Ron Paul does not hold up my mirror

A column by Matt Stoller argues that Ron Paul angers liberals because he tackles stuff——central government’s financial power and its war-making power——that liberals either support or tolerate, even though they’re not compatible with the liberal worldview. Cheering the column, Glenn Greenwald argues that Paul generates liberal opposition because he’s “a mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception.” Greenwald concedes Paul has politically horrible positions, but argues that as Obama’s positions (claiming the authority to assassinate American citizens without trial, for example), there’s no rational, consistent reason not to treat Paul as a viable candidate.
Greenwald’s made this argument before, and seems to see it mostly as an attack on Obama apologists (at least that’s how it reads to me——I don’t claim to know what he’s thinking). Stoller seems to think a Paul presidency has real promise. You can find good counter-arguments from Echidne, Lawyers, Guns and Money and Noahpinion, but what I’d like to talk about is something related that this brings to mine: The challenge of being a follower.
Historian Gary Wills pointed out some years back that we never discuss what it takes to follow and actively support a candidate. We discuss leadership a lot, but treat following in terms of an ideal leader, someone who fits our qualifications so perfectly that we won’t have any qualms, questions or compromises: We can forge ahead with total absolute loyalty!
In real life, that’s rare. What’s more likely to happen is that we appraise candidates compared to the issues we care about, or our assessment of their character and ethics, or how often they say the right things and settle for the best of what may be a bad lot. And hope that our pick delivers on what she promises.
Stoller asserts that liberal criticism of Paul hinges on “Paul having character defects” because there’s no other reason not to support him (he admits Paul’s racism might be a problem). Well … no. I don’t support Paul because of his racism, his sexism (as Echidne notes, he believes sexual harassment short of rape or violence should be legal) and because I disagree with his fundamental worldview.
I don’t agree with Obama’s worldview of unchecked presidential power and an overreaching security state either (and I have the blog posts and columns to prove it), but I believe that in the long run we’ll end up worse with a Ron Paul presidency. I believe we’re better off than with any of the Republicans. That’s an unpleasant compromise——I wish to God we had an anti-war candidate other than Paul——but I see it as the best option (this is a separate topic from how much of his agenda Paul could accomplish or whether he’d switch policies once in the White House, as Obama has, but those are valid questions too)
Stoller thinks the compromises we’d have to make to follow Paul are reasonable; I don’t. That’s not because of some inherent contradiction in my liberal worldview, it’s because of the inherent contradiction in having to choose someone who doesn’t share my beliefs perfectly. I’m not thrilled by the choices, just as large numbers of Republicans will probably end up holding their nose and voting for Romney this year.
Because as followers, we can only follow what’s available.

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