Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Award for Worst Essay of the Year goes to...

Tim Wise, who's diatribe mocking liberals who were brave enough to place country ahead of party by supporting Ron Paul can be found here: Please read it all the way through before beginning my even lengthier response; my rant will be much more cathartic if you're already pissed off.

Where to begin with such a laughable article? I suppose I’ll start at the beginning (as Mary Poppins reminds us, it’s a very good place to start). The David Duke analogy…is what reasonable, intelligent people like to call a “straw man”, because it lets you point out obvious flaws in something other than what you claim to be attacking, much like fighting a man made of straw is much easier than fighting an actual man. It’s also what less articulate but equally reasonable people like to call a shitty argument. Ron Paul did not say any of the racist things David Duke said, and he does not believe any of the racist things David Duke believes. It is fascinating to me that the same people who got their panties in a bunch when Republicans said not to vote for Obama because of his proven associations with Reverand Wright, Rod Blagogevich, and Bill Ayers are now desperately trying to tie Ron Paul with the KKK. Progressives rightfully observed that just because one of Obama’s pals said “God damn America!” while he was running for office doesn’t mean that’s how Obama thinks; but when one of Paul’s employees wrote that black people who steal your purse are pretty fast, twenty years ago, comparisons to those who favor the eugenic sterilization of welfare recipients are now apparently fair game.

Next, we see Wise try to debunk the checks and balances argument used by many who don’t agree with Paul to explain why his radical views have little chance of passing through. The argument (not his rebuttal to it), makes total sense; perhaps you don’t think Social Security is unconstitutional, but you needn’t fret because there’s not a chance that’s being revoked by Congress no matter who’s in the White House. Wise’s response? Well, since the KKK’s ideas wouldn’t pass Congress either, why not vote for David Duke? I’m not sure such absurdity warrants a response, and I fear explaining the difference may insult the intelligence of my audience. But just in case there are a few stragglers out there who don’t see the difference between the free market and lynching blacks…well, there’s a difference. There do exist different levels of disagreeing with people. When you disagree with Ron Paul because you think his strict interpretation of the constitution is too severe, you have an elevated, rational ideological dispute upon which reasonable people can disagree. When you disagree with David Duke’s view that poor people should be sterilized, you have a somewhat more fundamental and problematic disagreement.

But I needn’t have illuminated the silliness of that rebuttal, because the author does it himself in the very next paragraph by using the checks and balances argument himself. He sarcastically mocks those who are excited by Paul’s promise to end the wars by laughing at the idea that “A president can just snap his fingers and poof! The troops all suddenly appear at Andrews Air Force base! It’s fucking magic!”. And later, in reference to ending or auditing the federal reserve, he likewise observes that this couldn’t simply done by “fucking magic.” What he forgot to explain during this articulate observation is WHY the president can’t just snap his fingers and end the Fed. The answer is because the President can’t just get anything he wants  (for now, at least, until a few more FDR’s come around and convince Congress that we don’t really need this whole constitution thing). And because the President can’t get whatever he wants, liberals needn’t fear the more extreme parts of Paul’s ideology.

Curiously, sending the troops home is actually one of the things Paul COULD do at the snap of his fingers, because being the Commander in Chief is one of the powers that the constitution actually does grant to the president. Starting a war requires congressional consent (err, it’s supposed to…), but ending war certainly does not. This means that Wise has totally proved the point he was trying to disprove. By illuminating that the President can’t do all the things progressives don’t want him to do, he assuages fears of Paul’s libertarian streak. And by showing that he CAN do the thing liberals do want him to do without the help from anybody else, he reinforces the notion that a vote for Paul is a vote for ending overseas militarism immediately.

Then, immediately after the “fucking magic” comment, he proceeds to list all the things Paul could only make happen if he happened to be a fucking magician as reasons why you shouldn’t vote for him. Abolishing all welfare. Repealing birthright citizenship by amending the 14th amendment. Repealing Roe vs. Wade via constitutional amendment. Teach kids that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. Paul doesn’t even want to do that last one, but that’s even besides the point (I suppose the author realized making stuff up about Paul’s beliefs was easier than confronting his actual proposals). The point is, none of those measures can be done without lots of assistance from the other branches, and half of them would require a whopping 2/3 majority in both houses and ¾ of the states! If they ever got that, liberals are screwed no matter who’s the president.

