Liberal patronizing

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.


  1. Ulysses says

    Rand Paul made a good point about the administration’s “perpetual war” being used as an excuse for the executive branch to do whatever they feel like doing. National security, don’t you know. That doesn’t mean Paul had turned to the side of the angels. He still hates working Americans, he still opposes same-sex marriage, he still claims “Obamacare” is unconstitutional, he still thinks Social Security is a ponzi scheme despite having reality explained to him by his own staffers, and he’s still a basic know-nothing Tea Party libertarian.

  2. tuibguy says

    I do think that it is a reaction rather than a considered take on the issue. I know that my first inclination whenever I see Rand Paul’s name in a headline to sneer.

  3. bad Jim says

    Mano is of course right, as much as it pains us to admit it. Even Barry Goldwater had his good points. Even Richard Nixon (spits) helped to advance the progressive agenda.

    One problem, though, is that it’s rare to build a coalition around a single idea. If someone is going to be your ally in one battle and your foe in every other, it’s not necessarily productive to let him into your tent.

    The issue of executive prerogatives in national security has been orthogonal to party and ideology for generations. In effect it’s an institutional disease. To us outsiders it’s somewhat mysterious; it’s as though the president is inducted into secretive cult upon taking office.

    So long as the U.S. insists upon having a military larger than that of all other nations combined it may be inevitable. Maybe we ought to work on downsizing our ambitions, perhaps by supposing that we’ll have allies when we’re on the right side of a conflict.

  4. ollie says

    Actually, I support Obama because I think that he aims for the best policies that he thinks that he can get enacted. What I’d like to see (single payer insurance, less reliance on the military for foreign policy) hasn’t a prayer of getting enacted.

    Also, I understand language differently than others do (I am a mathematician after all). When I hear a statement such as “the POTUS is NEVER authorized to kill an American on US soil” I start thinking about exceptions, however rare or unlikely. That is why I was fine with the qualified statement by our Attorney General.

  5. jamessweet says

    So I guess I agree in general, but I think in the case of the Pauls, there actually is a justification for reminding people how wrong he is on other issues. Not so much in the case of Rand, I guess, but Ron Paul captured the imagination of a lot of not-so-level-headed liberals, to the point where he was actually getting overall support from them. It’s fine to acknowledge that a douchebag is right on a particular issue; but Ron Paul is wrong a lot more than he is right, and so e.g. supporting his various primary bids is not all that cool.

    I guess that phenomenon hasn’t really happened with Rand, so maybe I’m just talking nonsense here. Although, the Ron Paul phenomenon I think does serve as at least a partial rebuttal to your main point, as well: The fact is that most people are relatively ignorant about politics. If they hear one good thing a politician has done, it’s not inconceivable they would then get set in a decision to vote for that politician in the future if given a chance. It’s important for low-information voters who agree with Rand Paul about drones to be informed that he’s a major asshole on the majority of policy issues.

    Which is not to say that it can’t go too far. I posted to Facebook about how strange it was to see Republican legislators criticizing Democrats for things the Democrats actually have wrong (something I’ve said for years would never happen, because in virtually every aspect in which the Democratic party sucks, the Republicans suck even worse), and a fellow liberal posted some comments trying to say why even Rand Paul’s anti-drone filibuster was a dick move. Look, the guy is a dick, I get it; but he was right about that. Gotta give credit when due, y’know!

  6. jamessweet says

    Heh, one more point, although it’s a bit of a tu quoque:

    Liberals definitely do this, as do all human beings, because we’re shallow tribal imbeciles who just can’t handle the idea that somebody from the other tribe might get something right sometimes. However, while the liberal reaction in America tends to be, “But he’s still a dick!”, the conservative reaction tends to be, “Now we think THAT policy is evil too!” e.g. look what happened with the individual mandate.

  7. atheist says

    You’re absolutely right. I will sometimes note the rationalizations left wingers use with the Pauls, saying, for instance, that their statements against wars are meant cynically. It is like the left wingers are attempting to protect themselves from understanding that some members of the right wing both agree with them about wars, and disagree with them about economics, or women’s rights.

    In fact this attempt to protect oneself from cognitive dissonance is really unnecessary. The position of, “I agree with Rand Paul about drones but cannot support him in general because of his other views”, is a perfectly honorable one. What is understandable, but strange to me, is the way that folks try to protect themselves from cognitive dissonance by convincing themselves that their political opponents have no redeeming characteristics. To me this is less an example of “liberal patronizing”, more a misguided attempt at psychic self-defense.

  8. smrnda says

    I think some people believe that Ron or Rand Paul have the right opinions in some areas, but that their opinions are motivated by bad ideas, or that they are simply repulsed by the Federal government doing certain bad things, but would find it acceptable on the State level. The level to which Ron Paul spawned people willing to accept any pronouncement from Paul as completely correct perhaps has some people worried.

    When I was young, I recalled the shocking experience of reading something by Pat Buchanan where he expressed a sensible opinion -- it was the first time I recall understanding that a person can be wrong about almost everything, can be a horrible bigoted person, but right on an issue or two. Perhaps the lesson that came along with this is that you can’t discount everything an allegedly ‘horrible’ person says, but that another danger is that a person can draw you in with a few good points and then you end up embracing a horrible agenda, but both are really dangers of blind following.

  9. peter henry says

    I think the point is tribalism vs. principle. If you value the principle that government should be based on law and not on baldfaced assertions of privilege, then you have an obligation to back Rand Paul’s filibuster, and you should have some pretty hard-hitting questions for Democratic party back-benchers (and Republicans who failed to support him).

    If on the other hand, you support your side, right or wrong, then hell with it. But don’t pretend you’re doing it for principled reasons.

    Note I didn’t say I like Rand Paul. I just support what he did, and his reasons for doing it.

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