Ron Paul, Racism, and War
First things first, I’d like to apologize to mistermix for the rudeness of my last piece on the matter. Mainly I was feeling jaded over various Twitter exchanges that occurred prior to my reading his post, and it simply opened whatever petty wound I’d been smarting over. It was an uncharitable response, and not really meant to be directed at him.
In his follow-up, mistermix writes:
[T]he difference between endorsing someone for President and endorsing that person’s positions is the difference between trusting his character and agreeing with his ideas. This is an elementary and common-sense distinction: there are a lot of untrustworthy people who have good ideas. Even if you agree with some of Paul’s positions, it’s clear that he’s one of those people. He showed poor judgment by hiring some racist yahoo to edit his newsletter, and just saying “it wasn’t me writing it” doesn’t work when he made money from its publication.
I’m no expert on the history of the Ron Paul political machine, but from what I can tell, this isn’t the only time Paul has trusted a shady character. But even if it is, if you’re going to endorse Paul, you need to explain how his presidency won’t be co-opted by a racist at the DOJ, or a goldbug at Treasury, when he can’t even control what goes out in his name in a goddam penny-ante newsletter. Where does the buck stop in Ron Paul land? When you endorse someone for Presidency, if you’re serious, you need to address that head-on.
This, along with a great deal of pushback from others whose ideas and values I respect, has certainly given me pause. Timothy Lee, Adam Ozemik, and other libertarians I admire have been quite convincing that the Ron Paul baggage – whether or not Paul is himself racist – is a big deal and could create seriously damning guilt by association for civil libertarian causes. Alex Knapp has pressed home a similar point.
Hell, I’ve argued that line myself or something like it when arguing that we would do well not to place too much faith in a super-hero president. Which, of course, Ron Paul is most certainly not. But he has been pretty awesome in the debates lately on issues of foreign affairs, and those issues, along with the war on drugs (etc.) make Paul an important figure in this race, even if I disagree with much of Paul’s policy platform and seriously condemn the newsletters.
On that point, Matt Welch has a very good round-up of past writings and the current dust-up over at reason. I admit that I never read, until now, Julian Sanchez and Dave Wiegel on the matter, and it’s an illuminating report. For one thing, it’s much more difficult to look at a report written by those who share many of Paul’s better ideas as a hit piece. It’s quite easy to view a piece out of TNR as such, for obvious reasons.
I don’t begrudge anyone’s reasons for voting against anyone, especially if you think he’s the type of guy to consciously lunge for power by whipping up race hatred against the descendants of former American slaves. I don’t think Ron Paul is that type of guy. I don’t (and Reason doesn’t) do endorsements, and I would have been happy to see a better GOP primary season from Gary Johnson, whose pragmatic, less hyperbolic, and less socially conservative case for libertarianism I have more natural affinity with.
But I’m rooting for Paul to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond, because his candidacy offers the only sharp course corrective to the pressing national issues of runaway government spending, bailout economics, entitlement time-bombs, foreign policy overreach, civil liberties intrusions, and the Drug War. These are not small issues, for me or for the country, and 99 percent of politicians are terrible on them. Yet that platform (along with fighting the Federal Reserve) is what Ron Paul is actually running on, in stark contrast to the frightening anti-libertarian candidacy of Newt Gingrich, the I-will-cut-everything-but-spending campaign of Mitt Romney, and the incessant foreign policy chest-thumping and quien-es-mas-deporty promises that pass for discourse in the modern GOP.
There is a small but growing number of politicians out there who share Paul’s values without this godawful racist baggage, and I sincerely look forward to more of them getting into the ring. But until then–God help me–for one of the first times in memory, I’m eagerly awaiting the next few weeks of American presidential politics. And that is because of, not in spite of, Ron Paul.
This is largely how I feel about this whole mess. I wish Ron Paul didn’t have the newsletter baggage, because it does raise questions about his leadership and integrity. Nor do I see Ron Paul as himself a racist, but rather a participant in what was likely a very dodgy experiment in paleo-libertarianism by Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. Paul may or may not have been aware of what was going out under his byline, but it’s certainly still his byline and his responsibility. And yet…
…I simply can’t shrug off these other issues. I’m not sure what to do (again) at this point, because the simple quantity of pushback I’ve gotten on this issue from people I respect has me seriously questioning – not my motives – but my wisdom.
And Gary Johnson, a candidate whose socially liberal views are far, far more palatable to me, has just announced he’ll seek the Libertarian Party nomination. Now the LP is a third party, and I’ve said before that I don’t do third parties, but Johnson represents all the good things that Paul does without the bad past. The thing I couldn’t do with a clean conscience is vote for Johnson and help ensure the election of say Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney over Obama. I can’t be sure about Obama, honestly. What would he do in an Iranian crisis? Would he go to war? I suppose he’d think deeply on the matter and he’d at least use some judgment before sending in the troops. I cannot say the same for Romney or Gingrich or any other GOP hawk (I like Huntsman and think he’s a thoughtful, restrained guy generally on foreign policy with some good ideas, but I still don’t see him winning this thing.)
Long story short, y’all have me thinking hard on this one. Like Matt, I look forward to the coming months too. I hope that Paul can keep pushing these issues front and center in the debates and in the race ahead. But I can’t ignore the newsletters or other signs of affiliation with racists which, admittedly, appear to go much deeper than I realized. I was too quick to dismiss mistermix last time around. This is a serious issue and I will need more time to think about it before I can say whether or not I was wrong to endorse the candidate who I view as the most likely to prevent future war and to end or at least curtail the war on drugs and terror.
I don’t think Ron Paul himself is racist. I’m not sure why he would be so cavalier and consistent on so many unpopular issues, but never toss a bone to that crowd in any public appearance. But he has certainly been a poor judge of character.