It's important to note at the outset that Greenwald neither endorses Ron Paul nor excuses the infamous racist newsletters. Greenwald nonetheless presents Paul's candidacy as a net positive and he gets there by changing the terms of the debate: Instead of asking whether Paul should be President, Greenwald asks whether Paul's presence in the Presidential race is beneficial. By changing the question, Greenwald is able to spill a fair amount of ink praising Paul and lambasting Paul's critics, without actually endorsing or apologizing for Paul.
Thus, even though Greenwald doesn't answer the question of whether Paul should be President, he provides plenty of reasons one might support Paul's Presidential bid. And when one looks at this portion of the argument, I think Greenwald's approach is ultimately flawed. Specifically, Greenwald's argument assumes that all that matters is a candidate's positions on isolated issues - as if it's just a matter of creating a ranked pro and con list for each candidate and crunching the numbers. Thus, Greenwald sharply criticizes Obama supporters* who disqualify Paul based on Paul's strong anti-choice stance or the racist newsletters, reasoning that if Paul has taken deal-breaking positions, certainly Obama has as well:
The thing I loathe most about election season is reflected in the central fallacy that drives progressive discussion the minute "Ron Paul" is mentioned. As soon as his candidacy is discussed, progressives will reflexively point to a slew of positions he holds that are anathema to liberalism and odious in their own right and then say: how can you support someone who holds this awful, destructive position? The premise here - the game that's being played - is that if you can identify some heinous views that a certain candidate holds, then it means they are beyond the pale, that no Decent Person should even consider praising any part of their candidacy.To drive home this point, Greenwald summarizes a hypothetical position that could be logically taken by someone who supports Obama over Paul:
The fallacy in this reasoning is glaring. The candidate supported by progressives - President Obama - himself holds heinous views on a slew of critical issues and himself has done heinous things with the power he has been vested.
It's perfectly rational and reasonable for progressives to decide that the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate, whether Ron Paul or anyone else. An honest line of reasoning in this regard would go as follows:This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about - Greenwald suggests choosing between the candidates is just a matter of prioritizing a limited list of isolated issues. However, it's not just a candidate's positions on individual issues that are important**; what's also important (in most instances more important) is the candidate's worldview. A President's worldview will determine the outcome of thousands of decisions the President will make, almost all of which will not be campaign issues and many of which are unforeseeable.
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
Thus, it matters to me that Ron Paul doesn't believe in evolution, not because I think teaching evolution in schools should be prioritized above the lives of Muslim children, but because it's proof that Paul rejects science, evidence and rationality, which tells us a good deal about how Paul could be expected to approach the thousands of decisions he would have to make as President. Similarly, it matters to me that Ron Paul is anti-choice and claims to be a libertarian, as it suggests to me his defense of freedom is disingenuous and that his positions are likely motivated by a defense of hierarchy and patriarchy. And as Mike Konczal has pointed out, the racist newsletters echo an ideology that consciously scapegoats the poor, immigrants and the young:
But I want to abstract away from both Ron Paul and the ugly tone and language in the newsletters. What was their political strategy? As Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez dug up, there was a very clear path. According to Rothbard in 1992, they could gather disaffected working and middle class people by exposing an "unholy alliance of 'corporate liberal' Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America."This is a worldview that promotes letting people without health care die, that heartily cheers execution and that applauds a heartless, every-man-for-himself society. This is a worldview that suggests a host of tough-love policies, almost all of which won't be issues in the Presidential race and many of which are unforeseeable.
Take white middle-class people and explain to them how the safety net is ok for them because they are part of the virtuous hardworking backbone of the country, but it's a dangerous creation because elite liberals will use it to create a mass, dangerous Other that don't deserve to be part of it.
20 years later, what forms the core of the Tea Party movement? According to the latest research on the Tea Party from Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, here's what is "identified as Tea Partiers' most fundamental concern: their belief that hardworking American taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for undeserving freeloaders, particularly immigrants, the poor and the young."
These examples could be multiplied, but I believe I've sufficiently illustrated the point, which is this: Choosing between two candidates is not just a matter of comparing isolated issues. At least as significant is a candidate's worldview because that worldview will determine how that candidate responds to every issue presented to him. And this is a significantly more complicated analysis than the pro-and-con-list approach suggested by Greenwald.
* I neither support Obama nor justify his actions as President.
** I do, however, think it is legitimate to disqualify candidates based on certain positions and, in my opinion, both Paul and Obama are disqualified; however, this is a separate issue that is beyond the scope of this essay. Update: Nathan Fuller replies to my essay here. I will respond to Nathan at some point, but am currently preparing for trial.