In this recent Bloggingheads diavlog, Glenn Greenwald and Katha Pollitt debate whether or not the disgruntled Left ought to embrace Ron Paul. Not at all surprisingly given their columns on Paul, Greenwald and Pollitt come to this question from different angles, though they both seem to have moderated their positions a fair amount from what they wrote in the recent past. Also not surprisingly, given all that I’ve written here about Ron Paul, I’m ultimately going to position myself firmly on the side of Team Pollitt.
Most interesting, for me, is the way that Greenwald seems to tap dance around the issue that Pollitt keeps hammering home, namely that there are a lot of things that Ron Paul believes that are considered to be absolutely terrible by a whole lot of people on the Left. Greenwald continually emphasizes that those things are indeed terrible … but that it’s also really interesting that Paul is bringing to this election cycle important issues like ending the disastrous war on drugs or the horrific results of American imperialism.
There’s a moment — probably 35 minutes into the discussion — when Greenwald, I think, reveals what’s actually at stake behind all of his talk about Ron Paul. Paul believes a bunch of things that are anathema to progressives. But so do the Democrats, Greenwald tells Pollitt, and Paul’s campaign should serve to ensure that people know it. If they know it, perhaps they’ll demand an end to those things or they’ll vote differently or something. This is the part that’s not really clear … especially because Greenwald repeatedly says he isn’t suggesting that anyone on the Left ought to actually vote for Ron Paul.
At bottom, Greenwald just wants us to have the conversation about imperialism, the war on drugs, and our loss of civil liberties that he thinks we can only have as a result of Ron Paul candidacy. All of the other politicians embrace these things. And then, once we’ve had the conversation, something will happen. Perhaps a new candidate will emerge out of thin air. This one will be perfect and incorruptible, will always do exactly what (s)he promises, and will always fight the good fight on every issue important to every single person who identifies with the Left in America.
Or, what is more likely, we’ll have an election between Obama and Romney, and a whole bunch of people who voted for Obama in 2008 will decide to stay home in 2012. And then maybe we’ll be so lucky as to have President Romney, at which time the Left will be so glad we had this important conversation because that’s the guy who’s certain to close corporate loopholes, restrict money in politics, bail people out of debt, more fully embrace the LGBTQ community, help make life in America better for people of color, and put an immediate end to our (mis)adventures in the Middle East. Right?
As Pollitt points out, and I’ve stressed a number of times (here, here, and here, for example), the real world of politics is one that’s messy; it’s one that offers the lesser of two evils much more often than it offers the best possible candidate. Many people on the Right are incredibly unexcited about Mitt Romney, but he probably seems a whole lot better to them than Obama so they’ll end up voting for Romney. Many people on the Left are incredibly disappointed with Obama, but Greenwald seems to want them to disregard the idea that he remains the lesser of two evils on a whole host of issues that matter a great deal to people on the Left.
Stay home, then, and don’t vote. It’s very much your option. And perhaps you’ll feel better about yourself for having chosen no one in a contest whose rules didn’t suit you. Or perhaps you’ll just feel better for having stuck to your guns (or, in this case, your abhorrence of guns). But don’t forget that, in doing so, you’re sticking to some guns and disregarding others.
One housekeeping note: The whole diavlog between Greenwald and Pollitt is about an hour. If you can’t spare all of that time, I recommend the first 10-15 minutes and then the last 10-15 minutes. There are some technical issues with the sound (notably on Greenwald’s end), but they can be overcome if you don’t mind turning up the volume on your computer or headphones a bit higher than you otherwise might like to do.