Over at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi responds to my recent piece criticizing Obama critics like him who, despite acknowledging that the president is perpetrating mass murder — in the form of ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya — and continuing to lock up scores of Americans for non-violent drug offenses, say that they’d still vote for the guy over someone who wouldn’t do any of that: Ron Paul.
Now, I love Taibbi’s work. And I’m not just saying that: dude’s been a favorite of mine since his New York Press days, even if I think he’s unfortunately become more of a conventional liberal Democrat since moving over to Rolling Stone (for example, I’m not sure the Taibbi of old would have felt it necessary to start a piece critiquing the president’s personality cult with the line, “I supported Barack Obama. I still do.“). I didn’t mean to single him out because I think he’s especially awful — just the opposite: here’s a guy who pretty much gets what’s going on, knows that Obama’s expanding the empire and handing trillions of dollars to Wall Street, and still supports him. I find that strange.
And as the proprietor of a blog called “false dichotomy,” I didn’t intend to paint Obama supporters into a false either/or choice of “I support Ron Paul, or I support mass-murder,” as Taibbi characterizes my piece. Indeed, I made it clear I’d rather cast a write-in ballot for Emma Goldman than either Paul or Obama.
The framing for piece came not because I believe one must choose between the two — as I wrote for Counterpunch last year, I’d rather people forgo the diversion of electoral politics altogether — but because of an explicit hypothetical posed to Taibbi earlier this year.
“In light of the enormous disappointment that was Barack Obama,” a reader wrote to him this past February, “would you vote for Ron Paul over Barack Obama in 2012?”
Taibbi’s response at the time was, well, no, primarily because he said he found Ron Paul’s son, Rand, to be an enormous prick. No argument there, though I’d note that his opponent in the race for Senate was one too — we’re talking about politics, after all.
That reply, combined with Taibbi’s earlier avowed support for Obama, was one of main the reasons — along with the smug denunciations of Ron Paul, who opposes war, from self-styled progressives who support a president who just launched, believed-it-or-not, another one — I wrote my piece. It’s not like Ron Paul’s anywhere near perfect, as I noted, but given a choice between a guy who cluster bombs women and children in Yemen and one who, reactionary though he may be, is a true believer in peace, why support the war criminal? It’s not even like Obama’s war crimes have been accompanied by the creation of a socialist worker’s paradise at home — quite the contrary, in fact — effectively negating the liberal critiques of Paul’s budget-slashing domestic agenda, which even if enacted wouldn’t preclude local governments and — as an anarchist, I would hope — alternative social organizations not dependent on coercion from picking up where the federal government left off.
Taibbi, who knows well enough that Obama’s a corporatist, recognizes that in a lot of ways Paul is superior. And he even notes that the latter’s supporters — who I’m afraid probably bombarded him with links to my piece, complete with denunciations of his role in serving the New World Order (dude: sorry!) — weren’t all that bad in his experience:
When I followed the elder Ron Paul’s campaign in 2008, a lot of the people I met were intellectuals who had a genuine philosophical problem with government spending and the Fed, and who were really consistent about their limited-government beliefs – no welfare, but also no drug laws and no foreign interventionist wars. (You frequently found Ron Paul supporters who were more passionate about ending the drug war than they were about ending food stamps or whatever). I got along with almost all of these people, who were all unfailingly polite and respectful toward me. And I had a lot of respect for their views, even though I didn’t agree with everything they believed.
So why, given the choice between Paul and Obama — a false dichotomy, yes, but the one posed to him — would he choose the latter, war crimes and all? Because Rand Paul, Ron’s son, is a dick, one who Taibbi argues relied on “racial signaling” during his run for the Senate. I’m not going to dispute his characterization of Rand, which he says now colors his view of the father, but this strikes me as less than persuasive. If the Pauls’ uglier views and racial insensitivity was held out as a reason to forget elections in favor of community organizing and direct action? Hey, I’d be right there with ya. But as a reason to continue supporting Obama? Eh . . .
I could be off base, and I’m conscious that I may be unfairly using my personal hobby horse as a litmus test for others, but I feel pretty damn strongly that ending the empire is far and away the most important issue of our time. Not killing people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya — pretty big deal. Not imposing an embargo on Cuba or helping fuel violent insurgencies in Mexico and Colombia — again, big deal. Not undermining any foreign leader who shows the slightest inclination to serve his or her own people rather than international capital — you get the idea.
Domestically, I also see no more pressing issue than the fact that 2.3 million Americans, or roughly 1 in 100 adults, are now in prison, mostly poor minorities and largely for non-violent offenses that ought not be crimes in the first place. Ron Paul says he would do away with the war on drugs and pardon many of its victims; Barack Obama, by contrast, hasn’t freed a single person behind bars, instead choosing to use his enormous power as president to unilaterally launch new wars and threaten states that dare consider legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries.
Ron Paul may be a dick, but at least he’s not a murderous dick that would throw you in prison for growing some pot. Go ahead and don’t vote for him — again, by all means. But instead of discussing how awful he is, I’d like to hear folks like Taibbi discuss why they still support Obama — less “Why I Can’t Vote For Ron Paul,” more, “Why I Can Vote for Barack Obama.” Or, better yet, I’d like to hear ideas on non-electoral alternatives to supporting, yes, a mass murderer. I’m all ears.
Addendum: Since some of you in the comments think I’m somehow backing off my original position, let me clarify. When I say that I’m conscious I may be using “my personal hobby horse” — empire, or rather, the state bombing little children with cluster bombs — as a litmus test for politicians, I’m being sarcastic. A year or so ago Chris Floyd and I were accused by one particularly dull liberal blogger of of making issues of war and peace our silly little “hobby horse,” and I’ve since embraced the term.
Perhaps I was too subtle — there’s a first for everything — but, obviously, if somebody believes it’s okay to blow poor foreigners up with munitions because somebody Bad might be in the vicinity, then they are fucked as a human being and not worthy of your support, whether they’re a politician or a friend (I’m harsh like that). If you believe it’s okay to murder innocent men, women and children with Predator drones, I don’t care what your position on Social Security is.
Also, to be gratuitous: Fuck Matt Tabbi on this.