Yesterday, presidential hopeful Ron Paul had an exchange with CNN's Gloria Borger (I believe the go-to descriptor we're using these days is "testy") in which the Texas Congressman, weary of answering questions about the newsletters filled with racist/homophobic/xenophobic goulash that were published in his name many years ago (content Paul has, at various times, denied being the author of and, at other times, denied having knowledge of) removed his microphone and withdrew from the interview. At the time of his walk-off, Paul had one thin sliver of a point to make -- Borger was essentially re-asking questions that had been asked by her CNN colleagues days earlier. So if we want to call it a protest against CNN having nothing new to ask about the matter and asking it anyway, that's fine, let's call it that.
But, hey, in the interest of having something new to say on the subject, here's Ed Morrissey with the latest video scoop from C-SPAN archive-diver extraordinaire Andrew Kaczynski -- a circa 1995 interview with a then-out-of-office Paul, in which he discusses how he's staying involved in the political world. (The salient part begins about a minute into the video.)
Paul said in the interview:
But along with that, I also put out a political type of business investment newsletter that sort of covered all these areas. And it covered a lot about what was going on in Washington, and financial events, and especially some of the monetary events. Since I had been especially interested in monetary policy, had been on the banking committee, and still very interested in, in that subject, that this newsletter dealt with it. This had to do with the value of the dollar, the pros and cons of the gold standard, and of course the disadvantages of all the high taxes and spending that our government seems to continue to do.
Morrissey says: "For a man who now says that he didn’t pay any attention to the newsletters published under his own name for years, he certainly seems to be pretty conversant with its contents in 1995." And the time period is an interesting one, if we recall what Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez found out about the newsletters once they started investigating the matter:
The tenor of Paul's newsletters changed over the years. The ones published between Paul's return to private life after three full terms in congress (1985) and his Libertarian presidential bid (1988) notably lack inflammatory racial or anti-gay comments. The letters published between Paul's first run for president and his return to Congress in 1996 are another story—replete with claims that Martin Luther King "seduced underage girls and boys," that black protesters should gather "at a food stamp bureau or a crack house" rather than the Statue of Liberty, and that AIDS sufferers "enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick."
Eric Dondero, Paul's estranged former volunteer and personal aide, worked for Paul on and off between 1987 and 2004 (back when he was named "Eric Rittberg"), and since the Iraq war has become one of the congressman's most vociferous and notorious critics. By Dondero's account, Paul's inner circle learned between his congressional stints that "the wilder they got, the more bombastic they got with it, the more the checks came in. You think the newsletters were bad? The fundraising letters were just insane from that period."
So, at the time of the interview, the content of the newsletters was of the more infamous variety, rather than the tamer stuff of the mid to late 1980s. At the same time, the content that Paul seems most "conversant" about in the interview is the tamer stuff in which he's consistently and conspicuously taken an interest -- monetary policy, central banking, and the gold standard.
Not that you'd go on C-SPAN and say, "Hey, check out these racist newsletters I've been putting out," mind you!
Whether or not Paul means to tout these newsletters, and get more subscribers, is debatable. That he was aware of their existence at the time of their most vicious content is not. And yet the same air of mystery -- which is perhaps constructed, by design! -- over what Paul knew and when he knew it remains unpenetrated. If you are inclined to defend Ron Paul, you can say that he still seems to lack awareness of the newsletters' content. If you are inclined to disparage Paul, you point out that here he is, essentially copping to running a lucrative post-political career newsletter operation that traded in divisive venom.
The larger question that remains was best put into words by Steve Kornacki this morning:
Shouldn't Paul at least pretend to be interested in finding out who used his newsletter to send out awful, racist screeds?
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) December 22, 2011
That's the galling thing -- if Paul is the victim here, why isn't fingering the culpable party something that consumes him? I think we can reasonably speculate that most people, if faced with a similar controversy, would move heaven and earth to clear their good names. Paul has, in the recent past, said that he takes "moral responsibility" for these writings, but this seems to be the bare minimum of effort that one puts forth when one just wants to close the chapter. It's old news...I want to put it behind me...it's time to move on...these are the sorts of things that professional athletes say at the press conference they stage after they've been caught knocking their wives around.
Whether or not Paul is ultimately responsible for these writings, it remains a yawning vacuum into which responsibility must be poured. At the moment, Ron Paul is the only person who can fulfill this responsibility, and simply repudiating the contents of the newsletters and asking everyone to move on is clearly not cutting it.
A suggestion, then: let's allow that these newsletters are a product of journalism -- bad, irresponsible journalism -- that their publisher must now responsibly retract. To my mind, the best way to go about this is a three-step process. First, you explain, in chapter and verse detail, what the controversy involves -- you literally narrate what happened. Second, you explain, as best as you are able, how it came to pass that this bilge ended up in newsletters bearing your name. Third, you detail as fully as you can your step-by-step strategy for ensuring that it never happens again.
And perhaps the fourth part of the process is that you accept that even after a full explanation, you maybe don't restore your tarnished credibility. Nevertheless, Paul has treated this matter as an object that appears in his rearview mirror, rather than stopping to face it head-on. He ought to give it a try.
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