Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Angry White Man

James Kirchick of the New Republic has done a great job of debunking Ron Paul by tracking down archived copies of Paul's newsletter and by closely examining Paul's ideological roots and associations. This piece is a must read for anyone interested, as I am, in making sure that extremism doesn't sneak into the political mainstream within a Trojan horse.

from The New Republic: Angry White Man:

If you are a critic of the Bush administration, chances are that, at some point over the past six months, Ron Paul has said something that appealed to you. Paul describes himself as a libertarian, but, since his presidential campaign took off earlier this year, the Republican congressman has attracted donations and plaudits from across the ideological spectrum. Antiwar conservatives, disaffected centrists, even young liberal activists have all flocked to Paul, hailing him as a throwback to an earlier age, when politicians were less mealy-mouthed and American government was more modest in its ambitions, both at home and abroad. In The New York Times Magazine, conservative writer Christopher Caldwell gushed that Paul is a "formidable stander on constitutional principle," while The Nation praised "his full-throated rejection of the imperial project in Iraq." Former TNR editor Andrew Sullivan endorsed Paul for the GOP nomination, and ABC's Jake Tapper described the candidate as "the one true straight-talker in this race." Even The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper of the elite bankers whom Paul detests, recently advised other Republican presidential contenders not to "dismiss the passion he's tapped."

Most voters had never heard of Paul before he launched his quixotic bid for the Republican nomination. But the Texan has been active in politics for decades. And, long before he was the darling of antiwar activists on the left and right, Paul was in the newsletter business. In the age before blogs, newsletters occupied a prominent place in right-wing political discourse. With the pages of mainstream political magazines typically off-limits to their views (National Review editor William F. Buckley having famously denounced the John Birch Society), hardline conservatives resorted to putting out their own, less glossy publications. These were often paranoid and rambling--dominated by talk of international banking conspiracies, the Trilateral Commission's plans for world government, and warnings about coming Armageddon--but some of them had wide and devoted audiences. And a few of the most prominent bore the name of Ron Paul.

Paul's newsletters have carried different titles over the years--Ron Paul's Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report--but they generally seem to have been published on a monthly basis since at least 1978. (Paul, an OB-GYN and former U.S. Air Force surgeon, was first elected to Congress in 1976.) During some periods, the newsletters were published by the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, a nonprofit Paul founded in 1976; at other times, they were published by Ron Paul & Associates, a now-defunct entity in which Paul owned a minority stake, according to his campaign spokesman. The Freedom Report claimed to have over 100,000 readers in 1984. At one point, Ron Paul & Associates also put out a monthly publication called The Ron Paul Investment Letter.
The Freedom Report's online archives only go back to 1999, but I was curious to see older editions of Paul's newsletters, in part because of a controversy dating to 1996, when Charles "Lefty" Morris, a Democrat running against Paul for a House seat, released excerpts stating that "opinion polls consistently show only about 5% of blacks have sensible political opinions," that "if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be," and that black representative Barbara Jordan is "the archetypical half-educated victimologist" whose "race and sex protect her from criticism." At the time, Paul's campaign said that Morris had quoted the newsletter out of context. Later, in 2001, Paul would claim that someone else had written the controversial passages. (Few of the newsletters contain actual bylines.) Caldwell, writing in the Times Magazine last year, said he found Paul's explanation believable, "since the style diverges widely from his own."

Finding the pre-1999 newsletters was no easy task, but I was able to track many of them down at the libraries of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society. 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.

read the rest...


Julius Martov said...

If you do a Google Blog search, "Kirchick Ron Paul, " threre is tons of blog commentary on the contro. Along with allegations that Diebold machines were hacked to deprive RP on his N.H. victory.
And, would be interesting if Lew Rockwell (see below) girlfriend, Cindy Sheehan gets Paulistinians to work in her campaign vs. Pelosi.
Orcinus blog of Dave Neiwert, as usual, has commented, as well. He was great on the naivete of Glenn Greenwald in defending Ron Paul.

