Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Of smears and facts

-- by Dave and Sara

So it appears that Glenn Greenwald (someone both of us very much admire) thinks we've "smeared" Ron Paul.

Now, someone correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that a smear by definition is false. And I'm having difficulty fathoming how a post comprised almost solely of links to legislation Paul has sponsored -- 161 of them, in fact -- could constitute a smear. In the world of the blogosphere, the posts don't get much more fact-oriented.

[Secondarily, a minor corrective note: I didn't write the passage that Greenwald quotes. It was written by our regular commenter Trefayne, as I tried to explain in the intro. Minor carelessness, but indicative, I'm afraid, of Greenwald's approach in general here. Certainly I published it, and continue to stand behind Trefayne's reportage and his remarks.]

Greenwald points out, quite accurately, that two of the bills described in the post in question -- a laundry list of legislation sponsored by Paul -- dealing with flag burning were actually indicative of Paul's opposition to flag-burning legislation:
Indeed, he only introduced those flag-burning amendments in order to dare his colleagues who wanted to pass a law banning flag burning to do it that way -- i.e., the constitutional way. When introducing his amendments, he delivered an eloquent and impassioned speech on the floor of the House explaining why he considered anti-flag-burning measures to be "very unnecessary and very dangerous."

I'd zeroed in on the flag-burning issue in my own followup work on the post, and was baffled by the facts of the case -- namely, that Paul had sponsored a bill in 1997 proposing a bill to amend the Constitution to allow for flag burning prohibitions, but then turned around and voted against a measure with nearly identical wording.

So Greenwald does seemingly help fill in the essential facts -- namely, that Paul had offered up the measure as an attempt to highlight the wrongness of what it proposed. Or was it?

As Bolo points out in my comments:
This is a very subtle misreading of Ron Paul's position. He's largely right, but at the beginning Glenn states that Ron Paul is "vehemently against any and all laws to criminalize flag burning." Then I guess he missed this quote from Ron Paul's speech on the issue (Glenn quotes Ron Paul at length, but doesn't include this line):

"Under the Constitutional principle of federalism, questions such as whether or not Texas should prohibit flag burning are strictly up to the people of Texas, not the United States Supreme Court. Thus, if this amendment simply restored the state's authority to ban flag burning, I would enthusiastically support it."

So, actually, yes... Ron Paul is for prohibiting flag burning. He's just against amending the Constitution to do it. But if your state wants to criminalize it, then that's mighty fine by him. Once again, his complete and utter commitment to states' rights overshadows anything.

In any event, it is not exactly an ordinary legislative tactic to sponsor legislation that proposes to enact something you oppose, but it is known to happen, and may have in this case, though the evidence is dubious at best. If that is the case, then we were wrong -- but we invite Greenwald to demonstrate that Paul isn't in fact a supporter of state prohibitions on flag burning.

Moreover, to read Greenwald's post, one would come away with the impression that this was the similar case for a significant portion, if not a majority or perhaps even the entirety, of the bills cited in the post.

After all, we're talking about a post with 161 links to bills that Paul not merely voted upon, but sponsored. Out of them, two arguably were misrepresentative of the thrust of the post (namely, that Paul's legislative record reflects his extremist orientation and background) -- but after further review, it becomes clear that the remaining 159 pieces of legislation were almost certainly sincere attempts at lawmaking.

It's clear, after all, that Paul is an advocate of returning to the gold standard, of disbanding the Federal Reserve, the IRS, the Education Department, and a host of other federal agencies, and of withdrawing the United States from the United Nations. He not only has sponsored bills to do so, he's publicly advocated for them.

But if you were to only read Greenwald's post, you'd have a hard time telling that this is the case. Indeed, there's nary an effort to address the actual radicalism of Paul's positions raised in the many posts we've written here detailing them (there's a pretty complete list at the bottom of this post).

Instead, we get this:
This raises a broader point. It has become fashionable among certain commentators to hurl insults at Ron Paul such as "huge weirdo," "fruitcake," and the like. Interestingly, the same thing was done to another anti-war medical doctor/politician, Howard Dean, back in 2003, as Charles Krauthammer infamously pronounced with regard to Dean that "it's time to check on thorazine supplies." Krauthammer subsequently said that "[i]t looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again."

Note: This is an analogy akin to the very kind that I know have driven Greenwald crazy in the past -- wherein we compare the scribblings of bloggers to nationally syndicated pundits appearing on national television. What gives?

