Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ron Paul charges dissected

Well, The New Republic's much ballyhooed "expose" on Ron Paul's alleged bigotry is out, and I promptly read it, fearing that I would have to drop my support for the, to-date, most palatable candidate in the presidential race. Well, that's not about to happen. The article is a re-hash of allegations that have arisen before, with no new information and nothing to rebut the explanations that Paul has already offered.

Basically, the article breathlessly revives some truly contemptible quotes and sentiments (mixed in with non-mainstream, but not necessarily objectionable ideas that offend TNR writer James Kirchik) from newsletters that bore Paul's name and were published from the 1970s to the 1990s.

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.

The article says "whoever actually wrote them" because Paul has stated that he essentially licensed his name to other people, without exercising editorial discretion, for use in promoting newsletters, and that he's embarrassed by the garbage they published when he wasn't paying attention.

Of course, that's a convenient excuse for Paul, but it's a credible explanation given the extent to which much of what appeared in those newsletters contradicts Paul's public statements elsewhere.

For example, Kirchik accuses Paul of antisemitism. The quotes drawn from the newsletters are more appropriately described as anti-Israel rather than overtly anti-Jewish, but they're of the sort that plenty of antisemites hide behind, and they are pretty far out there.

A 1987 issue of Paul's Investment Letter called Israel "an aggressive, national socialist state," and a 1990 newsletter discussed the "tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok [sic] for the Mossad in their area of expertise." Of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newsletter said, "Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little."

But, as Kirchik himself writes:

To understand Paul's philosophy, the best place to start is probably the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Auburn, Alabama. The institute is named for a libertarian Austrian economist ...

The politics of the organization are complicated--its philosophy derives largely from the work of the late Murray Rothbard, a Bronx-born son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and a self-described "anarcho-capitalist" who viewed the state as nothing more than "a criminal gang"...

That's right, Rothbard, who heavily influenced Paul's political and economic philosophy, was Jewish. So, for that matter, was Ludwig von Mises. If Ron Paul is an antisemite, he picked an odd intellectual starting point.

Then there are the scurrilous things published in the newsletters about Martin Luther King:

Martin Luther King Jr. earned special ire from Paul's newsletters, which attacked the civil rights leader frequently, often to justify opposition to the federal holiday named after him. ("What an infamy Ronald Reagan approved it!" one newsletter complained in 1990. "We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.") In the early 1990s, a newsletter attacked the "X-Rated Martin Luther King" as a "world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours," "seduced underage girls and boys," and "made a pass at" fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy. One newsletter ridiculed black activists who wanted to rename New York City after King, suggesting that "Welfaria," "Zooville," "Rapetown," "Dirtburg," and "Lazyopolis" were better alternatives. The same year, King was described as "a comsymp, if not an actual party member, and the man who replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration."

Kirchik quotes Paul campaign spokesman Jesse Benton saying "he was surprised to hear about the insults hurled at Martin Luther King, because "Ron thinks Martin Luther King is a hero." Now, that could just be spin from a political staffer trying to win votes from people unlikely to be enamored of insults directed at a civil rights leader -- but there's evidence that it's true. Just last year, Ron Paul was vilified in the press for comparing tax protesters to ... well, here's the quote:

"People who point this out and fight the tax code and fight the monetary code are heroic," he said in a video that's been linked to on several pro-Brown websites. "I compare them to people like Gandhi, who's willing to speak out and try to bring about change in a peaceful manner; Martin Luther King fought laws that were unfair and unjust, and he suffered, too."

What appeared in the newsletter just doesn't square with the sentiments that Paul -- who has named economist Walter Williams (who is black) as a potential running mate -- has publicly expressed.

The newsletters are full of attacks on gays too:

In 1990, one newsletter mentioned a reporter from a gay magazine "who certainly had an axe to grind, and that's not easy with a limp wrist." In an item titled, "The Pink House?" the author of a newsletter--again, presumably Paul--complained about President George H.W. Bush's decision to sign a hate crimes bill and invite "the heads of homosexual lobbying groups to the White House for the ceremony," adding, "I miss the closet."