Those Newsletters

Jesse Walker | January 8, 2008, 5:02pm
For what it's worth, I believe Ron Paul when he says he didn't write those newsletters. I've been active in libertarian circles for many years now, and I can remember hearing occasionally that someone or another had a gig ghostwriting for Ron Paul. This was after the newsletters in question had appeared, but I assume the congressman had made such arrangements in the past as well. The race- and gay-baiting quotes in the New Republic piece -- and, even more so, the documents' general gestalt of an impending apocalypse -- sound like the sort of material that often appeared in far-right direct-mail packages in that era. My suspicion is that someone who wrote such packages also picked up a job writing the Ron Paul Survival Report.

I'm glad that Paul has repudiated the racist and anti-gay comments that appeared in the Report. But the issue he still has to address, and which his official response only dances around, is what exactly his relationship to that publication was. If Paul didn't write those articles, who did? If he didn't know what had appeared in his newsletter, when did he find out and how did he deal with it? If the candidate is vague on these points, it will only fuel suspicions that he held those beliefs after all (or that he was willing to stay silent despite his disagreements because the newsletters brought in some cash).

The story isn't going to go away on its own. By releasing its article the day of the New Hampshire primary, The New Republic pretty much guaranteed that if Paul does well at the polls today any reports about his success will include this much-less-flattering information as well. Transparency, please.

Thoughts on Ron Paul

Nick Gillespie | January 8, 2008, 3:48pm

As someone who has written and commented widely and generally sympathetically about Ron Paul, I've got to say that The New Republic article detailing tons of racist and homophobic comments from Paul newsletters is really stunning. As former reason intern Dan Koffler documents here, there is no shortage of truly odious material that is simply jaw-dropping.

I don't think that Ron Paul wrote this stuff but that really doesn't matter--the newsletters carried his name after all--and his non-response to Dave Weigel below is unsatisfying on about a thousand different levels. It is hugely disappointing that he produced a cache of such garbage.

Various staffers will be weighing in on this through the day.

The New Republic has posted newsletters here.

Update: Ron Paul's official comment is here:
Paul's Blowback

Matt Welch | January 8, 2008, 5:24pm

A quick round-up of reaction to the New Republic's cache of Ron Paul's awful and embarrassing "Ron Paul" newsletters (which Nick Gillespie commented on here, and Dave Weigel hustled a terse Paul response to here).

Lew Rockwell:

TNR has a long and checkered history of pro-fascism, pro-communism, and pro-new dealism. Founded to promote the rotten progessive movement of militarism, central banking, income taxation, centralization, and regulation of business, it naturally hates and fears the Ron Paul Revolution. The mag is also famous for having published a slew of entirely made-up articles by Stephen Glass, which it passed off as non-fiction. Through the 1950s it was an important magazine, of sigificant if baleful influence, but it long ago declined in circulation and significance, like all DC deadtree ops. Long close to Beltway libertarians, for whom its politically correct left-neoconism is fine and dandy, TNR once published a cover story literally comparing Ross Perot to Adolf Hitler when he was running for president. That is the publication's style--hysterical smears aimed at political enemies.

David Harsanyi:

The end of Ron Paul? For me, it is. Not the principles, but the man. Sure, Paul has experienced tremendous grassroots support and I've been very sympathetic to a lot of his strong Constitution-based rhetoric. But if even a slither of the quotes in this New Republic article by James Kirchick are accurate, I'm not sure how mainstream libertarians can absolve him.

David Bernstein:

I give Paul the benefit of the doubt on this one, and assume that some right-wing cranks paid him to use him name on their newsletters, and he didn't actually read the newsletters carefully if at all, much less write them. That shows very poor judgment, but is a lot less damning than if he did read, write, or edit these newsletters.

[A]s Kirchik in TNR notes, there are really two disparate groups to whom the limited-government message appeals: philosophical libertarians (which consists of a tiny percentage of Americans, but something like 10% are at least inclined toward a general libertarian perspective), and those who hold a deep grudge against the federal government based on a range of nutty conspiracy theories, ranging from old chestnuts like a freemason conspiracy, a Council on Foreign Relations/Bildeberger conspiracy, or a conspiracy to strip the U.S. of its sovereignty in favor of world government; to variations on old anti-Semitic themes (ranging from domination by Zionist conspirators to domination by Jewish bankers led by the Rothchilds to domination by Jews in Hollywood); to newer racist theories; to novel conspiracy theories about 9/11, the pharmaceutical industry, etc.