Only then, when attempting to use yet more witty sarcasm to patronize liberal Paul supporters, does he allow a drop of truth to enter his article:
He’s a straight-shooter who stands on principle and will shake up the system and break the political stranglehold exercised currently by the approved establishment candidates.”

He is and he will. So what’s the problem again? Um, uh, well, uh…racism! That’s it! He continues:
[Paul] is supported by Nazis, like Stormfront — the nation’s largest white nationalist outfit, which is led by Don Black, who’s one of Duke’s best friends, and is married to Duke’s ex-wife, and is Duke’s daughters’ step-dad — but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.”

Was Bill Ayers just a coincidence too? The answer to both questions is yes, it is just a coincidence. Different people can support the same policies for different reasons, and just because one of the potential reasons for believing something is immoral it doesn’t mean the others can all be thrown into the same category. Receiving support from racists does not a racist make. Yes, Paul wants to repeal parts (not all) of the Civil Rights Act, but he has very reasonable and consistent ideological grounds for that stance. When segregationists opposed the Act using the free association argument while simultaneously supporting mandatory government in other things, you could tell they were insincere in their arguments; they really just opposed it because they wanted to stick it to black people. Paul is the polar opposite because his stance is nothing if not consistent. He opposes telling people what they can do with their own private property, even if he has a moral disagreement with whatever they decide. The distinction Mr. Wise refuses to acknowledge is that Paul, unlike Nazi’s, does in fact recognize private discrimination as immoral. He simply doesn’t think it should be illegal.

Next we get the predictable newsletter nonsense. Wise writes that since he was “promoting” his newsletters (and by promoting he means he cited exactly one of them in exactly one TV interview) that means he was “presumably reading them”. That is a mighty big presumption when you consider that at that time he was working as a full time congressman AND a full time obstetrician. Congressmen alone have to do way more than one person could ever have the time for, from debating to voting on wide ranging issues to researching those issues to polling to campaigning to designing brochure’s to handling paperwork to giving speeches. You cannot expect them to vote knowledgeably on new FDA regulations regarding how many grams of rat feces are acceptable in one square meter of rice, and simultaneously expect them to scour every line of their ghostwriter’s work. I’m sure he picked one up from time to time and browsed through it. But considering how modern congressmen don’t even bother to read the bills they vote on, I highly doubt Paul felt the need to be the Staff Editor and scan through every line. If every edition of the monthly newsletter was crammed with vile garbage, he probably should have noticed. But that wasn’t the case. There was a handful of questionable lines than went out over the span of several years, easy to slip past even an avid reader. Paul apologized for it and disavowed it a decade ago. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich (who offered to lecture black people on their work ethics) and Rich Santorum (“blah people”, anyone?) have each been caught on tape making equally racist remarks in the past week, but Ron Paul’s the racist here?

At this point Wise tries to actually return to policy, complaining that Paul wants to cut taxes, slash spending on the poor, break up unions, allow drilling for oil, and privatize many federal programs. He is 100%, absolutely right about all of that. If those positions are too much to stomach for a progressive, even though they know none of them could pass without Congress’ help, then they shouldn’t vote for him. For the first time in this entire essay, Wise has made a fair observation about the ideological disagreements that might give some big-government liberals pause in supporting Paul’s campaign. But you needn’t levy a vicious attack on the character of the man himself in order to make that observation. And predictably, the reason doesn’t last.

Wise then argues that by leaving drug laws up to the states, it would simply mean 49 separate drug wars since most states would still outlaw drugs. Never mind that this would save the federal government billions, or that many states (more than just Vermont) already have legalized some drugs in opposition to the Federal government. And never mind that another of Paul’s constitutional powers is the power to pardon any non-violent drug offender he pleases. Never mind that this unconventional policy stance sticking up for the minorities who are disproportionately harmed by the status quo is perhaps the single greatest antidote to all this drivel about racism. The author has written six books about the plight of African-Americans, but he doesn’t seem to see how they would benefit from being freed from jail. He doesn’t seem to think the black community might benefit from having a few non-violent fathers back to serve as role models for kids who’d otherwise join a gang, or who’d otherwise have to drop out of high school to work. And while Wise is correct that Paul wouldn’t spend more money we don’t have on drug rehab or education, he also wouldn’t spend it on prisons to jail nonviolent potheads. No other candidate can say that.

