Freedom For Some, Ctd

Conor Friedersdorf, in a very gracious and charitable critique thinks my priorities, as a liberal with some libertarianish views, are skewed with regards to Ron Paul:

All I ask, as they critique Paul's sometimes flawed conception of freedom, is that they acknowledge that they're perfectly willing to vote for a guy who embraces most of the executive power excesses of Bush/Cheney, wages war without congressional approval, ramps up drone strikes that kill innocents, spies on innocent Americans, says marriage should be between a man and a woman, and perpetuates the War on Drugs, among other policies. I also wish they'd come around to the proposition that, while all Paul criticisms are fair game, some, like the political correctness of his campaign slogan and his position on the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act, seem absurd to regard as relevant enough to focus on, given the immediacy and significance of other issues.

My basic problem with Paul is this: His conception of freedom is fairly simply expressed as the equation less government = more freedom. For someone like me, that equation is woefully inadequate, because the power of the federal government is sometimes necessary to ensure that people's individual freedom isn't being infringed upon by other sources.

In that light, Friedersdorf's characterization of the Civil Rights Act as some anachronistic concern is a bit frustrating. Paul's opposition to the bill suggests to me that as president, he wouldn't strenuously enforce anti-discrimination laws, or protect the voting rights of language and ethnic minorities. We're not talking about stuff that happens in black and white films. We're talking about discrimination in employment, housing, police brutality. We're talking Lilly Ledbetter and Safoorah Khan, we're not talking about things that happened fifty years ago. This stuff isn't "irrelevant." We are talking about the federal government making sure that people are able to make a living or cast a ballot regardless of the color of their skin. And it's a role for the federal government that Paul finds wrong in principle. These issues are "immediate and significant" to millions of Americans.

Friedersdorf is a civil libertarian, so his critique of Paul's immigration policy focuses on his reprehensible position on repealing birthright citizenship. But Paul's proposed immigration policy is, if anything, less forgiving than Obama's. He opposes any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and inexplicably for an anti-Drug Warrior, thinks we're going to "secure the border" in a way that somehow outstrips the demand for immigrant labor or the ingenuity of market actors. Aside from supporting a border fence (so much for boondoggles!) he thinks we should end mandatory emergency room treatment for undocumented immigrants, which essentially makes illegal immigration a crime punishable by death via neglect. This doesn't bother Paul though, because "Catholics want to help a lot of these people." Obama's immigration policy, until recently, has been incredibly aggressive, but at least it was part of a strategic effort to secure comprehensive reform, one that failed largely because of the bad faith of Republicans in Congress. The conditions under which Paul wants to "streamline" immigration policy can't actually be met--and frankly I wouldn't want them to be.

Is Paul going to unilaterally end the War on Drugs? I could imagine him being better than Obama in terms of things like not raiding medical marijuana dispenseries, but he can't change federal law without Congress, which couldn't even bring itself to completely repeal the crack/powder cocaine disparity. Take a look at how ICE reacted to Obama telling them to focus on deporting criminals instead of teenager and sick people, and you can get an inkling of the institutional backlash should Paul try to stop enforcement of federal drug laws. Is he going to stop state police from enforcing draconian drug laws in the states? Of course not, because he wants to leave them alone. Ending the War on Drugs is going to take more than a president, it's going to take a nationwide shift in public policy, one that seems to be occurring already but will take time to come to fruition. 

Friedersdorf told me in our Bloggingheads that civil liberties issues are the most important ones to him. I understand why Ron Paul appeals in this sense, because in issues of national security and foreign policy, where the president's influence is at its height, Paul has taken positions that echo the ones Obama took as a candidate. We would probably fight fewer dumb wars and fewer shadow wars under a President Paul, but Friedersdorf's faith in Paul's ability to somehow unilaterally shift American national security policy, with all of its entrenched interests and stakeholders, through mere force of will, is folly. Maybe it's comforting to think that Obama's failures in this area are wholly personal, but they're not. 

Paul, in addition to everything else, would appoint judges with no regard for a woman's right to choose when to carry a pregnancy to term. There is no mandatory contraception coverage in health insurance with a President Paul either. Title X plays a crucial role in the ability of poor women to obtain medical care beyond family planning services, but with Paul you'd have a president willing to go along with eliminating it.  I may not be entirely happy with the Affordable Care Act, but I like the idea of 32 million more Americans having health care coverage. Paul wants to abolish the welfare state entirely. Paul wants government "out of marriage," but he also wanted to strip federal courts of the ability to hear marriage equality cases so that again, states could discriminate as they see fit. Again, "immediate and significant" quite accurately describes the plight of same-sex couples under DOMA, particularly those who may have a partner facing deportation.

My conception of personal freedom involves not just the absence of government interference, but within reason, a certain amount of freedom from need--the elderly shouldn't live their twilight years in destitution, children should not lack for medical care because they were born into poverty, and getting cancer shouldn't mean that you lose everything you own to pay for medical bills. It also means you don't leave the states to dole out constitutional rights as they see fit. This is a profound philosophical difference that really can't be bridged through Paul's support for a less interventionist foreign policy and the rule of law. The American Prospect is a non-profit, so I'm not really comfortable writing here about who I voted for or who I plan to vote for in the future. But suffice it to say that while I share Paul's views on a few things that matter very much to me, I'm not willing to toss everything else aside for that reason.

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