Friday, January 20, 2012 / 5:00 am
Why Ron Paul is Wrong About Everything Ever, Social Issues Edition
He completely dismisses the realities of reconstruction, drug laws and the drug conviction rate.
by Tony Chavira
Racists—and those who exploit racism—are rarely about the business of openly declaring themselves as such, especially after their cause has been thumped. Before the Civil War, you could find all manner of Southerners exalting the “great moral truth of slavery.” Afterwards, they claimed it was just “States’ Rights.” Before Reconstruction, the defeated Confederates employed explicit black codes that reduced African-Americans to slavery. After Redemption they moved to “vagrancy laws,” “contracts” and “grandfather clauses.” In the 1960s George Wallace would loudly declare “segregation forever!” Now we say “the Civil Rights Act destroyed privacy.” In the era of militia madness, Ron Paul defended his racist newsletters. In the era of Barack Obama, he didn’t read them.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates
American history is full of strange asymmetries, which Americans of all color justify differently in retrospect. White settlers murdered 99% of the Native American population, but justified those murders by giving the remaining 1% land, tax exemptions and nation status. Africans were wrongfully enslaved for more than two hundred years, then given nothing when they were freed. Interned Japanese Americans were given a stipend after three years of wrongful imprisonment.
Ron Paul’s own views vary from topic to topic, person to person. His letters (which were, very likely, not written by him) call Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday “hate whitey day” and accused King of pedophilia. Paul himself states that he looks up to MLK, for his belief in peaceful civil disobedience and resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. also believed in a large peaceful government, but we can probably surmise that Paul may respectfully disagree with that.
Paul has also been tied to guys like white supremacist radio host James Edwards and former Nazi Party member/KKK Grand Wizard Supreme Don (incoming irony!) Black. There are even pictures of Ron Paul and Don Black hanging out together. On the other hand, Ron Paul understands that our legal system is structured in a way that punishes black people the most. As far as he’s concerned, if you push back the court system and chill out on the drug conviction rate, you’re helping the black community more than any other politician.
But Ron Paul is so painfully wrong about this point it makes my head hurt. For a politician that consistently claims that he takes history into consideration when making his decisions, I cannot believe how willing he is to completely dismiss the realities of reconstruction, drug laws and the drug conviction rate in order to score political points with those who simply want good, old-fashioned marijuana legalization.
Unfortunately, imprisonment seems to impact all aspects of black America, and yes … it is high time our politicians address this symptom of our society’s injustice. Ron Paul and many other argue not that it’s racism, but that it’s one symptom of a society that takes away people’s rights, and to some degree he’s theoretically right about that.
At this point in history, Americans have come to recognize that racism itself comes from an emotional place. Collectively, many of us are past that emotion and much more understanding of others. And now that we’re largely not racist, people like Ron Paul believe that the black community’s problems can be addressed by lifting laws that would call them criminals.
But that doesn’t mean we should forget that 200 years of racism have a terrible imprint on the physical construction of our nation.
Ultimately, no one harbors the type of racist feelings that once caused lynchings, slavery, and segregation laws anymore. But the economic and social ramifications of those once-prevalent laws are still all around us, literally built into our surroundings. Essentially, our society still functions and is organized to discriminate against black people, and it’s particularly difficult for non-racist white people to understand that. Gerrymandering, police jurisdictions, allocation of educational resources, community redevelopment budgets, corporate bids for industrial and commercial lands, prioritization of eminent domain … the black community has gotten the back of the hand on all these issues and still does in a lot of places.
Black Americans have not once, in hundreds of years, been properly empowered by their surrounding communities, and no amount of law-lifting will create equality. Marijuana legislation is just the convenient excuse cops use to exert social dominance over the black community. Make all drugs legal, and our society will simply find another avenue to exert social control. It definitely has enough options.
Drug policies aren’t exactly new either: religious intolerance has made just about everything we’ve done illegal at one point in human history. In that respect, it’s unfair for Ron Paul to structure his whole “I’m not racist” argument on the enforcement of marijuana: lots of systems of government have abused drugs to control people. It’s an issue of civil rights, but doesn’t ultimately answer the question “are you racist?” Besides, marijuana became illegal in 1937 after a federal kangaroo congress relied on newspaper articles that stated that evil Mexicans and their evil Mexican weeds were hatching a diabolical plan to assassinate white children. Existing racism and religious intolerance sold the policy the public, and bam … marijuana was made illegal by a group of guys who were feeling kinda low from having to re-legalizing booze just four years before that.
But were marijuana to be legal today, I doubt police would suddenly stop frisking innocent black youths based on suspicion alone (though they might have fewer pathetic excuses to throw them in jail).
