Like David Sirota, I’m not supporting Ron Paul. Also like Sirota, I think it’s a bit strange that so few liberals are. Yes, there’s the civil rights issue (Ron Paul’s not a racist, but he seems fairly tolerant of people who are), there’s the abolition of the Department of Education (unlike past Republican presidents, he might actually try) and there’s his health care plan (public health is not the government’s business).
But, as Sirota points out, Ron Paul holds all kinds of policies that liberals can agree with:
"...when it comes to war, surveillance, police power, bank bailouts, cutting the defense budget, eliminating corporate welfare and civil liberties, Paul is more in line with progressive goals than any candidate running in 2012 (or almost any Democrat who has held a federal office in the last 30 years)."
Much more in line than President Barack Obama, anyway. Who would have thought that the candidate who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 and promised to invite the leaders of Iran and Venezuela to peace talks in Washington would become the president who made “drone strikes” part of the national vocabulary and overthrew a Middle Eastern regime that posed no threat to America or its allies?
Liberals might be disappointed in the foreign policy record of their chosen president, but this hasn’t made them much less likely to vote for him and in so doing, elect a president who is likely to keep Gizmo open for another four years, increase the defense budget if necessary, and maybe put more names on his kill list.
But, as Sirota again points out, President Obama is far less likely than Ron Paul to affect change in areas dearest to liberals’ big twenty-something hearts. Whoever is president from 2013-2017, he won’t be passing significant legislation without first getting a fairly evenly split and comparatively mainstream Congress to sign off on it. But he will be able to conduct foreign policy however he sees fit.
When progressives go to the polls this November, they will have to ask themselves if the lives that the president has ended in the Middle East are worth it for the stimulus package, the health care bill, the new Wall Street regulations and the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.
This question should get more troubling for progressives when they consider that the primary difference between the current president and the past president, in terms of foreign policy, has actually been to make it much easier for clandestine government officials to order assassinations with accountability to no one.
As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in a recent piece on the Guardian’s website:
Based on interviews with "current and former officials from the White House and the Pentagon, as well as intelligence and counterterrorism agencies", Miller reports that as "the United States' conventional wars are winding down", the Obama administration "expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years" (the "capture" part of that list is little more than symbolic, as the U/S. focus is overwhelmingly on the "kill" part). Specifically, "among senior Obama administration officials, there is broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade."
Did you catch that? In other words, if President Obama is reelected, his administration plans not only to continue the drone strikes, but to encourage the next administration to do the same. More importantly, as the drone strikes are approved and conducted through the executive branch, that means that if the president is reelected, he not only has the inclination to continue the drone strikes but the ability to do so.
Ironically, fear of being associated with the Bush administration is part of the reason why President Obama has been more liberal in employing drone strikes. Even as terrorist threats grew in places like Mali and Yemen, drones gave the country the illusion that we could control terrorism without putting boots on the ground the way that the Bush White House did.
But few blessings are unmixed. Using drones keeps soldiers out of harm’s way, but a soldier knows that it’s better to detain a terrorist than to kill one. You can search a dead body, but you can’t interrogate it. Drones take no prisoners.
To return to the question of what would be different in the case of a Ron Paul presidency: Would minorities be refused service at roadside diners? Definitely not. Would the Internal Revenue Service be forced to shutter its doors? Not unless Congress disappeared. Would the United States return to the gold standard? Seriously?
However, at least one thing would be different: Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi (the 16-year-old son of an Al Qaeda operative) wouldn’t have become collateral damage. If you aren’t going to cast a vote for Ron Paul or Gary Johnson, his ideological heir, then I don’t blame you. (I’m not going to.) But just know that having a president with a Nobel Peace Prize might cost much more than dollars.