Archive for December, 2011

Ron Paul and the racist, homophobic newsletters

21 December, 2011 3 comments

Ron Paul looks set to win the Iowa Caucus on 3 January, ahead in the polls and Nate Silver currently his chances of success at 52%. There are positives that could be gleaned from such an outcome; if an antiwar candidate who has consistently opposes the increasing encroachments on personal freedom particularly since 2001 were to win even a single state among Republican activists, it would give the leadership of both parties cause to reconsider their policy decisions in these areas. Infringements on rights supposedly enshrined in the Fourth Amendment (security of property from search without warrant) and the Fifth Amendment (fair trial) have continued under President Barack Obama, and he should be challenged in a national debate on these issues. You can be damn sure that if John McCain had been elected and was seeking a second term, Democratic-leaning bloggers and posters would have made a big deal about this as a reason not to campaign against him. The same could be said in praise of Paul’s commitment to end the futile war on drugs. Quite generally, I do have libertarian sympathies on issues across the political spectrum.

But Congressman Ron Paul is not a candidate I could endorse for either the presidency or even, as Andrew Sullivan did last week, for the Republican nomination. In that endorsement, Sullivan refers somewhat obliquely to serious mark on Paul’s character with a single line, “He has had associations in the past that are creepy when not downright ugly”. This is something that deserves much more notice than this, and it is to Sullivan’s discredit that he did so little to address it.

In an article in The New Republic earlier this year, ‘A Libertarian’s Lament: Why Ron Paul Is an Embarrassment to the Creed’, Will Wilkinson recounts how Paul should fail to satisfy a libertarian, such as on issues such as immigration. (My favourite line in the piece is one that refers to Rick Santorum, “In 2006, I tossed a few dollars at the Democrat running for Senate against the loathsome Rick Santorum. It could have been a three-headed goat, for all I cared, but Wikipedia says it was Bob Casey.”) Most importantly in a judgement of character, in my view, is the reference to racist material published under his name in a regular newsletter.

This received coverage during the 2008 campaign, but at a time when Paul’s polling was considerably lower than this year. As he has become a contender, it has rightly reemerged.

It is widely believed that these newsletters were mainly written by Lew Rockwell, chief of staff to Paul from 1978 to 1982, and in 1982 founded of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an organization which has a worrying interest in the Confederacy. The contents of these newsletters, have been scanned online and can be read with controversial elements highlighted. These are rife with attacks on black and gay people, and include tacit support for David Duke, a renowned racist politician.

This was reported by James Kirchick in The New Republic, a liberal, Democratic-leaning magazine in their issue of 8 January, 2008.

Paul issued a statement on this that day, which given my criticism of him, I should quote in full:

The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts.

In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person’s character, not the color of their skin. As I stated on the floor of the U.S. House on April 20, 1999: ‘I rise in great respect for the courage and high ideals of Rosa Parks who stood steadfastly for the rights of individuals against unjust laws and oppressive governmental policies.’

This story is old news and has been rehashed for over a decade. It’s once again being resurrected for obvious political reasons on the day of the New Hampshire primary.

When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publically taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.

This was followed by articles in Reason, a libertarian magazine, by Matt Welch on 11 January and by Julian Sanchez and David Weigel in their issue of 16 January. This is perhaps most revealing, with the political thinking behind the content of the newsletters,

During the period when the most incendiary items appeared—roughly 1989 to 1994—Rockwell and the prominent libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist “paleoconservatives,” producing a flurry of articles and manifestos whose racially charged talking points and vocabulary mirrored the controversial Paul newsletters recently unearthed by The New Republic.

David Boaz, vice president of the libertarian Cato Insitute, issued a statement explaining their silence to date on the Paul campaign. They were treated by some supporters of Paul as heretics, and accused of libertarian infighting. Julian Sanchez responded to a lot of these fringe criticisms in detail.

In the second round of the controversy, four years later, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor of The Atlantic has put the case against Paul well and succinctly,

The standard defense has generally been Paul didn’t write the newsletters. I think an honest reckoning with that defense would have someone question the faculties of an adult who would allow a newsletter filled–by Paul’s own admission–with bigotry to be published under one’s name. Had I spent a decade stewarding an eponymous publication steeped in homophobia and anti-Semitism, I would not expect my friends and colleagues to accept an “I didn’t write it”excuse.

I think it is credible, indeed likely, that Ron Paul did not write the offensive material himself. It would not be at all unusual in the political world that the political writing of a representative would be penned by their staff or outsourced further, particularly in the case of a journal which he had given his name to, rather than one coming from his office. But it is inconceivable that for years on end, Paul had no idea what was being published under his name. He was willing to allow ignorant fears of black people and crime and of gay men through the AIDS epidemic to be used to build political support. This is surely grounds for considering him unworthy of support during this primary season.


Clinton on women’s rights

8 December, 2011 4 comments

Coming more than 36 hours later, I’m not going to claim to present Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech on Tuesday on LGBT rights as news. It was a great speech though, and well worth watching if you’ve only read the text.

The important message from her speech is that she is not talking about any special rights for gay people, as Governor Rick Perry so wilfully misunderstands.
As Clinton says,

Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.

This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.

It is wrong to make legal distinctions, prohibitions against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people because no one should be subject to any special exception from human rights. It is not about creating exceptions, but ending them. Culture and religion can be no excuse for an infringement on human rights.

As I posted on Facebook, she didn’t start being great on Tuesday. This speech consciously mirrors her speech in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference on Women. This is a speech should be read again now by all those inspired by her speech on Tuesday,

It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.

These abuses have continued because, for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words. But the voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be heard loudly and clearly:

It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.

It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.

It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.

It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.

It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.

It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.

It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.

The problems she refers to are unfortunately as alive today as they were 16 years ago, and we must continue to scrutinize our approaches to human rights issues around the world to ensure that we do not place the right to life and personal autonomy of any individual on a lower scale for any reason.