pic: thenewjimcrow.com

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by Subhash Kateel

After the amount of flak I caught from my last post on Ron Paul, I almost decided to never write about the guy again, lest I have to check under my car every morning.  I seem to have pissed a few people off, not because of what I wrote, but what I didn’t write. Apparently, defending the parts of Ron Paul that I don’t think are crazy isn’t enough.  I have to be willing to vote for the guy AND believe he has a real chance of becoming President. In the alternative, I have to pretend that he has never been right about anything and is only a dangerous racist demagogue.  Writing anything that says, “it’s complicated” is unacceptable to some people (thanks for reading anyway).
But after seeing him in action during the New Hampshire debates, I decided to go in one last time . In the process of defending himself from his own infamous 1990’s newsletters (if you missed the fun, you can get caught up here) he brought up stuff I wouldn’t expect to hear in a Republican debate. 

“I’m the only one up here and the only one in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country. It’s in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites, and yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re prosecuted, imprisoned, way disproportionately. They get the death penalty way disproportionately.

How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get execution? But poor minorities have an injustice. And they have an injustice in war as well.  Because minorities suffer more. Even with the draft, they suffered definitely more. Without a draft, they’re suffering disproportionately. If we truly want to be concerned about racism, you ought to look at a few of those issues and look at the drug laws which are being so unfairly enforced.”
If a politician ever needs to divert a discussion away from the dumb things in their past in a principled way, this is probably how they should do it.  To find an example of how not to respond to a racially charged situation, look no further than Florida Governor, and only politician less popular than ghosts, Rick Scott.  On a few occasions the unloved gov responded to criticism from some members of the African American community by insisting that he understands Black folks because he grew up in the projects.  In New Hampshire,  jackass-in-chief Newt Gingrich (who I not really defend here) was handling fallout from his statements linking the entire Black community to food stamp use by simply saying more jacked up stuff.  
In a climate where so many politicians do such a bad job of removing the feet they put in their mouths, it is pretty refreshing to see a politician do a foot-in-mouth extraction while simultaneously highlighting a real societal injustice that disproportionately affects working people of color .
How bad are the disparities in the criminal justice system that Ron Paul refers to?  So bad that many, including author Michelle Alexander, have called the criminal justice system the  “New Jim Crow.”   So  bad, that Desmond Meade of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition estimates that a million Floridians are stripped of their right to vote because of it.  So bad that Gov. Rick Scott and his Attorney General Pam “I enforce the law unless it’s foreclosure fraud” Bondi seem to be using the disparities to prevent tens of thousands of people from voting, potentially setting the stage for a rigged 2012 election.  

For a Republican politician to essentially insert a discussion of the new Jim Crow into a election year debate is not lost on those that have fought for even a fraction of that attention during any Democratic debate.  Now Ron Paul isn’t right when he says that he is the “only” politician that understands the new Jim Crow. And before you start trying to book him for an MLK day speaking engagement, I should point out that, racist or not, his opposition to the Civil Rights Act is freaking bizarre.  But this whole racist newsletter fiasco brings up of a much bigger point -the difference between being personally racist and promoting policies with racist results.  You can have supposedly not-racist politicians like President Bill Clinton that enact policies via the War on Drugs and the death penalty that produce racist results.  You can also have really racist politicians, like President Harry Truman, who once said that one man is as good as another as long as he is not a “nigger or chinaman,” that  promote  anti-racist policies like de-segregating the military. As a whole,  the sooner we can have real conversations about the differences between the two,  the sooner we will be better at holding politicians accountable for the things they say and do.