After some more babbling about the inhumanity of libertarianism and patronizing of the freedom to “carry large bottles of shaving cream onto an airplane”, he’s back on the whole racism thing. He claims that any progressive who supports Ron Paul must use the sentence “Well, he might be a little racist, but…”, which is simply a pathetic crock of shit. I think he knows it’s a pathetic crock of shit. I think he knows there are many intelligent, informed people out there, regardless of party, who recognize Paul for what he is: an honest, brave, consistent man who refuses to toe the party line and refuses to place political convenience ahead of principle. Even when it would be much more convenient to say “I love everything about the Civil Rights Act”, instead of being called a racist by dickheads like Mr. Wise. I think he knows that Paul’s honesty makes him different from any politician Mr. Wise would ever support, and so he’s desperate to discredit him by any means necessary, even if it means whipping out every logical fallacy in the books.

So in his continued attempt to sling that mud, he asks the rhetorical question: “How do you think that sounds to black people…?” Well, one way to find out is to simply ask them (here: … or here…. … or here: Or perhaps to ask the president of the NAACP, who also endorsed Paul? How do you think ending the drug war sounds to black people? Wise ignores the answers to these questions. But by asking them, it does raise some new questions. How does he think black people feel when he tries to generalize their opinions for political gain? How does he think they feel when he, as a white guy, tries to tell them what they should be offended by? How does he think they feel when he encourages progressives to hold a black president to different standards than any other president for risk of pissing off the voting block that’s so important to his electoral chances?

Perhaps nothing is more indicative of the difference between Paul and Wise than that. Paul says what he believes, without exception. Wise tells his party members to hold their tongue if it’s inconvenient to their party staying in power. Paul proposes what’s best for his country in the long term, Wise proposes what’s best for his party in the short term.

As for Paul voting no on MLK Jr. Day, don’t take it personally. Paul votes no on just about everything! His motto is to vote no if it doesn’t fall under Article I, Section 8 (not a bad motto), and designating national holidays sure doesn’t appear on that list. If there were any evidence that Paul voted yes on other holidays for people of lesser repute than Dr. King, this would be relevant. There is none, so it is not.

He then continues with the traditional follow-up to most accusations of bigotry: not only is he a big fat racist, he’s also a big fat sexist!!! Why? Because Paul noted that even offensive remarks, sexual or otherwise, are protected by free speech. Especially when uttered in the confines of your own property. Never mind that this is true regardless of race or gender or sexual identity or any other variable, and that Paul applies the rule to everybody equally and defends the right of female employers to offend male employees just as fiercely. Forget logical discussions about the issue with the issue, let’s just slander him with nasty names. It’s much easier than thinking.

With two “he only supports these policies because he’s _____” fallacies under his belt, Wise promptly moves on to a third. This time, he fills in the blank with “not poor”. Apparently anybody who doesn’t receive welfare isn’t allowed to have an opinion about it, and only the benefactors of social programs should be heeded regarding their continuance. Who cares what the people who actually fund those programs think?

With the irrelevant and false attacks on Paul’s character out of the way, does Wise at least give lip service to Paul’s actual ideas? No; instead, he sets his sights on Paul’s supporters. Just as progressives aren’t allowed to like Paul unless they’re heartless, disconnected wealthy jerks, Paul’s core base can be likewise ignored because it is “disproportionately comprised of white, middle class men”. Even if being a middle class white man were a negative characteristic, this is the sort of logical fallacy that reasonable people like to call ad hominem. Personal characteristics of those making the argument have nothing to do with the validity of the argument itself.

After mocking more straw mans about conspiracy theories, he blames Paul fans for “never talk[ing] about institutional racism.” But even if that were true, just because the author happens to have written many books about institutional racism does not mean everybody else has to be preoccupied with it. I can’t help but notice that at no time during this entire essay does Wise talk about the $15 trillion national debt; does that mean he denies its existence, or is happy about it? Or does it mean it’s simply not the highest thing on his priority list? Lastly, he blames us for only advocating freedom for everybody because we really just want the freedom for themselves. How selfish of us.

