On Being “Right” on an Issue for the Wrong Reasons

Republican Gary Johnson—of whom Glenn Greenwald speaks fondly—announced today that he’s running for president. Johnson has attracted the fancy of some because he’s a Republican, running in the Republican primary, who doesn’t demagogue on gay issues, says he’s pro-choice (even though as governor of New Mexico he signed in to law a late-term abortion ban), and—I suspect this is the real reason a lot of otherwise usually reasonable people are tittering about him—he’s for the legalization of marijuana.

Gary Johnson is also hostile to labor unions, thinks states should be allowed to opt out of any federal laws they don’t like, opposes child labor laws, opposes actions to deal with global warming, pushes the use of public moneys for private school vouchers, slashed both taxes on the rich and the safety net benefits for the poor, and is opposed to same-sex marriage.

In short, Gary Johnson is Scott Walker if Walker was less abrasive and didn’t care if you get baked.

Johnson will generating some tittering from people who generally oppose Republicans because “he’s right on some of the issues.” Accepting that someone is “right on an issue” but not examining how they’re only right on that particular issue because they’re horribly wrong on much more fundamental issues is a common failing of many who follow and participate in politics.

Look at the Iraq war. Not all, but most liberals and progressives opposed the war. Almost all the prominent public opponents were centrists or those further to the left. But there were a few on the right who were steadfastly opposed. And to their discredit, many well-meaning liberals and progressives considered as allies in their cause rightwing Iraq war opponents such as Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul and the nativists at antiwar.com.

Back in 2003 through about 2006 or so it was quite common on liberal blogs to see approving links to antiwar.com. That was unfortunate, because their opposition to the war came from an ideological miasma of nativism, antisemitism and isolationism. For instance, over just a few days in 2005, antiwar.com posted pieces slyly suggesting that Jews—or at least Israelis–knew about 9-11 and the London bombings, that foreign aid to Africa is theft from “productive people,” that the war in Kosovo was NATO imperialism (because, you know, Kosovo is just chock-full of oil derricks!) and that the massacres at Srebrenica never occurred. It’s hardly a surprise that much of the opposition to the Iraq war from the nativist quarters was based on the belief that it was nothing more than a war waged on behalf of Israel.

If they were pupils in a math class, the rightwing opponents to the Iraq war would be like the student who listed the right answer but in showing her work demonstrated that it was a fluke, because all the processes and calculations were wrong.

If you’re a liberal and opposed to the war on drugs, you may think Johnson is an ally, but he’s really more like that math student who made numerous mistakes in trying to solve the problem but accidentally delivered the right answer. Johnson’s basis for legalizing drugs appears to be grow from the same roots as his opposition to, say, child labor laws: he doesn’t think the Constitution allows the federal government to have a role in much of anything.  As I mentioned in the update to this post, that’s a view that’s consistent with the Lochner-era supreme court which invalidated many of the early New Deal programs implemented in the first term of FDR’s presidency. It’s also a view that’s consistent with much of the nonsense spewed by the Cato Institute and other beneficiaries of Koch Industry’s self-interested largesse.

The belief that the federal government has hardly any role in regulating social and especially economic activities is antithetical to the liberal principles. The core beliefs of liberals, progressives and even most centrists and many conservatives is that the government has a role to play in improving people’s lives and acting in the common good for all.  We believe that enforcing civil and minority rights takes precedence over states rights. We believe that the federal government has a role to play in taming the excesses of capitalism, and that the primary means to do that are through labor laws, regulating the financial sector, maintaining a social safety net that includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and the various forms of assistance for the middle class (like financial aid for college students and federally-backed support for home-buyers), stabilizing the economy and working to ensure growth through both monetary and fiscal means and providing wage stabilization through unemployment benefits. We value the principle of social and economic equality and doing what’s possible to ameliorate both deprivations and massive disparities of wealth and life opportunities. We believe in the rule of law, and believe that the rule of law includes protections for consumers and checks on the wealthy and powerful, both individual and collective (including corporate). We believe that the commons need to be regulated, so we embrace conservation and regulating our effects on the environment, including our effects on the climate. There are other areas that liberals and progressives have strong beliefs, and in some–such as due process and criminal matters, as well as free speech and privacy issues–we often share common ground with libertarians. But on matters of the federal government’s involvement in the economy, libertarians like Gary Johnson and Ron Paul, despite what they may say about Iraq or marijuana, are our vehement opponents.

There’s an old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It most cases that’s stupid. In the case of Gary Johnson, Ron Paul and other libertarians like them, the fact that they may occasionally be “right” on some issue in isolation is no reason to embrace them when their underlying philosophy means they oppose almost every core liberal belief and principle.

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2 Responses to On Being “Right” on an Issue for the Wrong Reasons

  1. Norbrook says:

    Great post. What I’ve had … discussions … with people about in the past is just because I agree with someone on one issue (or several), it doesn’t mean I agree with them on most issues. When someone is narrowly focused on a single issue, they lose sight of the bigger picture. Just because I agree with Ron Paul on some things, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think that he – or his platform – would be a good thing for the country. I’ve actually had someone claim that there was going to be a “libertarian/progressive coalition” arising, and suggest that the presidential ticket would be Paul/Kucinich.

  2. lester says:

    “And to their discredit, many well-meaning liberals and progressives considered as allies in their cause rightwing Iraq war opponents such as Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul and the nativists at antiwar.com.”

    they WERE allies in their cause. The cause being opposition to what turned out to be a disaterous war. Of course they’re not allies in the larger cause of progressivism itself.
    They certainly weren’t allied with, say, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, both of whom supported the resolution or any of the many other democrats who did.

    We are all human beings, friends, and neighbors and don’t come from a cookie cutter. Some right wingers have more of a clue about war and the war on drugs than many progressives .

    “That was unfortunate, because their opposition to the war came from an ideological miasma of nativism, antisemitism and isolationism”

    so was Hillary Clintons support of the war from, what, a combination of internationalism, phil0-semitism and globalism?

    You’re antiwar or you’re pro war, you can’t spin that to favor democrats who had no principles and went along with it and slam republicans who were correct.

    Ron Pauls statements are on youtube about Iraq and they aren’t based on nativism isolationism or any of that. they are the same thing liberals say, or should.

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