I have noticed a peculiar tendency on the part of what is commonly identified as the ‘left’ or the ‘liberal’ wing of American politics. It surfaced again in the filibuster by senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) of the nomination of John Brennan to be head of the CIA until he got an answer to his question of whether the US had the legal authority to kill a non-combatant US citizen in the US without due process. (Se Justin Raimondo’s interesting take on the what the filibuster and the response to it says about the realignment of politics in the US.)
People concerned about the erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law in the US were pleased that at last a high-profile politician was bringing this issue to the forefront as otherwise the media would simply ignore it. But some commentators fretted that praising Paul for doing this somehow meant that we were making him into a ‘hero’ and thus providing support for his other policies. They were quick to tell us how awful his stands on other issues were.
This seems patronizing. Of course Paul’s stands on many other issues are awful. The reasons why he is a darling of the Tea Party are hardly a secret. The fact that I supported his action in this one area does not mean that I have amnesia on everything else that he stands for or that I am going to support him should he run for president.
This happens all the time. Rand Paul’s father Ron Paul has also said many good things in his political career but as soon as you support him on those issues, people are quick to point out that you must have been duped because of how bad his other policies are, as if we did not already know this. I recall one time in 2011 when Ron Paul and Ralph Nader proposed a joint agenda that they both agreed upon that contained some excellent ideas, such as opposing corporate control of government, bloated military budgets, undeclared wars, corporate bailouts, invasion of civil liberties and civil rights, opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act, trade deals like NAFTA and WTO, stronger whistleblower protections, support for WikiLeaks, opposition to runaway deficits, and bringing transparency to the actions of the Federal Reserve and putting it under democratic control. But this was derided by people who hate Ron Paul and/or Ralph Nader and thus could not see anything good coming out of this alliance.
This kind of attitude slows down progress on many worthy issues, because we focus too much on the person and not enough on the issue at hand. Just as the Tea Party and major elements of the Republican party leadership seem to want to oppose anything president Obama proposes because he proposed it, so do some liberals support his policies because they feel that he is ‘their’ man and criticizing him would weaken him.
As I said in an earlier post, we really need to shift our focus from individuals to finding grounds for joint action with people with whom we might well disagree with strongly on other issues.