Ron Paul, the Occupy movement, and the crisis of liberal ideology


The Occupy movement’s success in capturing the political imagination of the American public is also a symptom of the fragmentation of the U.S. plutocrat-controlled political system. This is the real context of the 2012 elections – the loss of legitimacy of the political process, manifested in an urge to break out of the Republican-Democrat binary – although you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media.

The debates at the Republican primaries now resemble a TV reality show. Their aggressiveness can partly be explained by the fact that the candidates who are not Mitt Romney know they’re being stitched up by his well-funded campaign. But it’s also because they consider Romney to be an unreliable conservative who would renege on the extremist social issues they have raised in order to connect to the right-wing Republican base.

The Guardian reports that: “The GOP debate in Concord, New Hampshire, and another held just 10 hours earlier in Manchester, was marked by personal, abusive and frequently petty exchanges that highlighted the fractured nature of the modern Republican party, and raised President Barack Obama’s hopes for re-election in November. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, out for revenge after being on the receiving end of a $4m (£2.6m) advertising battering from Romney in Iowa, did not hold back, accusing him of lying, being unelectable and, in a phrase likely to be remembered long after the campaign is over, of talking ‘pious baloney’.”

The heat of the rhetoric is in marked contrast to the Republican voters’ lack of enthusiasm. E.J. Dionne comments: “The ideological fervor in the party might have overcome the frailties of its candidates and mobilized the faithful anyway. But so far, this hasn’t happened. The crowds at rallies and events have been far from exceptional, and at least in the Iowa caucuses, turnout almost certainly would have been down from 2008 but for the independents and young people brought into the caucuses by Ron Paul. Many of these libertarians and peace activists will not naturally fit into the GOP, and can’t be counted on to support the party’s nominee.”

Faced with his impending defeat by the Romney steamroller, Newt Gingrich is now making a wedge issue out of Romney’s record with Bain Capital.  “You have to ask the question, is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of people and then walk off with the money?” Gingrich said in New Hampshire on Monday. This does not mean that Gingrich is a closet liberal, but it does mean that liberal attacks on corporate raiders are not incompatible with the political establishment’s ascendancy: the intensification of the social divide created by rapacious debt manipulation undermines its legitimacy.

Liberal and conservative ideologies are in agreement insofar as they both rationalize support for the military-industrial-government complex. That’s what makes Ron Paul’s candidacy so interesting, because he is the only one in either party challenging this agglomerate, and he appears to be attracting support from the kind of younger voters who in 2008 would have supported Obama.

Matt Stoller launched an important discussion in Naked Capitalism about how Paul’s libertarian opposition to foreign wars and the bailout role of the Fed uncovers the position of liberalism today. “The basic thesis was that the same financing structures that are used to finance mass industrial warfare were used to create a liberal national economy and social safety.  Liberals supported national mobilization in favor of warfare and the social safety net during the New Deal and World War II (and before that, during the Civil War and WWI), but splintered when confronted with wars like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  The corruption of the financial channels and the destruction of the social safety net now challenges this 20th century conception of liberalism at its core (which is heavily related to the end of cheap oil).”

And in his initial post: “Liberalism doesn’t really exist much within the Democratic Party so much anymore, but it also has a profound challenge insofar as the rudiments of liberalism going back to the 1930s don’t work. This is why Ron Paul can critique the Federal Reserve and American empire, and why liberals have essentially no answer to his ideas, arguing instead over Paul having character defects. ….  Now of course, Ron Paul pandered to racists, and there is no doubt that this is a legitimate political issue in the Presidential race. But the intellectual challenge that Ron Paul presents ultimately has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with contradictions within modern liberalism.”

Glenn Greenwald took the argument further in Salon. He pointed out that the presidential candidate favored by most progressives – Obama – has used his power to extend the slaughter of civilians in Asia with drones and cluster bombs, institutionalize the secret targeting of individuals for assassination, entrench the policy of indefinite detention and state secrecy, and shield mortgage fraud. “Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform — certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party — who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote — Barack Obama — advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil. … Paul scrambles the comfortable ideological and partisan categories and forces progressives to confront and account for the policies they are working to protect. His nomination would mean that it is the Republican candidate — not the Democrat — who would be the anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate (which is why some neocons are expressly arguing they’d vote for Obama over Paul).”

Both Stoller and Greenwald have taken a barrage of criticism from liberal sources for voicing these opinions – but this itself is a sign of the fragility of liberal ideology in face of a Democratic administration that is working to protect the assets of the one percent from collapse by accepting the pauperization of most Americans.

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1 Comment

Filed under 2012 Election, Obama, occupy wall street, political analysis, poverty, Ron Paul, US policy, We are the 99 percent

One response to “Ron Paul, the Occupy movement, and the crisis of liberal ideology

  1. Not Yet a Sansculotte

    “Unapologetic Plutocrat” captures Romney’s core ideology and modus operandi well–he’s publicly admitted he enjoys firing people who don’t give him the “service” he demands, and I’m sure the world is full of little people who don’t. His campaign could be likened to the Titanic were it not for the fact that as Colonel Despard points out, Obama’s record on economic justice is really, truly, and undeniably abysmal (as is his record on civil liberties). He extended the Bush tax cuts, for crying out loud. Now Congress wants to censor the Internet in the name of copyright protection. And the traction he has–if that’s what it cal be called– is from the Occupy Movement.

    The American electorate is again between a rock and a hard place. But this time, we’re pushing back. Keep watching world! Revolutions don’t only happen in Egypt.

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