Commenter Ben Alpers, who’s an excellent historian and good friend, writes:

I’m coming very late to this discussion and don’t have much to add (at this point at least) to the discussion of the Civil War (boring as it may seem, I share ari’s commitment to the current–and as always evolving–historical consensus on these issues, though I welcome an open discussion of alternate views).

But I did want to pick up on one comment by Rick B that raises an interesting side issue:

“The structure of our political system prevents any third party from being effective, so the choice is Republican and Democrat. The option is to choose the lesser of the two evils, and then try to take it over. That is what the religious right did with the Republicans, and now for the rest of us that is what will drive us to the Democratic Party.”

This comment struck me as fascinating for its apparent utter irrelevance. Ron Paul is running as a Republican. This conversation has nothing whatsoever to do with third party attempts.

And yet, I think this comment actually reaches the heart of what motivates a lot of Paul supporters…and the emptiness of the appeals of a lot of Paul detractors.

I’m unsympathetic to Ron Paul for a whole host of reasons, including the views highlighted in this post. But I am sympathetic to his supporters’ sense that the leading candidates of both major parties are militarists who are far too fond of executive power. The shame is that Ron Paul is virtually the only candidate so far to challenge these assumptions (Dennis Kucinich has, too, but seems to get no traction, even from progressive Democrats….why he doesn’t is, I think, an interesting topic for another day). Unfortunately, Paul challenges the neo-imperialist assumptions of the “mainstream” candidates from a place that I find unacceptable.

I mention Rick B’s little irrelevant excursus on third parties (whose role in US history is significantly more vital than he lets on, and whose exclusion has more to do with shallow, rather than deep, legal barriers erected by the major parties) because many Paul critics are less interested in (rightly) criticizing Paul than they are in building a case for progressives to, yet again, support a “lesser evil” party whose commit to war crimes such as torture should give progressive voters pause even if it falls somewhat short of the enthusiasm of most of the leading figures in the greater evil party.

That’s a very smart comment. And Ben’s point is worth considering for those of us who have been a bit flummoxed by the appeal of someone like Congressman Paul, who draws support from across the ideological spectrum. I’ve always believed that something like Ben wrote is true. But his comment is much more coherent and concise than my inchoate thoughts. So I thought I’d hoist it above the fold.