That notwithstanding, you'll note that Greenwald doesn't link here when issuing that complaint -- because we haven't talked about Paul in terms anything like that. The closest I've come to doing so was when I referred to some of the organizations from whom Paul has received financial and ideological support over the years as "nutcases" and said "he's one of them":
After all, what this comes down to is not so much beliefs and values but judgment. One expects, after all, a congressman to display better judgment than to appear before a group of nutcases. Ron Paul didn't, and hasn't, for a simple reason -- he's one of them.

What I've consistently said about Ron Paul is that the agenda he advocates is, by nearly any measure, that of a far-right extremist. I haven't ventured any armchair psychology into his motivations -- I've been simply reporting reportable facts. If Glenn has facts to prove me wrong, he needs to present them. I know I observed (usually from afar, but once in person) Paul's avid presence at many a "Patriot" gathering in the 1990s, rubbing shoulders with Bo Gritz and John Trochmann, enough times to feel confident that I'm not bending the reality.

I wrote and asked Sara for her thoughts on this, and she responded (thus the dual byline):
1) Much of Glenn's screed is against people who call Paul a "weirdo" and a "fruitcake." Nowhere in your missive did you use either word. In fact, you have avoided ad hominems entirely in your recent posts [note the exception above]. But there's a strong implication throughout the post that somehow it was YOU who engaged in this name-calling -- and if that's false, you need to strenuously object to that association. In fact, he probably owes you an apology for implying that that you did this, and a clarification that you did not.

2) Much of the rest of it is about how bizarre Hillary and our mainstream discourse in general is. I think you and I would both agree with him on this point (and, in fact, our agreement that the system is screwed is why we blog in the first place) [ed: Indeed we do] --- but we're not talking about Hillary, we're talking about Paul. Glenn is trying to change the subject in a very lawyerly way. Nice attempt at diversion there, Glenn -- but let's stay on the subject, which is not Hillary or the mainstream, but rather Paul.

And suggesting that we've got some kind of either-or choice here is simply false. Glenn is usually a more subtle thinker than that, but he's slipped a gear here. The enemy of our enemy is not always (or even usually) our friend.

3) You may want to reiterate that you've spent 20 years tracking the right wing, and have written several well-regarded books on the subject. In fact, you're the left-wing blogosphere's point man on this subject -- so it's rather surprising to find these kinds of attacks on your credibility on this subject coming from inside our own quarters.

The fact is that you know the players in this end of the field a hell of a lot better than anyone else does. You're not saying these things in the service of an agenda or just to be mean -- even though many of Glenn's commentors on this post seem to think so. (Lawyers may do that. Professional journalists do not.) You are calling it like you see it -- and you are a credible witness who is seeing things other people are not in a position to notice, let alone interpret properly. A little trust in your good reputation and long familiarity with the beat would be in order here, and it's a shame that it's not forthcoming.

4) Nowhere does Glenn refute our central argument, which is that Paul has a 25-year history of getting strong financial and voter support from the farthest fringes of the right wing. In fact, he is largely a creation of the extremist fringe, though he's doing his very best to obscure that fact now. If Glenn has contrary information that proves these people are not who we say they are, he needs to provide it.

5) And I just loved this: "And I read every day that corporations and their lobbyists are the bane of our country, responsible for most of its ills. What does it say about her that her campaign is fueled in large part by support from exactly those factions? Are she and all of her supporters nonetheless squarely within the realm of the sane and normal? And none of this is to say anything of the Giulianis and Podhoretzs and Romneys and Krauthammers and Kristols with ideas so extreme and dangerous, yet still deemed "serious."

So it's OK to demonize Hillary for the people who are funding her campaign and supporting her candidacy -- but we're not allowed to judge Paul by the same criteria? Glenn keeps coming back over and over to how we're not supposed to engage in guilt by association -- but he just did it himself here. Furthermore (as I said before, and think bears repeating), don't we wish we'd understood just a heck of a lot more about the people who were supporting George Bush before we elected him? And isn't our willingness to ask those questions one of the essential things that we do that differentiates us from the MSM, who have repeatedly failed to give us the full background on the people we're supporting? In an age of corporate cronyism, is Glenn honestly arguing that this kind of stuff doesn't matter?

I won't try to argue, actually, that my extensive background (discussed in some detail here, for those interested) in dealing with the far right gives me any particularly overwhelming authority on this subject -- I've been wrong before and could be again. But I have been tracking Ron Paul and his activities for so long that I'd be criminally remiss not to report what I know about his background and his agenda. Moreover, I would like emphasize the underlying point: I'm not doing this in service of anyone's agenda, but simply out of respect for my craft.

