Over at Counterpunch, Mike Whitney recently set out an interesting hypothetical that he believes should give liberals some pause when it comes to the upcoming election and, in particular, Ron Paul’s candidacy.
Let’s say, Paul surprises his critics and wins the presidency in a landslide victory in November 2012. Then–in his first public appearance as president–he issues an executive order to stop all Social Security payments immediately, thus cutting off the meager revenue-stream that millions of the nation’s elderly need to scrape-by.
Isn’t this the worst-case scenario? Isn’t this what liberals are really worried about?
Okay, so let’s say it all goes-down just as we said. Let’s say Paul tries to strangle Social Security from Day 1. Isn’t that still infinitely better than another Falluja, another Haditha, another Abu Ghraib, another bombed-out wedding party?
Yes, it’s wrong to deprive the sick and elderly of some pittance so they can eek [sic!] by, but is it as wrong as blowing women and children to bits in their own country, in their own cities, in their own homes?
It’s a question of priorities, right? So, what’s more important; ending the bloodletting or some potential threat to Social Security?
As I said above, this is interesting. But mostly because it’s wrong-headed.
First, I’m not at all convinced that the major obstacle standing between liberals and Ron Paul is social security. It’s surely a piece of the puzzle, but I think we could probably put our heads together and come up with a list of things that liberals don’t exactly love about Paul.
Second, even as hypotheticals go, this seems really light on argumentation. Whitney seems to suggest that there are two evils — bombing people in Syria, let’s say, and doing away with social security — and Ron Paul will make sure we don’t bomb anyone but he’ll also do away with social security. The argument is that it’s obvious that bombing people is much, much worse than doing away with social security … except that there’s no argument. Far better for liberals, I’d guess, would be not bombing anyone and finding a way to provide safety nets for those who need them. That’s a goal for which liberals might aim … but not with Ron Paul, who seems committed to isolationism because of his position on how much power the federal government should wield. In other words, Paul takes an anti-war stance not because he’s necessarily opposed to war but because war is a wasteful federal program.
Third, for whom is it worse, we probably ought to ask? Surely, it’s worse for senior citizens who count on social security checks to pay rent or buy groceries if those checks stop. Nowhere does Whitney make clear that when he’s talking about entirely doing away with social security, he’s talking about depriving people of what might be their only income. What’s more, it’s a source of income that comes to them as a result of having paid into the system in the past. In this sense, taking away social security benefits amounts to theft. Libertarians, on my understanding, don’t approve of forcing people to contribute to social security through taxation … but, surely, they must also disapprove of abolishing social security without paying back the people who were taxed for their entire adult lives.
Finally, it seems to me that Whitney is relying on a false comparison between Falluja, Haditha, and Abu Ghraib — on the one hand — and the military intervention in Libya that President Obama undertook last year. I presume this is what Whitney has in mind, since liberals were conflicted over intervention. But liberals weren’t at all conflicted over the war in Iraq, nor were they unhappy when Obama withdrew American troops to bring that war to a close. Nor are we likely to see in Libya (or Syria if we somehow decide to intervene) the sorts of human rights abuses and atrocities we saw in Iraq because we’re simply not involved in the same way. It’s wrong to equate putting tens of thousands of troops on the ground for a full-scale invasion and multi-year occupation with short-term aerial strikes against military targets in a situation where the military is targeting civilians. The opposition to any sort of intervention is certainly a legitimate position to take, but it would be necessary to make an argument about why the intervention in Libya ought to be compared with the war in Iraq rather than to simply say so. In my view — and, I think, in the view of many liberals — it would be desirable to have an administration that won’t engage in the latter but that doesn’t always shy away from the former. Being a liberal doesn’t mean being a complete isolationist.
At bottom, I think that the premise behind the piece is flawed: Liberals don’t have a problem when they fail to support Ron Paul, even if he is the only candidate who opposes every instance of U.S. military involvement. In part, the problems with Whitney’s piece demonstrate my point. But it’s also important to note that pacifism isn’t a requirement for identifying as a liberal.
HT: Jayel Aheram.