He summarizes what he feel’s is wrong with us Paul people by saying:

“They want the government to stop taking their tax dollars and “giving them” to Mexicans and blacks, or anyone of any race or ethnicity who in their mind isn’t smart enough or hard working enough to have their own private health care.”

A more accurate summary would have replaced the second half of the sentence, immediately following the phrase “giving them to”, with the word “anyone.” The author, who refers to himself on his website and book covers as an “antiracist”, appears to be so completely consumed by the issue of race relations that he refuses to concede the existence of any unrelated issue. And what spending programs the constitution allows for is certainly one such issue.

Finally, he reiterates the notion that what’s good for the country isn’t necessarily good for the party, reprimanding his fellow liberals for daring to help the country even if that means “empowering” the libertarian world view. That is a curious choice of words, because the only thing a libertarian wants to do once he’s empowered is not use that power. Perhaps Wise has not heard of the great Libertarian conspiracy: to take over the government and deviously leave you alone.

Perhaps Wise realizes that “empowering” a party who’s root word is liberty isn’t quite scary enough to deter potential Paulites, because he then falls back on the nice, safe, familiar racism accusation he’s made a living off of. By saying nice things about Paul, he says…
You are empowering the reactionary, white supremacist, Social Darwinists of this culture, who believe — as does Ron Paul — that that Greensboro Woolworth’s was right, and that…the freedom of department store owners to refuse to let black people try on clothes in their dressing rooms was more sacrosanct than the right of black people to be treated like human beings.”

What makes this paragraph a pointed lie is that Ron Paul does not, in any way, believe that the policies of Greensboro Woolworth (the name of a segregated private store that was the site of a famous sit in) were right. He simply believes they shouldn’t have been illegal. Overlooking this distinction is excusable to somebody who’s genuinely ignorant of the argument, but Mr. Wise is no such person. He is not merely wrong about Dr. Paul’s stance in a very important way, he is lying about his stance for a very important reason: it’s convenient to his article to overlook the truth.

Up until this point in the article, I was indignant that the author had taken such liberties with the truth in his effort to distort the message of liberty. Each paragraph had made me fume a little bit more than the next. But upon reading this next paragraph, I immediately loosened up. In fact, I laughed at myself for being so antagonized by this man’s words, because I recognized that no liberal who was considering voting for Paul could take Wise’s article seriously any longer. I no longer needed to parry a cheap shot blow, because that blow had now sunk so low as to miss the mark entirely and not require a defense. The author had suggested, apparently with a straight face, that anybody who has the audacity to believe in freedom and basic property rights even for those who disagree with us should be placed in a straightjacket. He’d compared the belief that the government shouldn’t try to equalize opportunity to a belief in unicorns. He’d claimed that legally tolerating beliefs the majority deems offensive (read: free speech) and legally tolerating somebody’s ability to run their own business as they please (read: property rights) as “deal breaker[s] among decent people,” rather than as the very foundations of American society.

A ridiculous essay wouldn’t do without a ridiculous conclusion, and Wise’s version is to return to the analogy that started it all. The only thing that should separate Ron Paul from David Duke, he reasons, is that Paul has not “actually donned a Klan hood and lit a cross” or “lit candles on a birthday cake for Hitler”? In trademark high brow analysis, he wraps up the nearly uninterrupted stream of bullshit by calling Ron Paul simply an “evil fuck.”

He closes his long string of questions to liberals considering Ron Paul by asking them at what point they “stop being so concerned about…the issues.” That’s one I can answer for them. The point people stop being concerned about the issues is the point they start reading your articles. The point Americans stop even trying to have an informed discussion about the constitution and begin saying anyone who wants smaller government must be a racist, sexist, homophobic, evil fuck who should be placed in a straightjacket is the point of no return for American democracy. Wise doesn’t want to “force presidents and lawmakers to bend to the public will”, he wants to force them to bend to HIS will, and there is no deficit of tax money or intellect that is too high to stop him from trying. Even if it means clustering large swaths of people together and making unfounded generalizations about them in an attempt to portray them as a stupid, immoral and inferior people who are barely worthy of being discussed, much less of respect. Wait a second, isn’t that what racism is?

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