Besides, appeals to authority are fairly clear logical fallacies. The problem with Greenwald's argument, conversely, is that it's founded on a kind of logical fallacy as well, or at least fallacious reasoning -- namely, that my arguments about Ron Paul constitute "guilt by association." It is in fact a misapprehension of what comprises such "guilt." In one of his updates, he writes:
On another note, I wrote in my prior post concerning Paul that I found the efforts (by Neiwert and others) to smear him by linking him to some of his extremist and hate-mongering supporters to be unfair (for reasons I explained here). Neiwert responded and compiled what he thinks is the best evidence to justify this linkage here.

For reasons I'll detail at another time, I found virtually all of that to be unpersuasive, relying almost entirely on lame guilt-by-association arguments that could sink most if not all candidates (the only arguably disturbing evidence in this regard is this 1996 Houston Chronicle article, which Neiwert didn't mention, and the pro-Paul response is here). Everyone can review the evidence -- all of which is quite old and very little of which relies on any of Paul's own statements -- and make up their own minds.

[Actually, FWIW, we have mentioned the Houston Chronicle piece a couple of times, had Greenwald bothered to explore the links in that piece with any care.]

Well, what is "guilt by association"? It's considered part of the association fallacy:
An association fallacy is an inductive formal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. [my emphasis]

The problem with Ron Paul isn't that he has irrelevant associations with far-right extremists -- it's that he seeks out their support, openly advocates their agenda, and receives financial and ideological support from them. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I read somewhere awhile back -- though I can't find it now -- that Paul has historically received an unusually high percentage of his financial support for his congressional campaigns from outside his district.) Those grim realities make his associations all too relevant, especially for a public official in the position of a serving congressman, and now, presidential candidate.

As I explained in that piece:
[T]his isn't "guilt by association" -- first, the argument isn't that Paul is a racist per se, but that he is an extremist who shares a belief system held not just by racists but other anti-government zealots as well. Paul is identified with their causes not simply because he speaks to them, but because he elucidates ideas and positions -- especially regarding the IRS, the UN, the gold standard, and education -- identical to theirs. This is why he has their rabid support. There is an underlying reason, after all, that Paul attracts backers like David Duke and the Stormfront gang: he talks like them.

Second and perhaps most importantly, there are legitimate reasons for anyone to raise objections to Paul's associations, speaking before the Patriot Network, the CofCC, and similar groups -- he's a public official, and he is lending the power of his public office to legitimizing radical-right organizations like this. Think of why it would be wrong to appear before the Klan, or the CofCC, as Trent Lott and Hayley Barbour have done in the latter case.

It's not merely what it implies about your own beliefs and standards -- it's that you've lent the power of your public office to empowering and raising the stature of racists and extremists. You of course have the right to do so -- but the public has every right to criticize you for it as well, as it should. After all, what this comes down to is not so much beliefs and values but judgment. One expects, after all, a congressman to display better judgment than to appear before a group of nutcases. Ron Paul didn't, and hasn't, for a simple reason -- he's one of them.

And just as his associations with far-right extremists have empowered those groups -- a favor now being returned in the form of their avid support for him even as he attempts to strategically distance himself from them -- his recent stunning successes mean the further empowerment of these groups. And that is why, over the long term, we ought take much greater pause in considering the value of his success.

His supporters are fond of talking about Ron Paul's integrity and honesty and forthrightness, but the stark truth is that, so far, he has been incredibly disingenuous about his beliefs and his background, as well as his supporters.

I mean, it's one thing to claim that you want nothing to do with white supremacists. People in my line of work hear that a lot from people for whom the evidence suggests otherwise (see, e.g., Trent Lott). But the fact is that Ron Paul gladly accepts not just their support but their money. Given the opportunity to disavow them -- especially, say, by refusing their donations -- he politely declines. Actions, after all, speak louder than words.

But even Paul's words, moreover, are somewhat less than forthcoming. The most thorough disavowal of his support from overt racists I've seen so far has been along the lines of, "Well, they'll be disappointed if that's why they're supporting me." Hello? (Perhaps Glenn can find better, but I haven't yet.)

Of course, it's not just Paul who's being disingenuous here. It's his supporters -- and his apologists.

I'm still having trouble, I'll admit, recovering from my astonishment that Glenn Greenwald is one of them.

NOTE: I edited this briefly after posting it, adding Bolo's comment.

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