Sunday, 21 February 2010

Why Ron Paul is a reactionary, not a radical

Yesterday, US Representative Ron Paul "won a blowout victory Saturday in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll," CNN reports. The chief concern of participants was "reducing the size of federal government" and reflects the support of the supposedly "anti-establishment" Tea Party movement and growing "frustration" with the Republican Party on the American right. Although this poll is unlikely to bear on the 2012 Presidential Election, it does demonstrate a worrying trend in American politics.

The Tea Party is an astroturf movement that takes its name from the Boston Tea Party that kick-started the American War of Independence.Its position, like Paul's, is paleo-libertarian. That is, a combination of regressive and ultra-conservative social views with "free" market capitalism. WSWS illustrates precisely what this means in a dissection of Paul's politics;
Attracted at a young age to the free market and anti-socialist nostrums of Ayn Rand and Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises—the father of the modern libertarian movement—Paul entered political life in 1964 when he became involved with the presidential campaign of Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, a bitter opponent of federal welfare programs, labor unions and civil rights legislation.

In 1974 he ran for Congress as a Republican candidate and lost the election. But he won a special election in 1976, after President Gerald Ford appointed Paul’s former opponent to a federal position.

Paul was eventually able to hold his seat in a regular election, and during his terms in Congress he ingratiated himself with the most right-wing elements of the political establishment. He was one of only a handful of Republican congressmen to endorse Ronald Reagan for president against Ford in 1976, and he used his seat on the House Banking Committee to advocate complete banking deregulation and the abolishing of the Federal Reserve Board.

The favor was returned, as Paul was able to gain the backing of the ultra-rich, such as multi-billionaire Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, the largest privately held company in the United States, and Steve Forbes, who would later be instrumental in financing Paul’s reelection campaigns in the 1990s.

After a failed US Senate bid in the mid-1980s, Paul briefly returned to the practice of medicine. In his private practice, he refused to accept Medicare or Medicaid payments from patients, claiming they were paying with “stolen money.” He then launched a presidential campaign as the Libertarian Party candidate in 1988.

The political hallmark of Paul is a combination of populist and even left-sounding rhetoric and the most right-wing positions. This is especially apparent in his economic policies. Paul often denounces “corporate welfare” and the influence that large corporations have within government. He also voices opposition to an inflationary monetary policy on the grounds that the real wages of workers are being eroded.

His actual policy proposals, however, are based entirely on removing any restrictions on corporations and wealthy individuals to amass more wealth and exploit workers even more brutally. In this area, Paul is farther to the right than any other Republican seeking the nomination.

He wishes to eliminate income taxes completely by abolishing virtually every federal department and domestic program. Paul advocates the elimination of the Department of Education, Social Security, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance, and virtually every other gain won by the struggle of previous generations of workers.

Paul blames “illegal immigration” for a whole host of social ills, from the spread of disease, to crime, to the lowering of workers’ wages. He has also proposed amending the Constitution to remove birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, writing in 2006: “The recent immigration protests in Los Angeles have brought the issue to the forefront, provoking strong reactions from millions of Americans. The protesters’ cause of open borders is not well served when they drape themselves in Mexican flags and chant slogans in Spanish . . . We must reject amnesty for illegal immigrants in any form. We cannot continue to reward lawbreakers and expect things to get better. . . . Birthright citizenship similarly rewards lawbreaking, and must be stopped. As long as illegal immigrants know their children born here will be citizens, the perverse incentive to sneak into this country remains strong.”

This thinly veiled racist demagogy has earned Paul the praise of reactionaries such as CNN anchor Lou Dobbs and the support of extreme right elements, from members of the Minutemen Project to Don Black, founder of the white supremacist group Stormfront, who donated $500 to Paul’s campaign.

In his campaign ads in Michigan, Paul sought to divert anger over the destruction of autoworkers’ jobs and living standards with appeals to anti-immigrant and national chauvinism. The North American Free Trade Agreement, he said, was “just one part of a plan to erase the borders...and create a single nation out of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, with a new unelected bureaucracy and money system. Forget about controlling immigration under this scheme. And a free America, with limited, constitutional government, would be gone forever.”

As he did on the eve of the invasion of Iraq on numerous occasions Paul has promoted the idea that the United Nations is a conspiratorial organization planning to implement a “new world order” and that the World Trade Organization is a plot by a “global elite” to strip America of its sovereignty.

Paul’s brand of libertarianism doesn’t prevent him from opposing abortion in terms that are similar to those of the religious fundamentalists. Paul likens abortion to state-sanctioned murder, stating, “Abortion on demand is the ultimate State tyranny . . . Unlike Nazi Germany, which forcibly sent millions to the gas chambers (as well as forcing abortion and sterilization upon many more), the new regime has enlisted the assistance of millions of people to act as its agents in carrying out a program of mass murder.”

He has proposed legislation that would remove from all federal courts the jurisdiction to hear cases relating to abortion. This would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade and allow the states to criminalize all abortion procedures.

Paul has similarly tried to remove federal court jurisdiction to decide whether the phrase “under God” can be included in the Pledge of Allegiance, voted to ban federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and voted to prevent same-sex couples from adopting. His consistent record of attacking democratic rights has prompted his supporters at Lew to write a column approvingly posing the question, “Will Ron Paul Be the Candidate of the Christian Right?”

