Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I tend to work for a long time on my blog posts before posting them, often deleting half-baked efforts that haven't worked out. So I hope you'll forgive some thinking out loud, some extremely tentative thoughts that I may well want to take back five minutes from now. This, Noble Readers, is just off the cuff.

But I just watched a five minute clip from last night's Republican debate (on Andrew Sullivan's blog) in which Ron Paul explained his foreign policy views and...


He's against invading foreign countries. He believes in blowback. He explicitly draws the line between our (shameful) overthrowing of an elected Iranian government in 1953 and the taking of the embassy hostages in 1979. He boasts -- boasts! -- that Republicans were elected to end the Korean and Vietnam wars. (He doesn't note that in the latter case Nixon took his own sweet, genocidal time doing it, invading yet another country in the process. But still.) He seemed to, quite genuinely, be against going over to foreign countries and killing people for little reason. And he held to that even when the Sacred Words to End Debate -- "9/11" -- were spoken.

Frankly, he sounded a lot like Noam Chomsky on foreign policy. In the best sense of that phrase.

Now, my sense (my very vague sense -- I don't spend a lot of time tracking the positions of longshot candidates for the Republican party) is that Paul is a pretty down-the-line Libertarian. As such, I imagine that he'd be catastrophic on what I consider to be the most important domestic issue for our country, getting a health care system that works, and treats everybody (ideally a single-payer system). He'd probably do a lot of harm to poor people in this country. And given that those are my fellow citizens, that bothers me. A lot.

But, on strictly utilitarian grounds, we've been responsible for an awful lot more deaths by invading Iraq (to say nothing of Vietnam) than through having a horrible health care system. What's the moral balance between failing to help, and possibly even seriously worsening, the plight of our citizens here at home (including my friends and my family and possible me)... but hurting far, far fewer people in foreign countries?

Anyone who's read me for any length of time knows that, in American terms, I'm pretty far to the left. (In Europe I'd probably be a vaguely-to-the-left centrist.) But if the choice was between a committed, dedicated war monger like Hilary Clinton -- who is probably not going to do much about health care anyway, given both her history and her indebtedness to the worst powers in the Democratic party -- and a Republican like Ron Paul... I honestly don't know how I'd vote. (The real question would be how much power Ron Paul would give to the vast, malignant power structure that is the current Republican party... Who would his appointees be? How much damage would be done, even on issues he is nominally good on, by his plugging into that malevolent force in American life?)

But I'd have to think about it. Hard.

Fortunately -- he said with grim irony -- I'm unlikely to be put in that position. Apparently (I haven't watched the clips myself, but Matt Yglesias has and reports) when Giuliani gave a strong version of the neoconservative, imperialist, pro-war, authoritarian Republican position, the crowd was wildly for it. It's hard to imagine the median Republican primary voter going against their strongly pro-authoritarian strain and voting for Ron Paul... particularly if he is (as my even-more-vague-than-my-earlier-vague-sense sense of the matter is) a "hands-off" laissez faire conservative on social issues that mater to them like controlling women's sexuality and discriminating against gays. If Ron Paul speaks for a Republican tradition, it's one that's a pretty distinct minority at this point, whatever Andrew Sullivan would like to think.

I'd like to think that some anti-imperialist conservatives (Jim Henley types, say) would be put in the opposite position than my imagined Clinton/Paul dilemma -- i.e. do they vote for someone who's against waging aggressive and immoral war even if it means bad things from their point of view (good things from mine) on domestic issues, e.g. a single-payer health policy? But none of the major Democrats have come within light-years of what Ron Paul was saying about foreign policy last night. (Maybe minor ones have... I don't spend much time tracking them, either.) To say nothing of whatever weasel compromises they're making on domestic issues, of course.

Just now I heard -- for the first time in living memory, if not beyond -- a Republican I can imagine myself voting for -- with deep regrets, with the knowledge that to achieve some goals I might be doing terrible damage to others that I care about, and specific individuals that are closer to my heart; but still voting for. I don't want to live in an empire. I don't like that the U.S. has a long tradition of going to foreign countries, invading them, toppling their governments, etc, on the flimsiest of grounds. I think it's immoral to make aggressive war. And these feelings might overcome my disdain for libertarianism on other grounds if push came to shove. I simply don't know.

Fortunately -- again with the bitter irony -- today's Republicans are unlikely to put me in that position. I have confidence that whatever candidate they choose (and there are such serious problems, from their points of view, with all of them that it's really hard to guess at this point) will be even worse than the militarist hawk and squishy-centrist- damn-the-poor- DLC-Democrat that is Hiliary Clinton, even if my party is fool enough to pick her over the less-militant, less-squishy-centrist alternatives of Obama and Edwards. As usual, voting for the lesser of two evils will be obvious.

Because, heresy thought it might be from a committed Democrat and strong (by US standards) leftist... if Ron Paul were the Republican, it might not be.

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