Mainstream libertarian groups like Cato and Reason have nothing to do with the latter types, but other self-proclaimed libertarian groups, like the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, play footsie with them. (I recently turned down an invitation to do a book review for an academic journal published by LVMI because I don't want my name associated with the Institute.) Paul himself seems to have made a career of straddling the line between respectable libertarian sentiment and conspiracy-mongering nuttiness, receiving support and accolades from both sides.

But now that he wants to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, he can't get away with it anymore.

Ryan Sager:

I truly don't understand the Paulites defense that Ron Paul bears no responsibility for any of this … just because. (Read the comments to the article — as usual for the Paul brigades, they're unhinged.)

At least Andrew Sullivan may be waking up to the fact that the Ron Paul "revolution" is a front for something much uglier than opposition to the Iraq war and defense of the Constitution.

Chuck Demastus William Flax:

The fact that our Neo-Cons have an army of would-be Sancho Panzas in the media, propagandizing America with slogans and half-truths, does not make their absurdity more valid. Nor should it make it more palatable.

But, oh how they vent their hatred on Dr. Paul.

Ann Althouse :

Look, I said it on Bloggingheads: The things Ron Paul has been saying made me suspect that his libertarianism was a cover for racism.

Orinn Judd:

A philosophy that is so entirely dependent on love of the self can't help but be plagued by hatred of the other.

Andrew Sullivan:

They are a repellent series of tracts, full of truly appalling bigotry. They certainly seem to have no echoes in his current campaign, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be taken seriously [...]

I don't know enough about the arrangements behind these pamphlets to tell if this is a plausible defense or not. But there is a simple way to address this: Paul needs to say not only that he did not pen these excrescences, he needs to explain how his name was on them and disown them completely. [...] If there is some other agenda lurking beneath all this, we deserve to know. It's up to Ron Paul now to clearly explain and disown these ugly, vile, despicable tracts from the past.

Andrew Sullivan again, after the Paul response:

I'm very glad to hear it. Taking moral responsibility is the right thing to do. But I should say I think less of Ron Paul after reading this article than I did before. Much less.

Ken Layne:

The anti-war/hippie embrace of Dr. Congressman Ron Paul is one of the absolute strangest things to ever happen in politics.

Rand Simberg:

I'm willing to believe that he wasn't the author, and even that he didn't endorse the newsletter, but I find it troubling that he let this stuff go out under his own name for so long. The fact that he now takes "moral responsibility" for it now is nice, I guess, but it really makes one question his judgment. And his campaign continues to attract many unsavory elements of American politics, including 911 "Truthers," who he seems to unwilling to denounce.

Michael Goldfarb:

Dr. Paul isn't just kooky, he's deranged. [...] [T]here is no plausible explanation that might insulate Paul from the fallout.

Matthew Yglesias:

I think Ron Paul's responses as given to Dave Weigel and now issued in a press release are reasonably reasonable. If you're a pro-life, anti-war, anti-immigration, libertarian I don't really see anything here that would make you suddenly embrace John McCain as a preferable presidential candidate. Meanwhile, it shouldn't really be surprising to see a link between a libertarian politician and white supremacists. The main constituency for Barry Goldwater's message was white supremacists, after all.

Arnold Kling:

I think this is a very important moment for libertarians.

Me? I'm tempted to agree with the latter, but I'm not so sure, at least not in the same way in which I've heard pre-emptive anxiety for months from libertarians, who all seemed to be holding their breath waiting for this day to come. My personal preference for limited government (and limited thinking about government) really has never had anything to do with revisiting Civil War history, hatin' on uppity urban blacks and going all purple-faced about political correctness, real or imagined. And I can guar-an-tee that the general (and significant) trend toward political independence, don't-tread-on-meism, and especially a full-throated embrace of live-and-let live freedom, tolerance, and choice-driven exploration among people younger than me has bugger-all to do with Fear of a Black Planet. The source for freedom's popularity is not, and probably never will be, located in the mouth or heart or rancid old newsletters of any politician.
Ron Paul

Radley Balko | January 8, 2008, 6:20pm

I'm disappointed in Paul and in his campaign.