Ron Paul’s appeal to the extreme right and fascist groups is not a new phenomenon. In a recent article published by the New Republic, James Kurchick highlights the contents of some of Ron Paul’s newsletters, published during the time after Paul finished his first terms in Congress and returned to the practice of medicine. Kurchick describes an issue of the newsletter that was published after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles in the following manner, “’Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began,’ read one typical passage. According to the newsletter, the looting was a natural byproduct of government indulging the black community with ‘civil rights, quotas, mandated hiring preferences, set-asides for government contracts, gerrymandered voting districts, black bureaucracies, black mayors, black curricula in schools, black tv shows, black tv anchors, hate crime laws, and public humiliation for anyone who dares question the black agenda.’ It also denounced ‘the media’ for believing that ‘America’s number one need is an unlimited white checking account for underclass blacks.’”

A newsletter issue reporting on the Louisiana Senate primary election campaign of former Ku Klux Klan wizard David Duke in 1990 stated, “our priority should be to take the anti-government, anti-tax, anti-crime, anti-welfare loafers, anti-race privilege, anti-foreign meddling message of Duke, and enclose it in a more consistent package of freedom.”

In response to the New Republic exposé, Ron Paul issued a statement on his website claiming that material in the articles are not his words but were contributed by numerous writers for his newsletter, which Paul did not edit and that Paul was not aware of what was being published. It is entirely unbelievable that Paul had no knowledge of the content of articles printed under his name for over a decade.

Moreover, Paul has repeatedly made his opposition to civil rights legislation clear. As recently as 2004, he marked the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which outlawed the system of apartheid-like racial segregation in Southern schools and public places during the Jim Crow period—by denouncing the measure from the floor of Congress for infringing on the “rights of private property owners,” including the “customer service practices of every business in the country.”
This mix of racism and regressive opposition to genuine liberty is reflected by the Tea Party movement.

For example, we have Tea Party leader Tom Tancredo's now-infamous rant that Barack Obama was only elected president because “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country.” As Sunder Katwala at Next Left points out, "literacy tests were made illegal in the 1965 Voting Rights Act after being one of the key measures used to systematically disenfranchise black voters in the US South." This call for a return to the racist Jim Crow laws at any rate ignoring the fact that "exit polls show [Obama] led among voters of every level of education." As an exclamation point on the racist element, we have the Washington Independent's report that a Tom Tancredo staffer pleaded guilty last year to hitting a woman after calling her a ‘nigger’. He was allowed to keep his job.

Though not overtly fascist, this movement does, like the far-right in Britain and Europe, represent a virulent form of reaction that threatens to channel genuine grievances away from workable solutions and towards policies that favour the capitalist and ruling class. For a real alternative, people need to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, though obviously unreported by the mainstream media, that alternative is growing in the form of anarcho-syndicalism and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). As Infoshop reports;
For decades IWW members in the Twin Cities were without a place to call home, but beginning in November, the branch will open shop in the historic Grain Belt Bottling House in northeast Minneapolis—a neighborhood whose early residents had a vision of industrial organizing that was instrumental in establishing the One Big Union here and beyond.

In 1905, two northeast railroad workers—William Bradley and Fred Henion— participated in a private Chicago conference that laid the groundwork for a unique labor organization that would later be dubbed the Industrial Workers of the World. Unlike the American Federation of Labor, the IWW proposed that all workers in an industry should harness their power together in one union, instead of dividing themselves according to the many different crafts or trades on a job. This new union grew quickly, and for several reasons, it immediately appealed to Northeast workers employed in the Harrison Street Railyard and in the massive Mill District. The IWW welcomed immigrant and non-white workers, as well as “unskilled” workers, who were denied membership by the exclusive, craft-based AF of L locals.

Just as in 1905, the IWW is thriving and continues to organize in industries that are considered low-wage and “unorganizable” by today’s large business unions. The determined efforts of local IWW branches have yielded considerable success in several workplaces, and subsequently we have seen the Twin Cities branch grow exponentially in just a few short years. With this expansion has come the need for a gathering space, and the Bottling House fit the bill.

Along with the connection to the union’s past, this landmark offers room for significant future growth. The office will now house the meetings of workers in food service, transportation, retail and education to name a few. They’ll hold basic organizer trainings and courses from our Work Peoples’ College. The building’s sizable atrium provides an ideal venue for large public discussions, film showings, and gala events. All in all, this space will become a destination where local working people can access myriad resources on labor law and organizing and meet others struggling to make their jobs and communities better places for all.
It is not just in the North East that the IWW is thriving, and the growing campaign against Starbucks is just one area where genuinely grassroots organisation is having an effect.

With the media on-side, always more willing to give publicity to reactionary movements than progressive and revolutionary ones, breaking the Tea Party's monopoly of resistance will be a difficult struggle. But it must be done. However radical they proclaim to be, Ron Paul and the Tea Party represent only another lobby for the elites and the property rights which give them power and privilege. If the people of America want to struggle for genuine freedom, they need to reject the false flag of right-wing libertarianism.