Monday, February 27, 2012

The 2012 Election: Hoping Amidst Despair or Why I'm voting for Ron Paul

It’s been an interesting election cycle.  I certainly am a fairly opinionated chap, but my support for Dr. Ron Paul and his policies have put me at odds with both friends on the right and left.  My friends on the left deplore Dr. Paul’s unbridled free markets, his social libertarianism, and his pro-life stance.  My friends on the right consider Dr. Paul’s so-called isolationism weak, his monetary policy outdated, and his drug policy reckless.  Yet, should not such a “polarizing” figure be right at home in an America which is us vs. them, the 99 vs. the 1, evangelicals vs. everyone else?  Perhaps.  Except that’s not entirely the narrative.  Unlike all the other campaigns of the right or the left, Dr. Paul’s has an amazing cross-sectional appeal : former Obama voters, disaffected independents, Republicans who had enough of Bush…it’s quite a party.  With the final debate in the can before Super Tuesday, it’s perhaps a good time for me to reflect on why I support Dr. Paul, despite some key disagreements I have with his philosophies.

Firstly, I support Dr. Paul’s anti-war stance.  As a Catholic I know that war is a punishment visited upon an unrepentant, sinful mankind.  WWI and WWII were akin to the Flood, remorselessly wiping out vast swaths of humanity.  The wars of the last 50 years have not been nearly as devastating, but they are, in the light of a century, aftershocks from the initial moral earthquake of the two World Wars.  No Catholic and (I would hope) no one who calls themselves Christian or civilized sees war as a good.  It is an evil and it is only to be very reluctantly taken up when all other avenues have failed.

Americans have never been particularly keen on keeping up with the rest of the world.  They are quite interested in minding their own business and as such it was only reluctantly that the American people were drug into WWI and only by a homeland attack were they galvanized into action in WWII.  However, it wasn’t until 9/11 that the conception of “war as evil” left the American psyche.  

For decades prior to September 11th, 2001, Americans had sustained Islamic attacks.  While I was still learning cursive in the early 1980s, the Marine Barracks in Beirut were bombed.  Then, over time, we had the World Trade Center bombing, the USS Cole, and the Khobar Towers, as well as the forgotten Oklahoma City bombing – notable only in that it failed to make Americans buy into the “terrorist under every bed” lie.  Americans really didn’t care about any of these events.  They were far away (especially in Oklahoma, deep in the heart of “flyover country”), caused by radical extremists, and not really something that touched our National Security.  But Neocon warhawks, like Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, at the Project for a New American Century, kept the faith and opined for a “new Pearl Harbor.”  Not that surprisingly, they got one.
The lies behind the official story of 9/11 are a topic for another time.  What is germane to this essay is the acknowledgement that 9/11 worked.  Americans, like shocked children who just had something taken from that, reacted brutally.  We invaded a country that asked for proof that Osama bin Laden had masterminded the attacks.  We refused to provide proof (because we had none – other than we thought 15 Saudis had carried out the attacks) and bombed Afghanistan and drove it into chaos and despair that reigns until this day and hour.  We scooped up hundreds of young men wherever we could find them, labeled them with the neologism (and legal fiction) of “enemy combatant,” and threw them into a legal black hole called Guantanamo Bay.  In this black hole we tortured with no proof, held with no warrant or writ of habeas corpus, and released, quietly, when it became apparent that these men were perhaps unsavory but certainly innocent of crime.  We invaded another country in the region under the pretext of a new doctrine: pre-emptive war – a war ahead of time, sort of like buying your tickets before a concert.  Yet, the lies that took us there were quietly excused by the media years on.  Not happy with this terrible series of wars, we started drone bombing the border of Pakistan, a nuclear power full of Islamists violently opposed to the Great Satan. 