Consider what the American south was like immediately after slavery was abolished and the civil war ended. The slavery industry accounted for about $3 billion dollars in 1860 and suddenly vanished, depleting the “savings” of many white landowners. Slaves were not given property, money or possessions, so they only had three real choices:
- Stay in the south and huddle together around areas that would later develop into slums;
- Work their way north along with millions of others to compete for the same low-paying, low-skilled jobs; or
- Work their way west, where there was a lot more free land but a lot less legal protection.
Then reconstruction failed horrifically when racism clearly carried over to the re-development and allocation of public services. Although there should have been a budget for one school for all children, the racist communities wanted a black school (that would receive 25% of the allocated money) and a white school (that would receive 75% of the allocated money). Since white votes counted for more than black votes and all the politicians were white, the south divided itself up that way. Insufficient education, community resources and opportunities turned black community slums into skid rows. Skid rows turned, eventually, to whole urban areas, and somehow white flight convinced the rest of the country that all cities were scary places full of dangerous black people.
One hundred and fifty years worth of black people were treated like second-class citizens by a society that was supposed to see them as equals. The fewer opportunities each black generation received from a racist white politician controlling a government budget or hiring free market workers, the more likely black communities would be forced to huddle together in urban areas. And, eventually, the more likely black communities would stop caring about the political process altogether.
“But Ron Paul’s not racist!” some say, and I think they’re right. The problem, now, has nothing to do with how racist people are. So for the sake of my argument, Ron Paul is the most non-racist, color-blind person in the history of the world. And for the sake of my argument, white America is no longer racist. It is fair and just and caring to all. I have decreed it.
The problem with Ron Paul is that none of his policies address the underlying reason why black Americans are treated differently from white Americans today: two hundred years of racism has kept black communities in unsubsidized urban sink holes of poverty. And that history can’t be brushed away: we can literally see it in the demographics of our cities! What Ron Paul doesn’t get is that black Americans were the first real libertarians. But they had no other choices; the government wasn’t going to help them and it stayed far out of their way. Their schools weren’t funded, their streets weren’t paved, their police never helped them, their fire departments let their homes burn down, their employers were allowed to hurt and exploit them, they were surrounded by industrialization and environmental waste, and they were given three options if they wanted to get out: 1) attend painfully underfunded and inadequate schools to eventually work for a white person, 2) become a criminal and at least have some money for a little while, or 3) join the military, where racism would be more obvious when a less capable white person got promoted before them. How’s that for affirmative actions?
More black people go to jail, get the death penalty and are targeted by police than white people because they have only so many options in our society. Bottom line: most white Americans have had at least one opportunity in the past 200 years to work a fair job with fair pay. Most Black Americans haven’t. That is reality.
And yet somehow, Ron Paul wants to reduce the government’s role in everyone’s lives. Am I the only person that thinks that is fucking crazy? Ron Paul believes that the Civil Rights Act was more about property than race relations. He doesn’t believe in any affirmative actions for people who have always been kept away from opportunities. He opposes the definition “hate crimes,” and would rather replace it with the term “equal penalty for equal assault,” which would debilitate larger investigations into hate groups. He comes from a very specific microcosm in America that is not representative of most American experiences. I mean, what kind of “total equality for everyone, all free market all the time” libertarian is rated 67% by the ACLU in 2002, which indicates a mixed civil rights voting record? Mixed!
As for legalizing marijuana: it’s great for his image and for once, I can say that it’s not a bad idea. The only good idea he’s had, in fact. “We don’t need laws to tell us not to use heroin,” he claimed last May, and I actually agree with him. Surveys even show that fewer and fewer Americans agree with the drug war and research continues to show that drug enforcement only reinforces the power of drug cartels.
But legalization does not work without a dramatic increase in social services to help addicts come clean with their problems. It’s a system that worked in Portugal. I cannot emphasize that enough: it worked. Conversely, Ron’s Paul proposed idea—to wind down the drug war while eliminating government services like the Department of Health and Human Services—already failed in Mexico. I repeat: failed. Already. If you’re smart enough not to use heroin, good for you. But that doesn’t make you a freer person. You’re free than you know you’ll never depend on a drug, regardless of how destitute your situation might get.
Some people never had the chance to make a smart decision about drugs, and Ron Paul is comfortable with never giving them that chance.
When I consider the short-sightedness of Ron Paul’s social policies while listening to his rhetoric, I get the impression that he’s not a bad, evil or racist person at heart. He’s just a guy who addresses real world problems with reactive, short-sighted and ideologically-rigid solutions that have no bearing on reality. But those good vibes I get are just my impressions of the guy. His voting record speaks for itself, as do the hazards of his ideas.
Granted, I’m not sure how many smiling pictures your local congressperson has taken with KKK Grand Wizards, but I bet it’s a number between zero and zero. Unfortunately, Ron Paul’s is at least one. You can’t say that Ron Paul’s against equal opportunities though.
Next week, the final blow: Ron Paul’s feckless foreign policy.