawn to the silly old man in spite of his Confederate tendencies than the libertarians who equate racism with freedom of conscience. In addition to desperation, for the left, support for Ron Paul indicates another kind of opportunism. It’s based on a false premise, though: that the left particularly needs a critique of imperialism from the right. We don’t, and so the baggage just isn’t worth it.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Agitator, writer, podcast & radio host; I taught argument, debate, philosophy, rhetoric, advocacy for 15 years in the U.S., Korea and briefly in Iraq. Now the Editor at Shared Media Cooperative, making & editing content for politicalcontext.org, egalitarian review, the underview, and other people's shows & sites. Also studying law & parenting my three young children. "Here's to love and solidarity, and a kiss behind the barricades."