Contrast that with this recording on YouTube of Paul defending gays -- especially their participation in the military -- from an ultra-conservative interviewer. Paul comes across as conservative and religious, but not judgmental.

In his case against Paul, Kirchik also mixes in his objections to non-mainstream, but not obviously unacceptable views that appear in the newsletter or are espoused by some of the congressman's associates. Specifically, he objects to the Ludwig von Mises Institute's seeming fondness for the old Confederacy and its defense of secession as a political tool. I'll admit to a limited patience with nostalgia for Old Dixie (and some of the institute's supporters do tend in that direction) but it's hard to share Kirchik's apparent sentiment that Abraham Lincoln should be the one U.S. president immune to revisionist assessments -- especially in light of his unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus and his other inroads into civil liberties. And in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, objection to even discussion of the potential upside of secession is just plain silly.

Kirchik also targets Paul's "paranoia--specifically, the brand of anti-government paranoia that festered among right-wing militia groups during the 1980s and '90s." Some of the newsletter excerpts are a bit over the top -- there's the usual tired denunciation of the Trilateral Commission, for example -- but there's no explanation of why anti-government sentiment, in and of itself, is a bad thing. That's a point that Kirchik needs to explain in the days of the Patriot Act, FBI abuses of the few remaining restrictions on surveillance, waterboarding and seemingly limitless government spending.

In fact, Kirchik dilutes his whole argument by mixing in ideas that he just doesn't like with bigotry that should offend any reasonable person and presenting it all together as an unpalatable stew.

Perhaps the strongest argument against linking Ron Paul to the sentiments in the newsletters is the plain, crass, stupidity with which many of the sentiments are expressed: "Rapetown,"; "The ACT-UP slogan, on stickers plastered all over Manhattan, is 'Silence = Death.' But shouldn't it be 'Sodomy = Death'?"; "Barbara Morondon"; "far-left, normal-hating lesbian activist." This just doesn't sound like the guy who can turn any interview into a (take your pick) sophisticated/deadly dull discussion of monetary policy.

Of course, none of this means, beyond a doubt, that Ron Paul didn't pen the sentiments that appeared in these newsletters. It's possible that he's capable of associating with and being inspired by people he then vilifies in publicly available newsletters -- possible, but really odd.

More likely is the explanation that he has put forward: that he lent his name to people who used it to wrap bigotry in a veneer of credibility (Racism! Now endorsed by a congressman!). That's a knock against Paul in itself. He did an incredibly poor job of policing the use of his name, and is now paying the piper for his lack of oversight. Chances are, he created the situation that's now causing damage to his reputation through his own carelessness.

Update: With something of an insider's perspective, Timothy Wirkman Virkkala suggests an unpleasant possibility:

As a writer and editor working in the libertarian movement at the time of these “Ron Paul” newsletters, I have vague recollection of “common knowledge”: it was known who wrote these newsletters, and why. It was money for Ron. It was money for the writers. And it was a way of keeping Ron’s name in the minds of right wingers with money . . . future donors.

It was designed to be entertaining writing. Provocative. It flirted with racism, like Mencken’s did, and Mencken was indeed the model of the style. But these “Ron Paul” writings went further than Mencken’s usually did (at least for publication) along the lines of annoying the racially sensitive; and they sometimes did veer into outright racism.

That sort of feed-the-animals cynicism would be better than actual bigotry on Ron Paul's part, but not by a lot. If evidence surfaces for that scenario, a brusque "don't let the door hit you in the ass ..." would be the most appropriate send-off for Paul.



Blogger William said...

U.S. Debt clock


each American's share of our debt $30,264 and growing.

Someone needs to stop this. If not Ron Paul then who?

January 8, 2008 7:20 PM  
Blogger William said...

U.S. Debt clock


each American's share of our debt $30,264 and growing.

Someone needs to stop this. If not Ron Paul then who?

January 8, 2008 7:22 PM  
Blogger William said...

U.S. Debt clock


each American's share of our debt $30,264 and growing.