Obama, our “change” President, has out-bushed Bush in his foreign policy decisions.  He’s continued torture and detention in Guantanamo, refusing to close it down.  He’s even doubled-down.  Knowing the long and tortuous process of legal trial and detention in our legal black hole in Cuba, he’s taken to assassinating US citizens without trial, something even self-proclaimed would-be dictator President Bush would not have done.  The USAF simply cannot train drone pilots fast enough.  It is now an 8-month program that results in getting a lightning bolt to pin on one’s uniform.  It’s remarkably apropos, as it is evocative of the wrath of Zeus, which would arbitrarily rain down without warning on poor mortals.  Operating from bases in Nevada and New Mexico, our drone pilots can murder Pakistani civilians half a world away with no mortal danger to themselves and still make it home in time for dinner. 
Telling us that he’s interested in pulling out of Iraq, but incautiously supporting a war with Iran that sounds, in its rhetoric, remarkably like the leadup to war in 2003, Obama now has wars of his own, not just inheritances from George W. Bush.  Not only that, he’s put people into positions of power and oversight that are notable only in their utter disqualifications for their positions, both in their pre-appointment stances or in their performance since taking on their jobs.  Janet Napolitano, ostensibly in charge of “homeland security” has not only shown herself to be utterly unconcerned with guarding our borders (which, even if you buy into the Al-Qaeda narrative of a “terrorist under every bed,” you should be concerned about – the border with Mexico is a remarkably easy place to cross and bring in weapons), but is also committed to turning sporting events and malls and schools into screening and spying events that George Orwell could not have dreamed of.  Leon Panetta is famous for turning down a promotion to an officer position because that would have prolonged his minimum 2-year draft period in the Army.  He’s now in charge at Defense.  And Hilary Clinton owes her position to political bridge building, in the spirit of healing a divided party after a bruising nominating contest.  Surely her foreign policy credentials were garnered during State trips with her husband and a brief stint in the Senate, but not through any long-term hard work.  Her “expertise” is in the tradition of Condoleeza Rice, the “Russian expert” who spoke not a word of the language.

Unlike Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or Obama, Ron Paul is remarkably anti-war.  It might be because he’s the only one of any of them who has ever served a single day in uniform and knows that war is more than some jingoistic endeavor you wrap the American flag in.  Dr. Paul also commands the respect, support, and (for those of us who know how little they are paid, this is perhaps the most remarkable fact) financial backing of the troops, particularly recent combat veterans.  He has more support from them than all the other Republican candidates combined, and on a stand-alone basis, more than Obama.  Backed by the unconditional support of the military-industrial complex, the US government (whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats) is inexorably committed to permanent war.  And why not?  It helps push sales of one of the only things America manufactures anymore: weapons. 

Dr. Paul is at the head of the first nationally known seriously antiwar campaign since the times of George McGovern or Bobby Kennedy that is so popular.  For those of us who followed and supported Dr. Paul in 2008, watching him garner 10% or 17% or even 30% in places in 2012 where 4 years ago he received 1%, 2%, or 5% is mind-blowing.  “Radical” ideas – ones that challenge the status quo – are never “popular” until their time has definitively come.  And those times come because enough people are having conversations with others that challenge their numbed-out, American Idol, status quo mentality.  Clearly this has been happening over the last four years because Dr. Paul’s support is growing – in many of the states he consistently runs at 10% or higher, which means one out of every ten people are receptive to the ideas of seriously changing the direction of our country.  For those of us who see the fight not in terms of winning an election, but in the light of eternity, this is very encouraging.  It is irony and a sign of the times that the “Catholics” in this race (Santorum and Gingrich) are selectively ignorant and ignoring of traditional Catholic Just War doctrine.  These ideas, developed by Augustine and through to St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus, find their defender today in a Protestant. 
As a final thought on this theme, some are surprised by our current drive into Syria and Iran as the latest chess moves to affect regime change.  I’m not.  Back in 1861, the United States invaded another sovereign country, in order to “show it democracy.”  It ruthlessly attacked a foreign populace that posed no domestic threat , using war as an excuse to destroy civil liberties at home, even though the war was not conducted on its own soil.  It then occupied the conquered territory for a number of years, acting tyrannically and immorally the entire time, and then abruptly left the region in a much worse state than before.  I’m talking about the Confederacy, of course.  It was here that America not only learned to love Big Brother, but became Big Brother, and has been the unappointed, unelected, unaccountable bully policeman of the world ever since.
A close second to my love for Dr. Paul’s anti-war stance is his stalwart opposition to the Fed and his support of a gold standard.  The Federal Reserve is something that many, many Americans are tremendously ignorant of.  For those who really want to know what happened to our monetary system in 1913, I would recommend G. Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island.  It’s long, it’s hard in parts, but like anything worth reading, it tears down many veils of ignorance.  These veils give Americans the sense that the Fed is a governmental institution.  Dr. Paul perhaps knew such a long read to be a deterrent and thus penned his much shorter End the Fed.  Both books start by explaining that the Federal Reserve Act was written by representatives of all the large banking families in the US and the World (it was then, and is now, always a family business).  It was passed through Congress through the greasing of many representatives and senators, less than a century after President Andrew Jackson had the foresight to crush the Bank of the United States.  The Federal Reserve Act removed from the United States a singular privilege of any government, democratic or no:  the power to create and regulate currency.  It put that power into the hands of a private cartel, who sold shares of the cartel to any bank that wanted to join and could cough up the dough.  Created to help preserve us from market boom and bust, it has presided over every boom and bust since 1913 and rather than help to stop some of these financial disasters, has actively helped to precipitate them.  For those with even shorter memories than our current twitter-based attention span allow for, a large part of the financial crisis can be tied to Alan Greenspan’s absurd desire to keep interest rates artificially low for far too long together with his, Robert Rubin’s, and Larry Summer’s filibustering to stop the regulation of derivatives – a high-stakes form of gambling which is so crippling to the world’s financial markets and overall structure that it can’t be seen by many: it surrounds us like a shroud, simply creating an impression of darkness while leading people to believe it was “always this way.”  (Again, for those who have no idea what I just wrote about, check out Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail and Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera’s The Devils are All Here.)

