The contentious character of the Republican primaries has revealed one startling fact.
The Democratic Party under Obama has come to occupy so much of the political terrain, from moderate right to centre left, that there is no space for the Republicans to define themselves beyond the realm of sheer lunacy.
The Republicans’ Obama Derangement Syndrome, as this condition has become to be known, is characterised above all by a shared certainty that the US is marching in lockstep down the path to a Fascist-Stalinist-atheist-Islamic hell-hole bankrolled by Hollywood liberals and abetted by a sinister agitprop media taking its marching orders from some mist enveloped Democratic Kremlin.
True believers on the right have emerged from the Great Recession, a study in the abject failure of capitalism, with a renewed faith in “free markets” reinforced by an unshakeable conviction that socialistic regulations both caused the system to collapse and prevent its robust revival.
Ironically, the Republicans are about to nominate Mitt Romney, a candidate characterised by his detractors as a “Massachusetts moderate” who, by any light, is more compatible with the blue-dog wing of the Democratic Party than with the current mood of conservatism.
Were it not for the sheer number of inept contenders to his right splitting the reactionary vote, Romney may well have been disqualified from the outset.
Still, in his path to victory Romney has chewed up and repudiated virtually every belief he once professed to hold, lending to the term “opportunism” an unchallengeable new standard.
The Republican primary process at its margins has revealed some critical fissures within the Democratic façade.
Were the future prospect of Ron Paul’s son, Rand, in the Republican Party not in the balance, a third party run by the “libertarian” Paul senior would have otherwise peeled a part of the anti-war left from the Democratic Party.
Paul is a dyed in the wool reactionary, homophobe and racist, but he is also the only serious anti-interventionist in either party seeking a public platform.
It makes little immediate difference that he dates American imperialism from Lincoln depriving the slave-holding south to its putative right to self-determination.
What makes him appealing to at least part of the left is his relentless attack on the military-industrial complex.
Paul is virtually alone in condemning the surveillance state fertilised by this dynamic, which presents a simmering threat to civil liberties not only of the Muslim community but also of the anti-war and Occupy movements.
Current law, signed by Obama, surpasses even the Patriot Act in its authoritarian intrusiveness, now permitting the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens suspected of terrorist affiliations.
And Obama has permanently rendered the War Powers Act, requiring prior Congressional approval before military action is undertaken, void while arrogating to himself the right to authorise targeted killings of American citizens far from any battlefield.
Paul is alone in seeking to end the odiously counterproductive “war on drugs.”
Nonviolent crimes associated with drug possession have been among the largest rationales for the mass incarceration of poor black youth, effectively giving rise to a new form of Jim Crowism.
The Democratic Party, for all its professed commitment to racial equality, has ever been a willing partner to this form of institutional oppression.
Were there an independent Paul campaign, the with-us-or-against-us ethos that keeps the left in line with the Democrats would likely fray at the edges. For the reality of such a campaign would elevate the thorny issue of navigating between various evils to an unfamiliar dimension, one of choosing among mixed, rather than lesser, evils.
It would immediately raise unanswerable questions and hold a mirror up to the Democratic Party.
Why are the reactionary attitudes and programs — the shredding of the social safety net, massive business deregulation, the elimination of reproductive autonomy — of a Ron Paul more odious than a Democratic foreign policy imposed by drones and cluster bombs, or a domestic program that continues a racist war on drugs, and enriches health insurance companies and big pharma, while failing to hold the line against run away costs?
Why is a programme of dismembering the Fed and public austerity more reactionary than shielding the Fed from transparency?
Or protecting mortgage defrauders from prosecution, standing idly while millions lose their homes, repeatedly reneging on promises to labor and environmentalists, empowering former Goldman Sachs executives and other bankers to write law and pursuing policies that redistribute income from workers to corporate conglomerates?
Were it not for a conflict of family ambition and timing on Ron Paul’s part, the left could not avoid facing up to its own self-imposed dilemmas.
As it is, American progressives have been spared the need to choose between civil liberties and legal abortion; between a permanent peace dividend and social entitlements; between dismantling a racist justice system and maintaining the right to collectively bargain.
Yes, the choices that Ron Paul represents should be utterly unacceptable to any healthy left.
A victory for whatever is positive in his program would come at the cost of a massive setback for workers, the poor, the sick and the elderly. It would rollback a century of struggle.
But what line would Obama and the Democrats have to cross before the same could be said about them?
At what point would the labor movement and the oppressed finally pursue instead a course of class independence?