As a Virginian, my only choices in the Republican primary are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul–the other candidates having failed to get on the ballot–so I am studying these candidates closely. There would be a certain coolness factor in voting for Paul. But I’ve got to figure out what I think about his newsletters of a couple of decades ago, with their racist and anti-semitic vibe, as well as his associations with the off-the-wall right.
I know some of you have been discussing this on the “Why I Can’t Vote for Gingrich or Perry” thread, but it deserves its own post. Paul and his fans have been dismissing the issue as “old news” brought up and answered a long time ago, but lots of us are new to the Ron Paul world, and he had better believe this will be an issue throughout the election. Here is a summary of what’s out there:
Ron Paul reiterated Tuesday that he did not write a series of newsletters that appeared under his name in the 1980s and 1990s that included controversial comments about African-Americans, including a claim that “[o]rder was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.”
Asked by CBS News and National Journal if the newsletters are fair game on Tuesday in New Hampshire, Paul responded, “I don’t know whether fair is the right word.”
“I mean, it’s politics,” he continued. “Nobody talked about it for 20 years until they found out that the message of liberty was making progress. And everybody knows I didn’t write them, and it’s not my sentiment, so it’s sort of politics as usual.”
Writing in The New Republic in 2008, reporter James Kirchick revealed some particularly incendiary passages from the monthly newsletters, which carried names like “Ron Paul’s Freedom Report” and the “Ron Paul Political Report.” Many of the newsletters, which were mostly written in the first person and usually didn’t otherwise carry a byline, were reportedly being held in collections of extreme-right political literature.
The newsletters included a criticism of Ronald Reagan for legislation creating a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who is described as a “world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours” and “seduced underage girls and boys.”
“We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day,” one newsletter said of Reagan, according to Kirchick. The newsletters also claimed that AIDS sufferers “enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick,” expressed support for and offered advice to the “local militias now training to defend liberty” shortly before the Oklahoma City bombing, and questioned whether the 1993 World Trade Center bombing “was a setup by the Israeli Mossad.”
Kirchick revisited the newsletters in the Weekly Standard on Tuesday, writing that “Paul’s lucrative and decades-long promotion of bigotry and conspiracy theories, for which he has yet to account fully, and his continuing espousal of extremist views…should make him unwelcome at any respectable forum.”
Kirchick tied the newsletters to Paul’s willingness to appear on the radio program of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has reportedly accused the government of encouraging “homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children.” He noted that Paul seemed open to Jones’ suggestion that the military’s NORTHCOM combatant command is “taking over” the nation.
Paul denied his involvement with the newsletters back in 2008, saying the controversial comments “are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed.”
“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,” he said. “For over a decade, I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.”
Paul disavows this kind of talk today, so good for him. His claim that he didn’t know what was going into his newsletters, though, strains credulity. It reminds me of the NBA star (I think it was Charles Barkley) who complained about how he was portrayed in the media, referring to his own autobiography. At the best it would be an outlandish use of ghostwriters, something else I don’t approve of. But even if he weren’t paying attention, as he claims, I would think that his readers would rise up if the newsletters they had subscribed to under the Ron Paul brand were misrepresenting what they assume he stood for. (“But we know Dr. Paul admires Martin Luther King [as he now says], so how could he say such things about him?”) Perhaps he could say that he used to classify people unfairly, but now he has learned to apply the principles of liberty to people of all races and ethnicity. Something like that.
Then there is his giving a speech to the John Birch Society, the organization that during the cold war interpreted everything in terms of a vast communist conspiracy and that William F. Buckley read out of the conservative movement. And those kind words for right-wing militias.
The question is, is Ron Paul a right wing extremist? Now, normally there is a big difference between libertarianism and right wing extremism. The latter tends to be highly nationalistic. Libertarians tend to be tolerant of things like flag burning and joining the communist party, expressions of liberty that true rightwingers would be glad to outlaw.
Again, Paul denies that he holds those views in the newsletters. But then again, John Birchers in their heyday believed that even seemingly good leaders were actually communist infiltrators. Since they think like that, don’t we need to make sure that they aren’t foisting off a Manchurian candidate of their own? Sorry–all these conspiracy theories have got me thinking like that!
At any rate, my mind needs to be put at rest about these issues. I am open to persuasion. You Paul supporters, help me out here.