Raw Story and Reason.com on the Iowa Caucus
Megan Carpentier (Exec. Editor of the progressive Raw Story) and Matt Welch (Editor in Chief of the libertarian Reason.com) discuss the results of the Iowa Caucus vote
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The Iowa caucuses are over. And now joining us to help us deconstruct the significance of the vote are Megan Carpentier. She’s the executive editor of the Raw Story. And joining us while he’s visiting in France is Matt Welch. He’s the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine. Thank you both for joining us. So, Matt, kick us off. First of all, what happened? And just your initial take from you on the significance of it.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: I think the most important thing that happened today is the winnowingâ€”or yesterday was the winnowing of the field. Michele Bachmann just announced minutes ago that she’s stepping down as president. So we dodged that bullet. And there’s been news reports, although they’ve been mixed, that Rick Perry is suspending his campaign. I think effectively we are looking at a four- (or five-, if you count Jon Huntsman) man race going forward and kind of a coalescence of social conservatives behind Rick Santorum, which was something not many people were talking about three or four weeks ago. So we’ve seen now kind of more clarifications going forward here and just a really interesting and bizarre kind of setup between Mitt Romney, who’s this superestablishmentarian guy that you think you can introduce to your parentsâ€”you know, he’s a moderately respectable type of electable guyâ€”and then Ron Paul, who is the opposite of him in every possible way. And to see those two going forward, I think, is going to be a very interesting dynamic.
JAY: Megan, what’s your initial take?
MEGAN CARPENTIER, EXEC. EDITOR, RAW STORY: I mean, I don’t think anybody predicted, even ten days ago, that Rick Santorum would be the number two candidate coming out of Iowa between the Ron Paul surge that people were seeing and the other more established candidates who have been in the race for a while. The fact that Rick Santorum came out and almost won (within ten votes) the Iowa caucus is pretty stunning, I think, for most people who watch politics. You know, going forward, he doesn’t have a lot of money, he doesn’t have a lot of organization in New Hampshire. That’s pretty much considered Romney’s home turf. So really it looks like the next big contest for him to prove that Iowa wasn’t just a fluke is going to be South Carolina. And, obviously, he’s going to be competing with other folks, like Newt Gingrich and even Rick Perry, who said this morning that he apparently plans to continue going forward. South Carolina is going to be the next big contest to decide who’s really going to face Mitt Romney.
JAY: Right. Now, I should have said this in my introductions, but Megan is the executive editor of Raw Story, which is one of the most popular sites amongst people who consider themselves progressives. Matt is one of theâ€”is the editors of reason.com, which is one of the most popular sites amongst people who consider themselves libertarian. So, Matt, for your viewers and a lot of people watching this, the realâ€”the most interesting story of the caucuses, Iowa caucus, is Ron Paul. So how did he do, and what do you make ofâ€”you know, where does he fit in this party? I mean, this is notâ€”I mean, it’s hard even to call this one party if you can have a Santorum that gets almost the same many votes as Ron Paul. As you said, they couldn’t be more polar opposites on everything.
WELCH: Yeah. I mean, the broad picture is that the Republican Party for the last four years, even though there’s this false kind of unity against Barack Obama, is in fact going through a kind of civil war of what kind of party is it going to be in the 21st century, and it’s totally up for grabs. Is it going to be super militaristic? Is it going to be super socially conservative? Is it going to be the kind of limited government tradition of a Barry Goldwater or more of a Ron Paul? These things are all totally up for grabs.
Paul’s supporters two weeks ago thought he was going to win, I mean, even a week ago thought he was going to win. He was poking up as the front runner. And so there’s a lot of people sort of licking their wounds. All of the late-breaking votes went away from him because he became the target of everyone’s attention. As soon as he was the frontrunner, everyone went after him for sure. I would look atâ€”again at the big picture and say that Mitt Romney got the exact same number of votes, I mean, within, like, six votes, as he did in 2008. He got 30,000 votes, got 25 percent. Ron Paul more than doubled his, up till 21 percent, and I think that’s a pretty good indication that his view within the sort of GOP is definitely on the grow. That’s where the action is on the GOP grassroots. Not that they’re totally sold by Ron Paul. Many people are turned off by his foreign policy and other types of things about him. However, that is what isâ€”where the action is right now. But all of that said, Mitt Romney is polling huge in New Hampshire.
I think what you’re looking at with Ron Paul is that he’s running on an educational campaign. He wants to spread the ideas of freedom, as he would put it, out there. And he’s got money. So he’s going to be sticking with this until the convention. I don’t think that we can say that about Newt Gingrich, certainly not Rick Perry. So pretty soon I think it’s going to boil down to a two- or three-man race on the Republican side, and then we’re going to see very, very interesting kind of mutual recriminations and this fight for the kind of soul of the party.