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Pic: Rawstory.com
By Subhash Kateel
Over the holidays, I was tempted a thousand times to write about Ron Paul’s recent problems.  Since writers throughout the political spectrum decided to inform me of the letters they “found” from twenty years ago proving he is a racist, xenophobe, and homophobe, I wanted to respond.  Some of the articles calling out his “isms” have actually been really helpful (like this one).  But others have really questionable timing.  Apparently, I am not the only one that thinks so.  In some ways, Glenn Greenwald wrote the article I would want to read on the topic.  But the Iowa Caucuses, with the enshrining of Mitt “corporations are people because I am one” Romney as the front runner and the emergence of this dude as a serious contender, reminded me that I have a few more things to say.
To be clear, I am by no means a Ron Paul supporter.  Honestly, the only way I could ever vote for the guy is if he were running against Cobra Commander or Megatron.  But as a person that called the immigrant rights movement home for over 12 years, I don’t find anything about his alleged xenophobia surprising or newsworthy.  Ron Paul has long been an opponent of birthright citizenship, the concept that birth on US soil automatically makes someone a US citizen (what some people call the Fourteenth Amendment).  As a basic rule, I assume that most people who don’t like birth right citizenship decided this around the time US born children of immigrants started looking more brown, being less Protestant, and began putting hot sauce in their ketchup.  As I watched  the 2009 movie Bruno, where Ron Paul freaked out and ran around the room calling Sasha Cohen’s character  “a queer”after he came on to him, I assumed he meant it negatively and not because he really liked the organization, Queers for Economic Justice.  Considering that I sort of guessed him to not like immigrants and gay folks a lot, I kind of inferred that during the 90’s, when those racist newsletters in his name came out,  he wasn’t reading James Baldwin and listening to X-Clan.
If you aren’t particularly startled by Ron Paul’s “isms” but appreciate learning more about them,  you still have to wonder why the “news” about those “isms” is surfacing now.  Some friends tell me that a few on the lefter side of the universe were taken aback by the large numbers of Ron Paulists who joined the Occupy movement  (a pretty open secret).  What some saw as a new politic and possibility, others saw as an infiltration, while Occupy’s enemies saw an opening for divide and conquer.  Others point to the mainstream Democrats, who really love to see Ron Paul do good at the polls, until he says things that make them look really bad.   In September,  Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz seemed thrilled that Ron Paul was joining the pack of candidates that are “bear hugging the Tea Party” (more on her later).  As Greenwald points out in his article, Ron Paul has taken a much stronger stand on things like the wars on drugs, “terrorism” and civil liberties than most Democrats (who are suppose to be good on that stuff).  And then there are the Republicans, who are on a quest to find a real elephant in the room (read: not Romney) to face Obama.  As long as Ron Paul is at the top of the polls, he skews the curve away from “bomb them all”, “jail them all”, and “show me the money” candidates that are unlikely to change the status quo, let alone “end the fed.”
I understand why people are concerned about Ron Paul’s bad ideas, I really do.  I would be worried too if I didn’t think that kid from Napolean Dynamite had a better chance of being President than him.  But I find Republican politicos’ concern, the same ones that tolerate Santorum saying that he opposes giving government money to “Black people” and then pretends he means “blah” people, to be questionable.  (Sidenote:  I am not sure who “blah” people are, but are they the ones taking our jobs?)
I can also understand why people find the outrage of mainstream Democrats to be really disingenuous.  I could mention how “pro-immigrant” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently doubled down in support of quintessential evil 1%-er Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the countries’ largest and likely nastiest private prison company,  against immigrant activists,  local residents, Tea Party commentators,  professional athletes, “anti-immigrant” politicians, and damn near everyone else who opposed the building of the largest immigrant detention center in the country in her district.  I could mention how ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Obama’s largest (and clearly not-racist because their boss is Black) law enforcement agency, deported a young Dallas-born African American girl who spoke no Spanish to Colombia.  I could also mention how the first fake Black President, Bill Clinton, was so not-racist that the Black prison population damn near doubled under his watch via the War on Drugs around the same time some of Paul’s newsletters came out.  I could even mention how the Democrats tolerated a former Ku Klux Klansmen as one of their elder statesmen, who repudiated his past affiliations but never his voting record (opposing the same Civil Rights Act as Paul).
But I find it more important to mention the times Ron Paul hasn’t been so bad, and has actually been helpful. A few really stick out in my mind.  For one, during the Park 51 aka the “a few blocks from Ground Zero Mosque” controversy.   Despite being a highly respected figure amongst much of the Tea Party, he bucked other Tea Party politicians (including his own son) to condemn the controversy and call it for what it was, an insincere way to create fake reasons to support future conflicts.  In fact he probably had the most on point critique of any major politician, even Mayor Bloomberg (who took time away from pushing working people out of New York and selling the city to his rich friends to give these stirring words).  The second was during the whole debt ceiling dumbness, where he actually proposed a thing or two that not so dumb economists like Dean Baker and Marshall Auerback thought weren’t such bad ideas.  The third is when he steadfastly refused to endorse John McCain, precisely because of his virtual call for unending war.
None of Ron Paul’s attributes should excuse the really bad things he says or supports.  And we should fight those bad ideas as hard as we can. But his bad ideas aren’t much different than the ideas of a Mitt Romney or a Rick Santorum.  On the other hand, as long as he polls well, the Republicans and the rest of the political establishment are forced to contend with his good ideas until we all get a bad Republican nominee.  As far as Ron Paul supporters go, I do get really annoyed when even conversations about what pizza to get are answered by, “the only solution is to vote for Ron Paul!”  But for every Ron Paul supporter who thinks the former physician can heal every social ill, I find others that are really open to a bunch of ideas on making the world a better place and are glad they found new spaces to explore those ideas.  In the end, Ron Paul’s staying power is a symptom of a political climate in which some people are so hungry for solutions to the mess we are in, they will support any ideas or people that seem to have integrity.  That means that it is up to us to produce the real people with integrity to create real solutions to the problems we are facing.
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