I've been mostly staying away from the discussion about Ron Paul at Daily Kos. To offer anything but un-nuanced and unconditional condemnation -- to introduce any sort of "yes, but" into the proceedings -- is to invite a, well, less than edifying exchange.
So I was happy to come across a piece that perfectly reflects my thinking on the topic. I endorse every word of the post by Corey Robin.
First, Robin explains what's wrong with Ron Paul, which extends well beyond the racism in his newsletters.
Ron Paul’s problem is not merely the racist newsletters, the close ties with Lew Rockwell, his views on abortion, or even his stance on the 1964 Civil Rights Act—though these automatically disqualify him from my support. His real problem is his fundamentalist commitment to federalism, which would make any notion of human progress in this country impossible...Paul is a distinctively American type of libertarian: one that doesn’t have a critique of the state so much as a critique of the federal government. That’s a very different kettle of fish.
Although Ron Paul has argued that racism is at the heart of the war on drugs, in practice his radical federalism would still allow states to wage it. As Robin points out, only about 10% of the 2 million prisoners in this country are in federal prisons. What is rhetorical opposition to racist polices worth if it's trumped by a Thurmond-like devotion to States Rights? More than nothing but not much -- not nearly as much as left-liberal opposition to the drug war.
But for Robin, and for me, the discussion doesn't end there. It doesn't end there because of the shameful void on the left that Paul's candidacy exposes. We all knew it was there, of course, but this presidential race -- in which the most prominent critic of the bipartisan and racist war machine hails from the hard right -- casts the void in a particularly ugly light.
Our problem—and again by “our” I mean a left that’s social democratic (or welfare state liberal or economically progressive or whatever the hell you want to call it) and anti-imperial—is that we don’t really have a vigorous national spokesperson for the issues of war and peace, an end to empire, a challenge to Israel, and so forth, that Paul has in fact been articulating. The source of Paul’s positions on these issues are not the same as ours (again more reason not to give him our support). But he is talking about these issues, often in surprisingly blunt and challenging terms. Would that we had someone on our side who could make the case against an American empire, or American supremacy, in such a pungent way.
This, it’s clear, is why people like Glenn Greenwald say that Paul’s voice needs to be heard. Not, Greenwald makes clear, because he supports Paul, but because it is a terrible comment—a shanda for the left—that we don’t have anyone on our side of comparable visibility launching an attack on American imperialism and warfare.
This is not about President Obama. This is about the left. This is about us. This is about our impotence in the face of the National Security State, which is devouring our resources and our rights, endangering us, and brutalizing people around the world. In the view of some, this is a "marginal issue" unconnected to their lives. But even if people don't give a toss about the National Security State's primary victims, I hope they can come to understand the connections between American war-making and the social conditions in our country.
What we need, desperately, are national leaders of the left who are willing to wage political battle against the American war machine. Or, to be more precise, we need to create a country that gives rise to such leaders.
Ron Paul is unacceptable, and it’s unacceptable that we don’t have someone on the left who is raising the issues of imperialism, war and peace, and civil liberties in as visible and forceful a way.
UPDATE: Many people in comments have pointed out that there are, in fact, forceful critics of war and imperialism on the left, but they are simultaneously ignored by the press and attacked by some ostensible progressives. There's truth in this: consider, for example, Kos's relentless ridiculing of Kucinich.
But it's a simply a fact that regardless of the reason, few, if any, anti-war, anti-imperialism liberals or leftists have national platforms or national followings. As I suggest at the end of the post above, it's up to us, through OWS and similar efforts, to make the political environment hospitable for such leaders.
Alan Grayson has potential. He's not just an economic populist but also a critic of imperialism (even if he's been unwilling to criticize Israel's imperialism.) Here he critiques imperialism in the context of the war in Afghanistan.
"The basic premise that we alter Afghan society is extremely flawed…I’ve been to a hundred-seventy-five countries all around the world including Afghanistan, including every country in that region, and what I’ve seen everywhere I go is that there are some commonalties everywhere you go. Everywhere you go people want to fall in love. It’s an interesting thing. Everywhere you go, people love children. Everywhere, they love children. Everywhere you go, there’s a taboo against violence. Every single place you go. And everywhere you go, people want to be left alone. And that’s the best foreign policy of all: Just to leave people alone.”