JAY: Right. Now, we know Michele Bachmann has now pulled out. Megan, there was an interesting trend developing in Iowa. There was some suggestion that people that might normally be independents leaning towards Democrat, or even Democrats who agree with some of Ron Paul’s foreign policy positions and civil liberties positions, might kind of cross over and vote for Paul. And I noticed in the last couple of weeks not just a campaign against Paul from Romney quarters and Gingrich quarters, but also in theâ€”you know, a lot of the progressive press started really targeting Ron Paul and may have undercut some of that support in Iowa. What do you make of the significance of that? And why did the progressive press go after Ron Paul so much, given, you know, how much one would think they agree with parts of his program, at least?
CARPENTIER: I think the difficulty with Ron Paul, who I’ve actually, you know, been covering for, I guess, five years now, is that he has some positions which are very palatable to people on the liberal side of the fenceâ€”a limited portion of his foreign policy position, I would say more of a majority of his civil liberties position. But at the end of the day, he also comes with what the press have euphemistically called "baggage" and what most of the mainstream press has ignored for the last five years and beyond, which is, as Matt alluded to, his racially tinged writings of the late ’80s and early ’90s, his foreign policy positions, which, while some on the left characterize them as antiwar, are actually better characterized as isolationist. So it’s not just that he wants us to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also wants us to pull out of the UN, including things like UNESCO and the UN World Food Programme, which are very liberal-friendly. He wants us to pull out of the World Trade Organization. So his positions are really better characterized as isolationist. And he’s managed to get lot more attention for those positions which areâ€”or from liberal quarters. So I think for a lot of people who all of a sudden saw a Republican antiwar candidate, it was a little bit of a learning process or a discovery process to find out that actually he had all of these other positions which were sort of unpalatable, and then a debate among liberals about what was more important, his positions on things like a woman’s right to choose or his positions on the war in Iraq.
JAY: Matt, what do you make of that? ‘Cause in previous interviews, you’ve suggested there should be some kind of common ground alliance between libertarians and progressives on foreign policy and civil liberties issues, even if there’s major disagreements on domestic questions.
WELCH: Yeah. I found it pretty interesting to read, for example, Glenn Greenwald on this three or four days ago. He kind of made a stink saying that basically under George W. Bush for six years or eight years, depending on how long you measure it, a lot of people on the left were saying that the expansion of executive power, the abuses of authority, Guantanamo Bay, and the suspension of habeas corpus, the laundry list that we know about, war, you know, the act declaring preventative war or preemptive war, that these were the most important issues facing the republic. And what Glenn Greenwald pointed out, which is, I think, undeniably true: that if you look at those issues and if you decide that those are the most important issues and you compare Ron Paul to Barack Obama, you’d have a hard time really kind of justifying why you’re going to vote for Obama again and not at least give some rationale along the lines of, yes, Ron Paul is better on these issues that Iâ€‹, you know, have professed to care about for a long time, but I just find him beyond the pale because of his view on abortions or the fact that that racistâ€”I mean, not just racially tinged, but flat-out racist and stupid writing came out under his name in the late ’80s and the early ’90s. I don’t think that he wrote it, I don’t think anyone really thinks that he wrote it, but it was oftentimes in the first person on newsletters that had "Ron Paul" at the top of it. So that’s kind of problematic for a lot of people, understandably, if you kind of digest.
But I think part of thisâ€”to get to the root of your question, part of it is to kind of forestall this enthusiasm because you don’t want to have this stark choice between these two guys, ’cause it causes a lot of uncomfortable questions. For me, for example, an issue that I care about very deeply is the drug war, which I think is one of the most heinous, you know, appliably racist or, you know, effectively racist policies that we have out there. Well, I don’t have any hesitation about who’s better on that question between Ron Paul and Barack Obama, who’s, you know, expanded it against medical marijuana dispensaries. So it causes some uncomfortable questions. And I think it’s easier to say, oh, he’s a crazy old coot and a racist than it is to actually kind of grapple with the way that libertarian ideas just kind of, you know, cleave traditional left-right politics in two and cause for kind of interesting gut checks.
JAY: So Megan, what do you make of that, that the issues of civil liberties and the issues of war and peace that are critical in the way Matt’s saying trump the issues of disagreement, at least at this stage of things?
CARPENTIER: Well, I guess one of the critiques of the libertarian movement from people on the left like me is that it seems very often issues like war then trump women’s rights or racial justice issues, which is very problematic for a political movement that wants to gain voters that might be up for grabs, because Matt is quite correct: if you look at a lot of issues, a lot of constituencies within the Democratic party and on the left in particular are very disappointed with Obama, from, you know, racial justice issues to women’s issues, to the drug war, to civil liberties, and all of the rest of them. But to say that the solution is a candidate who is good on one of those issuesâ€”. He’s great on the drug war. That’s fantastic. He’s good on civil liberties issues. He’s, I think it’s fair to say, a really mixed bag on foreign policy the way that most liberals conceive of our position in the world and what’s important.
JAY: Well, hang on for a second. If you set aside issues like the UN and various global organizations, which I take your point, but other than that, what are the issues you have with Paul’s foreign policy?