American needs to repeal the Federal Reserve Act, reassign the right to create and print money to the Treasury Department, and start tying the supply of money to something that has held value and sway for over 5,000 years: gold.  Still used even in our electronics, gold possesses the three most important and time-tested characteristics of real money:  scarcity, divisibility, and inherent value.  Our current Federal Reserve Notes, which Gerald Celente famously says are not worth the paper they’re not printed on, continue to be inflated away through the euphemism of Quantitative Easing.  Americans’ buying power and savings have been systematically stolen through inflation, controlled by the Federal Reserve, since 1913.  The sleepers will sleep while those who know, leverage.  Dr. Paul is the only candidate willing to challenge the unsurpassed power of the Federal Reserve.

The third major reason that I support Dr. Paul is because he is an unabashed localist and states’ rights supporter.  Now, such a stance may color him unfashionable since 1865 and more recently, since the New London vs. Kelo case, but I see it as the ultimate solution to an increasingly polarized society spread out across a country as large as the United States. 
When Jefferson authorized the Louisiana Purchase (a decision which conflicted with his core beliefs of strict constructionism), he opined that this would perhaps open the way for other American republics on the continent.  He never foresaw the single sea-to-shining-sea country popularized by Polk and forever stamped on the imagination of Americans.  For a long while, through trials and tribulations, the experiment worked.  But, in 1865, the notion of America as a federation of independent states ended, and the idea of a unitary state, with clients set up in the state capitols, began.  Yet, despite this reality, the dream of independence and local control still run deep in the heart of Americans.  Dr. Paul’s approach of ending top-down control of every single aspect of our lives by the Federal Government is the practical one in the era in which the Social Reign of Christ is discouraged by the Vatican itself.