Someone needs to stop this. If not Ron Paul then who?

January 8, 2008 7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even worse, Jamie Kirchick doesn't believe what he writes...

"I don't think Ron Paul is a homophobe; I'm just cynical and enjoy getting supporters of political candidates riled up.If you were a Giuliani guy I'd have called him a fascist."


I'm pretty sure Jamie the Giuliani supporter was lying in the last sentence.

January 9, 2008 10:13 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

That's an interesting quote from Kirchik.

A cynical journalist? Who'd've thunk it?

January 9, 2008 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all respect if you think this is a rehash you are sadly misinformed. In the past Paul was asked about one article. He claimed that a “former aide” wrote the material implying he severed his relationship over it (the former aide is a top Paul adviser to this day). Paul said it was done without his knowledge and that he didn’t bother to read what his office sent out.

This in fact shows that the articles were published over years and that numerous such bigoted articles appeared. Paul is lying if he says he had no idea what was done in his name for a period of years. One issue without his knowledge maybe, but a string of issues spanning two decades is hard to believe. In addition I know Paul was challenged at the time such articles appeared so he knew about them rather soon afterwards and yet they continued for several years. That this went on for years is a big difference from a one-off anomaly written without his knowledge. And some of these remarks were in a letter which he signed. It is hard to say accept that he signed the damn letter without reading it.

It is a lie to say Paul merely licensed his name. The company in question was run by Paul, his friend Burt Blumert, and his friend/adviser/former aide Lew Rockwell. Paul actively participated in the newsletter. You say he was “embarassed by the garbage they published when he wasn’t paying attention.” Not embarassed enough to end his relationship with those who were involved apparently. And you have to believe he wasn’t paying attention for years!

You say it contradicts Paul’s public statements. No surprise. Even Paul’s public statements contradict Paul’s public statements. I campaigned for him in 1988 when he very publicly wanted to abolish the INS. Now he denies he ever took that position and he wants to put the INS on steroids.

You seem to think that because people liked someone who is Jewish that they can’t be antiSemitic. Some of the most notorious antiSemitic tracts claiming the existence of Jewish plot to destroy Christian America came from a man named Ben Freedman, who himself was Jewish. I have listened to black men go into racist tirades about blacks. I know gay men who hate homosexuals. This is hardly surprising. Apparently in your theory Hitler wasn’t an anti-Semite because he cared for Eduard Bloch, his family doctor who was Jewish. Hitler protected him until Bloch emigrated to the US and Hitler sent him cards and thank you notes.

I also note that you rely entirely on the article and ignore the newsletters themselves. Kirchick does overstate some parts of his argument but the actual newsletters are damning.

You seem to think he merely lent his name to other unnamed people. Name them. They are still associated with Paul and they still work together. If he really was horrified at what they did in his name why is he still associated with the “Associates” in “Ron Paul & Associates”. The author of most the newsletters was Lew Rockwell and he Paul are still strongly connected.

You did dissect the issue at all. You made a plea based on false assumptions and a lack of knowledge.

January 9, 2008 2:13 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Anonymous (the second one),

I focused on the excerpts in the article because those are the ones that Kirchik presumably found most offensive, so they are the ones that should be addressed first.

The authorship of the material in question is still up in the air; Wendy McElroy has called on the guilty parties to publicly identify themselves, since Paul is unwilling to do so. If it is Blumert, Rockwell and company -- or anybody else with whom Paul has an ongoing relationship -- that would rebut his claim that the incident is a past issue over which he feels a sense of shame. Obviously, if he's still associating with them, the episode is not over.

Also, see my update to the post regarding a claim that Paul did know what was being published and cynically allowed it to continue.

As to anecdotes about Hitler helping a Jewish doctor, a Jewish man spreading antisemitic propaganda and self-hating members of minority groups ... Such people and incidents exist, but they are the exception rather than the norm. I agree that it's not impossible for a person to admire two Jewish economists and also be antisemitic, but it's an unlikely development that would be remarkable if true.

January 9, 2008 2:42 PM  
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March 18, 2009 11:48 PM  

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