CARPENTIER: Well, I mean, he doesn’t just want to stop war. He wants to stop foreign aid. He wants to stop engagement. I mean, pulling out of the UN is not a sort of minor issue. Leaving the WTO isn’t a minor issue for U.S. business, for instance. I mean, his position is [incompr.] the world, shut off the borders, and call it a day. So that’sâ€”I mean, that’s a very isolationist position that we really haven’t seen a mainstream political candidate engage in since after World War I, that that’s just fundamentally, I think, incompatible, the idea that we would take his position on World War IIâ€”one of the things his former staffer said, and he said that he’s not sure that World War II was a justifiable war. I think you could have a lot of liberals and conservatives, and even libertarians, disagree that we shouldn’t have gone to war in Europe. But that’s [crosstalk]
WELCH: I would just interject that I think the former staffer that you’re talking about, Eric Dondero, there’s a lot of questions about his veracity. I know him. I talk to him. I find him entertaining. But I don’t necessarily think that he’s an unimpeachable source. Ron Paul has said he would fight World War II, that, you know, we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, for example. And also, Germany declared war on us, so it’s not really an open question.
I think saying that his views are isolationist is stronger than what the reality is. I think he’s a noninterventionist first and foremostly. He has a critique of the American Empire which is very similar to that on some elements of the progressive left. He wants to withdraw American troops in places like Korea and Western Europe, which I think is a perfectly valid kind of thing. He’s not against all military actions. He was in favor of, after 9/11, for example, having [incompr.] reprisal in going after Osama bin Laden. But he is very strongly anti-military-industrial complex.
And you’re right, in that his views on U.S. involvement in global organizations are the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. I guess what a lot of libertarians would say is, even those like me who don’t agree with everything Paul says, including on issues like abortion, where libertarians tend to be more pro-choice than Paul is, and also on immigration and some other issues, but that he isâ€”he stands as a corrective to what is essentially a bipartisan policy. Whenever either party gets into power, regardless of how they campaigned, they will tend to do certain things. One of them is wage war, simply put. I mean, Obama lowered the bar for going to war to I think there might be a massacre in this city in Libya, and we want to prevent that. George Bush lowered the bar for war, too. So did Clinton before him. Ron Paul stands as a correctionâ€”yeah, an overcorrection in a lot of people’s minds. But I look at him as a shock to the system, which makes it very, very interesting to me, because I think that the system needs shocking on those levels. So, you know, there are certainly individual elements that I disagree with.
And I do notâ€”you know, just to be clear, I do not begrudge anyone not voting for someone. I don’t believe that the world needs to have exactly my preferences, and, you know, everyone can have their own definition of what is the just I can’t, you know, go there button. However, I would point out that we’re living in this kind of bipartisan Washington consensus world that has put us in this pickle that we’re in. So what to do from that going forward?
And I think what people (and a lot of people who don’t support Ron Paul) should be happy about is that the results in Iowa mean that we’re going to be talking about this. We had a guy go to Iowa saying, I’m totally against ethanol subsidies. He almost won. That’s never happened, that a guy go to Iowa saying I am a Republican, we have got to pull back, this is crazy; you know, anyone who says they’re for limited government but are not going after our surveillance state is basically full of it. He is saying this every single day and sparking these conversations on the left, on the right, among libertarians, among anybody. I think that is a very welcome development, regardless of whether at the end of the day you’re going to vote for the guy or not.
JAY: Megan, final word to you, Megan.
CARPENTIER: I guess what I would say is, looking at the folks who have some of those positions, most of those people, Gary Johnson, for instance, great on the drug war, good on LGBT rights, good on women’s issues, very limited government, has a lot of the same positions as Ron Paul without the racist background, without the anti-women’s rights background, has no support within the Republican Party. No one wants to have a conversation with him, and he’s not allowed in any of the debates. So the question from my perspective is why is someone with all that baggage invited along, you know, promoted within the Republican Party, you know, as you said, comes in third place in the Iowa caucus, and someone who has all of those positions by and large and none of that baggage and none of that stuff that, you know, fromâ€”on women’s rights, on LGBT rights, when it comes to people of color, he’s not even, you know, in the conversation? So that to meâ€”.
WELCH: If I can just attempt an answer, to further the dialog on this, I personally favor Johnson. I’ve met him and talked to him half a dozen times for some of the reasons that you talk about. I think an answer to your question is that Paul has been doing this a while. There’s a movement that has grown up around him that’s much bigger than he is that’s been touched off on college campuses and elsewhere. That’s one thing. Johnson did not run a very good campaign. That’s another. And then you’re right: he was sort of artificially blocked there. It was a bad convergence of events. And, you know, at the end of the day, I’m, you know, rooting for his success as well. But then at some point you just go with what’s on the ground in front of you, and what’s on the ground in front of you is that finally one of the two major parties is tossing up an upper-tier candidate who’s talking some sense and some radicalism about issues that have long been ignored or treated badly by both parties. So that makes me happy.
JAY: Okay. Well, I hope this is just the beginning of a conversation with both of you. There’s aâ€”you know, weâ€”I know our audience at The Real News, I don’t know the percentages, but we have a big audience that’s libertarian and a big audience that considers themselves progressive, and on our comments section we’re constantly having this kind of conversation. So I hope the two of you will join us again as we head through the 2012 elections. And thank you all for joining us on The Real News Network.
CARPENTIER: Thank you so much.
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