At the risk of losing a lot of my readers here, I need to detour into a Catholic’s view of government, derived from Christ’s admonition to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s,” which is not the famous “government is evil” soundtrack that many “conservatives” listen to and which even has a resonance in the Pauline (latter, not Christian) community.  Catholics understand government as a good, not just as a necessary evil.  “If men were angels” we would not  need government, but afflicted with original sin, government takes the place of the Creator in our everyday lives, by “forcing” and “encouraging” us through incentives and penalties to live in harmony with each other.  Apart from the simple punitive function of the law, Catholics understand law as having an edifying aspect: the law can force you to act civilly and virtuously towards your neighbor.  These forced actions can become habits, and as Aristotle famously defined excellence and other virtues, one can be transformed through those habits, even though one did not ardently profess those virtues as worthy of belief or imitation (I personally retired from speeding some years ago, something habituated through years of living in Southern California, when I found out that it was actually illegal in a Midwest that was relatively crime-free).  Catholics should not be anti-government, and that is what perhaps bothers many of my conservative friends about the libertarian streaks in the Ron Paul movement.  However, there are many, many agencies that we could do without – that even liberals who abhor waste and fraud could do without.  I think that is where Dr. Paul resonates across party lines.  All that local control means is that in some places your ideas won’t win (losing is such a tough notion for Americans).  In a locally-focused world, abortion might always be legal in Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, or New York City, but would probably definitely be illegal in Bakersfield, Carson City, or Syracuse.  This frees up people advocating for both the pro-life and the pro-choice positions to abandon their fruitless, pointless endeavor of trying to convert 50% of the country to their respective points of view and allows for the conversation to be local, where most Americans spend most of their lives any way.  As someone ardently pro-life, I certainly am for the outlawing of abortion – but I’ve also read and experienced enough to realize that even seven Republican-nominated judges can’t overrule a badly-ruled court case.  That fact, and because I reject the imperial role that we’ve allowed the Supreme Court to take in our lives anyway, are why I don’t look to a national solution. 

It is these three major points of agreement, points defended and championed singularly by Dr. Paul and by NONE of the other candidates, including the President, that make me take up the cause of Dr. Paul.  It follows now that I must share my disagreements.

My single largest disagreement with Dr. Paul comes regarding the concept of the “free market,” so beloved by Austrian economists.  Again, I must detour for my readers who don’t understand the Catholic notion of economics (and for those who are sighing that there is a “Catholic” position for almost everything – you have to understand that our Faith, because it is an intensely intellectual, yet also quite simple, religion, informs everything we do.  St. Anselm famously said, “I believe so that I may understand.”  Thinking Catholics take both belief AND understanding seriously.  We actually think the BBC Planet Earth series was pretty cool.).  Adam Smith many centuries ago articulated the notion of the “invisible hand” which guides markets.  This is somewhat of a helpful description, as the market does move through forces that are beyond the control of any one individual.  However, it is also a dangerous concept, because it makes it seem as though economics is something that is out of our control, and further, beyond the realm of morality.  This is, of course, false.  Anything that is in the sphere of humankind is connected to the moral universe that we inhabit.  Hence, economics has to have a moral dimension.  

I feel as though for centuries people have tried to baptize Capitalism and make it “good” in their own light.  But the problem is that Capitalism cannot account for social justice (a fundamental goal of Catholics), as social justice has no “economic value.”  It cannot be reduced to a cipher of “profit,” and hence, falls out of the equation.  I’ll hear Dr. Paul refer to “crony capitalism” and wince, because capitalism needs no adjective to make it bad.  It is, in and of itself, a system that tends towards the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a very few.  G.K. Chesterton famously said that his problem with capitalism is that it creates far too few capitalists.  Such a system is fundamentally at odds with the Gospel.

Libertarians love to talk in abstractions, in their perfect government-and-morality-free worlds, but as a conservative I prefer to speak in concrete terms.  The reason I can’t allow the free markets to dictate how economics should work for humans is because of the rampant immorality I see even when there is alleged “regulation.”  I think about the utter theft at the moment I write this of all the water in the Ogallaga Aquifer by private corporations led by the likes of environmental rapist-for-hire T. Boone Pickens.  He and his ilk exploit and manipulate local water laws, laws that never foresaw the powerful industrial strength which could pull water out of the ground at far beyond the replenishment rate.  These reptiles have no sense of stewardship over this amazing, beautiful planet that we have been given by God to cherish and protect.