First, a few caveats. I think Paul's prone to nutty conspiracy theories, but I don't think he's a racist, at least not today. Perhaps there was a time when he held views that I and many people reading this site would find repugnant. But I certainly don't think that's the case now. Paul's temperament and demeanor in public does not suggest he's the kind of person capable of writing the bile Kirchick quotes in his article. Paul's position on the drug war alone—which he has acknowledged disproportionately affects minorities—would do more for blacks in America than any proposal any of the other candidates currently has on the table. Paul has also recently rescinded his support for the federal death penalty, also due to its disproportionate impact on blacks. Those two positions alone certainly don't indicate a candidate who fears "animal" blacks from the urban jungle are coming to kill all the white people.

I also think the Paul phenomenon ought to be separated from any personal baggage Paul may have. Yes, there are some losers who support Paul's candidacy. Any time you're a fringe candidate cobbling together support from those who feel disaffected and left behind by the two-party system, you're going to end up bumping elbows with a few weirdos. But there's nothing bigoted about the thousands of college kids, mainstream libertarians, war opponents, drug war opponents, and hundreds-long threads on sites like Digg and Reddit where enthusiasm for Paul's candidacy is strong. This movement is about ideas. There's a vocal, enthusiastic minority of people out there, skewing young, that is excited about "the Constitution," limited government, and personal freedom. That's significant and heartening, and shouldn't be tainted by the fallout from Kirchick's article (though I fear it will—more on that in a bit).

I'd also point out that if we're going to clean house, here, we should go ahead and give it a thorough cleaning. When it comes to alleged sordid associations with neo-confederate organizations, Paul's in good company in the Republican Party (see Haley Barbour and John Ashcroft, among others). When it comes to anti-Semitism, one needn't look any farther than Al Sharpton, who still commands inexplicable respect from the Democratic establishment. None of this excuses what's in those newsletters, nor does it excuse Paul's association with them. It just means he has company, and I suspect the outrage we'll see in the coming days will be rather selective.

All of that said, let me get to the scolding. Like Nick Gillespie, I think the most disappointing thing about all of this is what Dave Weigel posted this afternoon from New Hampshire: Paul doesn't consider this worthy of a serious reaction. I was hoping for much, much more. If Paul didn't write these screeds, he should tell us who did, or assign someone from the campaign to do some research, and reveal the authors' identity. He should explain his relationship with the authors, and how it is they came to write for a newsletter that went out under his name. He should acknowledge which of these positions he at one time supported but now repudiates, which he has never supported, and which he still supports. If he's going to claim he merely lent his name to some people and causes he shouldn't have, and with whom he didn't at the time or doesn't now agree, he should say so, and explain how he could let a newsletter continue to be published under his name after first, fifth, tenth, or twentieth time it ran something he found offensive. Like Kirchick, I find the prospect that Paul never read the newsletter implausible.

The 1990s is not "ancient history." We were by then well past the point in American history where the kind of racism and bigotry present in those articles had any place in civil discourse. I simply can't imagine seeing any piece of paper go out under my name that included sympathetic words for David Duke. That a newsletter with Paul's name did just that demands an explanation from Paul. The "I've answered that in the past" reply isn't sufficient. You're running for president, now. You have a national platform. You've been an ambassador for libertarian ideas on Colbert, the Daily Show, Meet the Press, and Jay Leno. That you've provided a brief explanation for some of these passages a decade ago during a little-noticed congressional campaign doesn't cut it. No one was paying attention then. Just about everyone is now.

That Paul and his campaign don't consider this worthy of a serious reaction I'm afraid makes it all the more difficult to buy into the least damning spin on the story (and even that is still pretty damning). It suggests at the very least a certain obliviousness to the resonance and impact of racism and bigotry.

