This week, as Ron Paul has surged in the Iowa polls, the Texas congressman's bid received a surprise endorsement from the Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan, who was willing to look past some of Paul's "nuttier policy positions" for the sake of emphasizing his overall civility. Sullivan writes:
I see in Paul none of the resentment that burns in Gingrich or the fakeness that defines Romney or the fascistic strains in Perry's buffoonery. He has yet to show the Obama-derangement of his peers, even though he differs with him. He has now gone through two primary elections without compromising an inch of his character or his philosophy. This kind of rigidity has its flaws, but, in the context of the Newt Romney blur, it is refreshing. He would never take $1.8 million from Freddie Mac. He would never disown Reagan, as Romney once did.* He would never speak of lynching Bernanke, as Perry threatened. When he answers a question, you can see that he is genuinely listening to it and responding - rather than searching, Bachmann-like, for the one-liner to rouse the base. He is, in other words, a decent fellow, and that's an adjective I don't use lightly. We need more decency among Republicans.
Over at New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait tosses an "O RLY?" in Sully's direction:
Around four years ago, James Kirchick reported a lengthy story delving into Paul's worldview. As Kirchick writes, Paul comes out of an intellectual tradition called "paleolibertarianism," which is a version of libertarianism heavily tinged with far-right cultural views. The gist is that Paul is tied in deep and extensive ways to neo-Confederates, and somewhat less tightly to the right-wing militia movement. His newsletter, which he wrote and edited for years, was a constant organ of vile racism and homophobia. This is not just picking out a phrase here and there. Fear and hatred of blacks and gays, along with a somewhat less pronounced paranoia about Jewish dual loyalty, are fundamental elements of his thinking. The most comparable figure to Paul is Pat Buchanan, the main differences being that Paul emphasizes economic issues more, and has more dogmatically pro-market views.
Ah, yes. It was around this time last presidential cycle that Kirchick presented the magnum opus on the various newsletters branded under Paul's name, which at different points in Paul's political past were given such titles as "Ron Paul's Freedom Report," "Ron Paul Political Report," and "The Ron Paul Survival Report." Kirchick says that running the newsletters to ground and evaluating their contents was "no easy task" for a variety of reasons:
Of course, with few bylines, it is difficult to know whether any particular article was written by Paul himself. Some of the earlier newsletters are signed by him, though the vast majority of the editions I saw contain no bylines at all. Complicating matters, many of the unbylined newsletters were written in the first person, implying that Paul was the author.
But, whoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.
Some of these newsletters were, indeed, vile. A well-traveled quote from a reaction piece to the 1992 Los Angeles riots usually makes any list of plucked sentences: "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began." It was pretty typical for these newsletters to contain dire warnings of coming race wars, as well as paranoiac, virulently homophobic takes on the AIDS crisis.
But as Chait points out, the lack of bylines has always been Paul's easy out: "The slight complicating factor is that Paul's newsletter was unsigned, so even though it purported to express his views, he can plausibly deny having authored any single passage personally." He goes on to add, however, "But the general themes of white racial paranoia are so completely pervasive that the notion that they don’t represent Paul's own thinking is completely implausible."
And that's where all the arguing begins. A few weeks after Kirchich published his piece, Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel (then writing for Reason) attempted to resolve the question of the provenance of the newsletters' content. They did not, to my thinking, manage to exonerate Paul -- who, during the same period in 2008, went from saying he had "no idea" who wrote the toxic portions of the newsletters to telling Sanchez and Weigel that the newsletters were "ancient history." He also, during that time, repudiated the worst of the content. Weigel summed up his conversation with Paul thusly:
Paul's position is basically that he wrote the newsletters he stands by and someone else wrote the stuff he has disowned.
It's hard to not be skeptical, but subsequent reporting by Sanchez and Weigel managed to take things a small step in Paul's favor. Numerous contemporaries of Paul came forward to identify Ludwig von Mises Institute founder Lew Rockwell as the author of the newsletters and, presumably, the most incendiary content. Indeed, the worst stuff in the newsletter very closely mirrored the political musings of Rockwell at the time:
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.
As Sanchez and Weigel note, during this period of time, Rockwell (along with Murray Rothbard) had embarked on "schismatic 'paleolibertarian' movement, which rejected what they saw as the social libertinism and leftist tendencies of mainstream libertarians":
Rockwell explained the thrust of the idea in a 1990 Liberty essay entitled "The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism." To Rockwell, the LP was a "party of the stoned," a halfway house for libertines that had to be "de-loused." To grow, the movement had to embrace older conservative values. "State-enforced segregation," Rockwell wrote, "was wrong, but so is State-enforced integration. State-enforced segregation was not wrong because separateness is wrong, however. Wishing to associate with members of one's own race, nationality, religion, class, sex, or even political party is a natural and normal human impulse."
The most detailed description of the strategy came in an essay Rothbard wrote for the January 1992 Rothbard-Rockwell Report, titled "Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement." Lamenting that mainstream intellectuals and opinion leaders were too invested in the status quo to be brought around to a libertarian view, Rothbard pointed to David Duke and Joseph McCarthy as models for an "Outreach to the Rednecks," which would fashion a broad libertarian/paleoconservative coalition by targeting the disaffected working and middle classes. (Duke, a former Klansman, was discussed in strikingly similar terms in a 1990 Ron Paul Political Report.) These groups could be mobilized to oppose an expansive state, Rothbard posited, by exposing an "unholy alliance of 'corporate liberal' Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America."
Rockwell has denied involvement with the various Ron Paul newsletters. And Paul's self-defense in 2008 basically boiled down to a rejection of these ideas and an adamant insistence that he'd never written any of the hateful passages in the newsletter and found them to be "abhorrent."
"I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name," Paul said at the time, claiming that he had been taken advantage of, that he'd never been heard in his public political life saying such things, and that the only reason the subject was being aired was due to "political reasons."
And indeed, in Paul's most recent runs for office, you don't hear the voice that so shockingly comes forward in those newsletters. Nor do you hear his supporters giving voice to these ideas. And that's all well and good, but a critical test of plausibility has yet to be met: how do you let such tripe appear in print under your name without putting a stop to it? How can one not pick up a newsletter that purports to contain your authentic political thoughts and not vet it? And who took advantage of Paul? Paul seems generally uncurious about answering these questions.
Four years ago, the matter boiled down to what side had more credbility. Paul prevailed by maximizing his own, but he never really settled the larger issue or definitively eliminated the charges against him. Flash forward to today, and it's an open question if a rehash hurts Paul's chances. Reflecting on the matter Thursday, Weigel imagines that it won't. But the issue never really goes away, either. And neither will the feeling among Paul's supporters that whenever the matter crops up, it's always because some unseen other wants to put the brakes on Paul's hopes.
Nevertheless, the big takeaway is that if you don't want racist garbage being published under your name, you should probably do something about it. (Perhaps Ron Paul just thought that the "free market" would take care of it?)
*Also please note that Ron Paul did, in fact, totally disown Reagan.
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