Lakes and streams are polluted by industries that will do the minimum they need to do to skirt the (soon to expire) Clean Water Act, etc.  Capitalism, with its “efficiencies” of the profit model, cares little for taking care of the environment that helps make it so much money.  Use it up and throw it away.  Oh, and make sure you please DON’T recycle.  Scott Richert wrote recently that Dr. Paul would likely defend Wal-Mart as a great example of the power of the free market.  As someone who values and owns small businesses, I grieve and am pained at that truth.  Capitalism, free-market, crony, pick your adjective, is an enabler of the “Golden Rule:” He who has the gold, rules.
Secondly, I have a problem with the fact that Dr. Paul does not accept as a reality the enduring moral order that is part of our universe.  Making arguments from a libertarian point of view, Dr. Paul is sometimes unaware of the intellectual inconsistencies he creates in articulating his positions.  He very recently said on the campaign trail that people should be able to “put whatever they want in their bodies.”  However, this line of reasoning leads us to allowing for abortion, something that Dr. Paul, as the deliverer of over 4,000 babies in his career as a doctor, is vehemently opposed to.  In the hubbub about Rick Santorum’s contraception positions, Dr. Paul says that contraception comes from immorality, but at the same time, he is articulating a vision that the government is not to play a role in articulating morality.  Yet, surely we should hope to do something in governing other than being a large-scale recess monitor, where we are just making sure that people don’t get severely hurt.  Surely, “do no harm” are good words to live by, but in and of themselves, they are deficient in omitting the “do good” or “overcome the darkness with light” that logically and morally follow.

Indeed, we “legislate morality” all the time.  It is how murder is illegal.  We see it, as a society, as wrong, and “legislate” against it.  So too, if Dr. Paul (correctly) diagnoses that contraception comes from immorality, he (incorrectly) prescribes government non-interference as the solution to those ills.  Here too I am always surprised at my liberal friends who are all too willing to use the government as a tool of reform as they see it: allowing gay marriage, sterilizing mass numbers of people, taxing us 70% or more – but never as a tool of morality, i.e. encouraging marriage and children, protecting the most vulnerable in our society, and increasing virtue in society as a whole.   (Indeed, what continues to baffle me is the liberals wish to convert everyone to their way of thinking.  Liberals famously preach their tolerance, yet are often without even one token conservative friend.  They preach their open-mindedness, unless you disagree with them on gay marriage, abortion, or contraception.  I always do cherish my few liberal friends who are open, honest, and are willing to engage on these issues.) 
Finally, again, as a Catholic, I understand the tax code in the light of Our Lord’s admonition that to “whom much is given, much is expected.”  This is not some pie-in-the-sky philosophizing from some nice Jewish rabbi.  Indeed, it spells out an idea, spoken from the mouth of God, that has consequences in our everyday lives.  Those who make more money should pay more taxes.  Period.  Those who claim to be “Christian” and say otherwise are simply ignoring this inconvenient truth for the much more convenient (and frankly, more comfortable) Gospel of Wealth.  And hence we get back to, “he who has the gold, rules.”

Are these points minor?  Disagreement with the notion of “free markets,” opposition to the philosophy of libertarianism, and fundamental disagreement about tax policy?  No, they are not minor.  However, I weigh those reasons on the scale of the major reasons I support Dr. Paul: support of traditional Just War doctrine (and by extension our civil liberties), the setting up of a sound monetary system in place of a private cartel, and the championing of localism as the fight back to the triumph of liberal top-down policy through the Federal Government.  These points of disagreement, in my humble estimation, do not outweigh the points of agreement.  Russell Kirk often pointed out, “politics is the art of the possible.” I do find it impossible that continuing our present course is tenable.  Radical change to our failed policies is all that can help this cancerous body politic.
This year, I registered Republican for the first time in my life, much to my chagrin (independents love to champion their non-partisanship), but it was for the sole reason of being legally able to caucus for Dr. Paul in Kansas.  I do so not because I see “victory” as a win in this presidential election or the next, but because I know that the fight for ideas takes generations, and I hope to be part of the momentum that eventually helps those ideas triumph.  I’ve voted 3rd party in the last 2 presidential elections so I clearly don’t buy the principle of “the lesser of two evils.”  If I spend my entire adult life choosing practicality over principles, what kind of man am I, really?

I do hope that this little epistle continues the ongoing conversations I have with my liberal and conservative friends: life really is far more complicated that the easy black and white lines that Republicans and Democrats want us to fit into.  And if you accept those complications, you accept that we are going to have to talk and work through our differences so that we can live in peace.  Together.  This red and blue thing has to go.

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