Of course, Paul was never going to win. So the real concern here is what happens to the momentum for the ideas his campaign has revived. The danger is that the ignorance in those newsletters becomes inextricably tethered to the ideas that have drawn people to Paul's campaign, and soils those ideas for years to come. You needn't be a gold bug or buy into conspiracies about Jewish bankers, for example, to see the merit in allowing for private, competing currencies (what PayPal once aspired to become). You needn't believe blacks are animals or savages or genetically inferior to believe that the welfare state's perverse incentives have done immeasurable damage to black families. You needn't be a confederate sympathizer to appreciate the wisdom of federalism. You needn't be an anti-Semite to wonder about the implications of the U.S.'s broad support for Israel.

Some of these ideas have always faced a certain hurdle in the national debate. To argue against welfare, hate crimes laws, and affirmative action, libertarians (and conservatives) always have to clear the racism card first. To argue for ending the drug war or knocking out huge federal agencies, we always have to clear the "'I'm not a kook" card. Today's news, combined with Paul's high profile, I think carries the potential to make all of that a little more difficult.

I also fear that newly-minted Paulites on sites like Reddit, Digg, Slashdot and the like—whose first exposure to libertarianism was Ron Paul—are going to click over to the New Republic piece in the coming days, become disillusioned, and assume that this is really what libertarianism is all about.

Paul's candidacy attracted broad support because he unabashedly embraced what the GOP claims to be on fiscal issues—low tax, limited government, pro-federalist—and what the Democrats claim to be on social issues—pro individual freedom and pro-privacy. Paul's campaign has essentially called both parties on their bullshit, and made them explain the gap between their stated principles and the way they've governed. Both sides I think were surprised at how strong he came on. So both sides dismissed him as a nut, and cited the kookiest fringes of libertarianism and dug up the most whacked-out Paul supporters to prove their point. Unfortunately, the quotes pulled from these newsletters will for many only confirm those worst stereotypes of what he represents. The good ideas Paul represents then get sullied by association. The Ann Althouses of the world, for example, are now only more certain that opponents of federal anti-discrimination laws should have to prove that they aren't racist before being taken seriously.

There have always been issues where I disagree pretty profoundly with Paul—immigration and the Fourteenth Amendment, to name two. Still, I've been encouraged by his campaign because it's been heartening to not only watch a candidate talk about limited government, humble foreign policy, and individual liberty over the last several months, but to see his support actually grow as he does.
Paul's success and media coverage have exposed a large portion of the country to libertarian ideas for the first time. Before yesterday, that was a good thing. But now I'm not so sure. If this new audience's first exposure to libertarianism now comes with all of this decidedly unlibertarian baggage—that many may now wrongly associate with libertarian ideas—maybe it would have been better if Paul's campaign had sputtered out months ago, and we waited a cycle or two for someone else to come along to tap the sentiment.

Julius Martov said...

Why Ron Paul's left-wing champions are wrong

January 11, 2008 | Page 7
such as Joshua Frank of Counterpunch and Dissident Voice, "a radical journal in the struggle for peace and justice."

Julius Martov said...
see the comment thread, some loon named Ken Hoop (so explicit in his anti-semitism, even paleo-con
intellectual Lawrence Auster called him on it, ) makes some incoherent charge vs. me.
>...Pantload, I didn't say the newsletters were dog-whistling. As you note, they're quite blatant.

But everything in Paul's present-day persona elides the guy who wrote the newsletters. He goes out of his way to look moderate and reasonable, and put things in such a sensible way that I find myself nodding and agreeing with about 85% of what he says. It does, absolutely, sound like everything I ever wanted a politician to say. And I'm far from the only liberal who feels that way.

But liberals who've never been around Birchers or Spotlight readers don't have their ears tuned to hear all the ways in which Paul's whole message is shot through with hoary old Bircher and white supremacy stuff. The racists in our midst hear the same words, but get something entirely different out of them. He says he wants the same things we do -- but for completely different reasons. That's the dog-whistle effect.

Dave and I have been writing on this since June, and have gotten no end of flak from not only Paulbots, but also progressives (including, very publicly, Glenn Greenwald) who just didn't understand how we could be hearing racism in what he was saying. The more we tried to explain it to them, the more they thought we were just a bit cranky on this issue.

These newsletters are ample confirmation that we got that story right from the get -- though I doubt Greenwald will ever give us our due on that.
Mrs Robinson | Homepage | 01.09.08 - 12:19 pm | #


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