Ron Paul and the racist, homophobic newsletters
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.
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.