Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Dangerous is Ron Paul Really?

Adele M. Stan, in her Alternet article, "5 Reasons Progressives Should Treat Ron Paul with Extreme Caution -- 'Cuddly' Libertarian Has Some Very Dark Politics," begins with a snide reference to Rep. Paul as an "anti-war Republican...as if that's good enough." Since he is the only anti-war Republican seeking the Presidency and there is no anti-war Democrat seeking the Presidency, perhaps that is good enough.

"But Ron Paul is much, much more than that," Stan continues. "He's the anti-Civil-Rights-Act Republican. He's an anti-reproductive-rights Republican. He's a gay-demonizing Republican. He's an anti-public education Republican and an anti-Social Security Republican. He's the John Birch Society's favorite congressman. And he's a booster of the Constitution Party, which has a Christian Reconstructionist platform. So, if you're a member of the anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-senior-citizen, anti-equality, anti-education, pro-communist-witch-hunt wing of the progressive movement, I can see how he'd be your guy."

Let us consider this litany of charges "lit by lit."

Ron Paul opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2004, Rep. Paul spoke against a resolution commemorating passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and it failed to achieve its stated goals, which, according to Dr. Paul, were promoting racial harmony and a color-blind society. To say that a law is unconstitional is not to say it is undesirable, any more than saying a law is constitutional affirms its desirability. Prior to 1913, a federal income tax was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. With ratification of the 16th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it became constitutional, though many argue it remains undesirable.

I never have read the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so I do not know if it states as its goals the promoting of racial harmony and color-blindness in American society. But I agree with Dr. Paul that racial dissonance and color perceptiveness are very much present with us still. Whether that is attributable to attempts to enforce the law is another matter. Dr. Paul sees a causal link. Does that make him anti-black?

..and supports racist organizations.

The evidence Stan presents for this charge is the fact that Paul "occasionally appears at events sponsored by the John Birch Society, the segregationist right-wing organization that is closely aligned with the Christian Reconstructionist wing of the religious right."

First, Ron Paul is a politician. Politicians are notorious for going wherever there is an audience that will listen and, hopefully, give money. Second, while the John Birch Society did indeed oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sociologist Stuart A. Wright has stated that "their political racism however was no different from both Republicans and Democratic politicians of the time," according to Wikipedia's article on the JBS. In the absence of clear evidence that Ron Paul is a racist, Stan considers it enough to say he is at times seen in the company of people who may be racist. Should we all stop attending family reunions?

...and espouses racist views.

This charge is based on an article in The New Republic that cited allegedly racist statements in newsletters published under Ron Paul's name. The only comment acually cited in Stan's article concerns the L.A. riots of 1992. Paul has stated, according to Stan, that the remark was not his, that he finds it offensive and that he accepts responsibility for not monitoring the content of his newsletters as carefully as he ought have. No case for Stan so far.

Ron Paul wants to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This is true. Not only does he believe Roe was a misinterpretation of the Constitution, but he has introduced a so-called "Sanctity of Life" bill that would forbid federal agencies or courts from any involvement in the abortion issue. States would be free to outlaw, or permit, abortion as they choose. While I disagree with Paul on this, his proposal is less radical than that of other Republican candidates who favor a nationwide ban on all abortions. As for President Obama, his rhetoric and legislative records are decidedly pro choice; however, in March of 2010, he signed an executive order that would preserve current limits to federal funding of abortion. This was part of a deal, no doubt, to gain pro-life Democratic votes on the health care bill. So a woman's right to choose to procreate or not is less than secure under the Obama administration.

Ron Paul is a homophobe.

This is based on one article cited in the same The New Republic article mentioned above, Again: Ron Paul denies having written those articles and, hopefully, is being more vigilant about what goes out under his name. From the fact that Paul supports the right of states to legalize same-sex marriage, if they choose, one can infer that he would support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (which, incidentally, President Clinton, a "progressive" Democrat, signed into law). This puts Rep. Paul in the same ball park with President Obama, who opposes DOMA but would not force states to recognize recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Ron Paul calls Social Security unconstitutional and compares it to slavery.

Again, desirability and constitutionality are separate issues. If there are sound legal arguments that Social Security is unconstitutional, they have not made it to the courts in seventy-five years and I doubt they ever will. Put it in the same category with Barack Obama's views on legalization of marijuana -- people believe weird things.

Ron Paul never said that Social Security is equvalent to slavery. What Stan quoted him as saying was, "the courts said slavery was legal, too, and we had to reverse that." This was in response to a question from Chris Wallace about the 1937 Supreme Court ruling that upheld Social Security. Paul was not saying Social Security equals slavery, he was saying the Supreme Court is some times wrong. Think Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson -- see what he means?

Ron Paul supports Christian Reconstructionists and the John Birch Society.

More guilt by association. Was Ted Kennedy not a true progressive because he co sponsored legislation with Orrin Hatch? In politics, your friend is whoever is on your side at this moment. Different issues, different friends. That's how it works.

SO, what sets Ron Paul apart from all other Republican candidates and the only Democratic candidate for President in 2012?

Ron Paul is THE anti-war candidate. He is also THE end-the-war-on-drugs candidate and THE stop-trying-to-run-the-world-through-military-interventionism-and-empire-building candidate. Among Democrats and Republicans, that is.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dumb Credulity or Engaged Reflection?

Today's gospel from the RCL is Matthew's account of the temptation of Jesus (Mt. 4.1-11). Christians normally focus on this as proof of two things: a)Jesus was tempted to sin and b)Jesus did not sin. What they fail to consider, more than in passing, is that the entire temptation narrative is in the form of a debate over scripture.
Satan first challenges Jesus to prove that he is God's son by demonstraing that God will feed him in the wilderness as he did Moses, Elijah and the whole Hebrew people at the Exodus: “If you are God's son, order these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Jesus responds with a quote from Deuteronomy: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”(Dt. 8.3)
So begins the rabbinical debate. The devil has a proof-text of his own: “If you are God's son, throw yourself down [from the top of the temple], for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a rock.’” (Psalm 91.11,12) to which Jesus retorts, again from Deuteronomy:
“‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,(Dt. 6.16)’” but he is also alluding to Psalm 95.8,9: “Do not harden your hearts as in the Rebellion, during the day of testing in the desert, where your fathers tempted me;" which, in turn, alludes to the story of water coming from a rock in Exodus 17.
Finally, when urged to seek an empire of his own, Jesus reverts to Deuteronomy: “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Dt. 6.13)
When we see this not as a record of an historical conversation over public displays of power and Satan worship, but rather as an example of the right and wrong ways to approach the sacred texts we see that the wrong way is to cherry-pick isolated proof-texts to suit the occasion. The correct, rabbinical approach is to challenge the text that does not agree with ones own good judgment and put it in a larger context. (God may have promised not to allow his faithful to stump their toes on a rock, but he also used a story about a rock to warn against demanding miraculous solutions to human problems) The Qur'an makes a similar point in Sura 3.7--some scriptures are to be taken at face value--others are metaphors. Only God knows which is which. The only way we can discern the mind of God is to force our own minds to grapple with the text.