“In the United States, the imperialist war waged against Spain in 1898 stirred up the opposition of the ‘anti-imperialists.’ the last of the Mohicans of bourgeois democracy who declared this war to be ‘criminal,’ regarded the annexation of foreign territories as a violation of the Constitution, declared that the treatment of Aguinaldo, leader of the Filipinos (the Americans promised him the independence of his country, but later landed troops and annexed it), was ‘jingo treachery,” and quoted the words of Lincoln: ‘When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs others, it is no longer self-government; it is despotism.’ But as long, as all this criticism shrank from recognizing the inseverable bond between imperialism and the trusts, and, therefore, between imperialism and the foundations of capitalism, while it shrank from joining the forces engendered by large-scale capitalism and its development-it remained a ‘pious wish.’” (Vladimir Lenin, Spring 1916)
“Simply put, freedom is the absence of government coercion. Our Founding Fathers understood this, and created the least coercive government in the history of the world. The Constitution established a very limited, decentralized government to provide national defense and little else. States, not the federal government, were charged with protecting individuals against criminal force and fraud. For the first time, a government was created solely to protect the rights, liberties, and property of its citizens. Any government coercion beyond that necessary to secure those rights was forbidden, both through the Bill of Rights and the doctrine of strictly enumerated powers. This reflected the founders’ belief that democratic government could be as tyrannical as any King.” (Ron Paul, February 8, 2005)
What are we to make of the ideological oddity that is Ron Paul? The Texas congressman, who is by many accounts slowly and steadily attaining frontrunner status as a candidate for president in the GOP primaries, in spite of the media’s willful ignorance, wants to end U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and beyond–along with the military-industrial complex that supports and profits from it–and then remove every last governmental restraint on the ability of America’s ruling capitalists to reinvest the “peace dividend” in what he promises will be productive, socially beneficial endeavors. He wants to dismantle the expanding Homeland-Security police state at home and force cops to actually give a shit about the Bill of Rights, even presumably in the ghettos, which he tells us can do without taxpayer-funded “welfare-state” provisions like public schools and hospitals. He wants to restore America to its purer, more noble past, a throwback utopia that emerged historically straight out of the heads of Jefferson, Madison, and the rest of the crew. If he is unreasonable, it is only because he is incorruptible.
We are living in a time of universal corruption in government and in private commercial life. Indeed, as the two grow ever more corrupt, they appear ever more inseparable. Obama and the “serious” GOP candidates this time around don’t even seem all that interested in engaging with that teeming mass of unwashed known as their constituents. They know the jig is up. They know that American politics has at long last declared independence from the stultifying, deceptive analytical paradigm peddled incessantly by the Wolf Blitzers and David Gergens of society. These official gatekeepers would have us believe that Barack Hoo-sane Obama is the best the working class could ever hope for and that Ron Paul is the worst it has to fear. History has not yet come back from the dead for these reasonable, pragmatic adults in the room. They are clinging desperately to Fukuyama’s opium dream of a world where each of the billions of exploited wretches on the planet wants to be like Michael Jordan or Bono or Bill Clinton eating a Big Mac while getting his dick sucked. If Mitt Romney can be said to have any base at all, it is these Bourbons of the Beltway who have recently stepped down from their lofty political perches in order to smear Mr. Paul as a “racist” or worse.
Because mainstream debate has never taken seriously even the remote possibility of a Ron Paul presidency, nobody it seems has given any real thought to how a Ron Paul administration might actually govern. American history is filled with presidents who built their political careers advocating one thing only to do a complete 180 when they got to the White House. Jefferson started out as a fierce opponent of American territorial expansion but his greatest legacy as president was the Louisiana Purchase. Lincoln opposed the further expansion of slavery as a candidate in 1860 but went out of his way to disavow abolitionism during the campaign. Wilson kept us out of World War I until he didn’t. Reagan told us government is the problem and then presided over the most astronomical deficit expansion to date at the time. Obama . . . nuff said.
But no candidate for president other than Ron Paul has ever been so committed to an idea as to be seemingly indifferent to who his base is. Like some silver-tongued Roman orator, Paul speaks of a republic lost and an empire in decay and promises to return us to our former Ciceronian virtue by demolishing both the “warfare state” that the left so despises and the “welfare state” that the right professionally loves to hate. In doing so, he has made the strangest of bedfellows out of a remarkably diverse coalition of white boys, from young college kids, to rural armed survivalists. To publicly support Ron Paul is to be personally at least tolerated by all of the politicized sections of the 99 percent, from the Tea Party to the Occupations and everywhere in between. Put this guy in the oval office, and there’s no telling, it seems, what he would try to get away with, much less accomplish.
America (more specifically, the United States thereof) has for most of its young history been exceptional in following ways: it is a country that began just as the industrial revolution was accelerating in Europe and the capitalist system was consolidating itself as the dominant mode of production around the globe, but its vast, “uninhabited” lands enabled its people to postpone the social reckoning that the contradictions of that system caused in Europe for over a century. For nearly a century after the closing of the frontier, the United States further postponed this reckoning by being the economic beneficiary of two world wars that obliterated the productive capacity of the rest of the industrialized world while leaving American capital untouched. When the rest of the world finally caught up economically beginning on the 1970s, and American wages began to stagnate (they still are!), the U.S. ruling class postponed the reckoning even further by extending easy credit to working class households so that the same extraordinary consumption patterns could continue. A little over three years ago, the party ended, and the reckoning is right now upon us.
When people say that “socialism never took hold” in the U.S. because of some essential cultural attribute of its people, or that Americans are distinguished by their tendency to value “pragmatism” over “ideology,” they obscure–whether inadvertently or willfully–the exceptional material circumstances that have historically allowed Americans to put off the inevitable confrontation between labor and capital. This kicking of the can down the road has occurred with little interruption for so long that we have fallen accustomed to believing that we really are different, that we really are immune from the laws of history that govern other countries, that we can work it out, just like John Lennon promised.
Ron Paul’s capital crime as a candidate, for which the media will now lynch him, is not his advocacy of a radical “left wing” foreign policy platform or a radical “right wing” approach to domestic spending. It is the more general ideological narrative he is promoting on the campaign trail, a narrative that portrays the actually-existing United States as just another imperialist welfare-warfare state instead of the liberal-democratic “city on a hill” that the 1-percentrists on CNN have told us it is all throughout our lives. By forcing us to critically confront the actual words and thoughts of the same founding fathers that our rulers so incessantly fetishize, and by forcing us to compare those ideals to the endless wars, mounting police state, and exploding social crisis this country now suffers from, Paul invites ordinary Americans to fantasize that we can continue to be exceptional, that we can continue to prosper without resorting to class struggle like they do in other countries–at the expense of their “liberty.” That we need not concern ourselves with what socialism is really all about.
The problem is that the material circumstances that have made America so exceptional for over two centuries have now been exhausted, and like fossil fuels, they can never be replaced. A Ron Paul presidency (or even merely an Obama-Paul general election) would force this realization into the forefront of the American political debate because the litany of government evils Paul has spent his career railing against are, as a material historical fact, absolutely vital to the survival of the very capitalist system Paul has spent his career defending.
Ron Paul’s platform, taken as a whole, does not, indeed cannot, consistently represent any one person or constituency’s interests. At best, it represents our aspirations as a people. But these aspirations are informed not by our future but by our past, and as such, they can never be realized in our present. The sooner these anachronistic aspirations are put to the test and exposed for the fantasies they are, the sooner the more culturally conservative layers of the American 99 percent will get serious about the historical duty they share with the rest of us in the coming global confrontation with capital.