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Serious ugly 11 Jan 2008

Posted by Watts in Uncategorized.
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2 comments

Some years ago I spent a lot of time listening to the far-left Pacifica radio, and I’ve spent some time poking around paleo-libertarian parts of the internet recently. Both groups share a common affliction: if a given politico isn’t pretty much 100% in line with their ideals, they’re no better than the rest of the (fascists|communists|corporate stooges) in Washington. The perfect is the enemy of the good does not play out well in these parts.

Which brings me to Ron Paul.

Let me be up front: I like the guy. I don’t think Paul is quite as sui generis as his supporters imagine him to be; he’s certainly not the only anti-war candidate, isn’t the only one who’s expressed grave concern about the size and reach of the Federal government, and isn’t even the only one who’s framed these concerns in explicitly constitutional terms (now ex-candidate Chris Dodd goes so far as to carry a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution around with him). Even so, it’s hard to find one candidate who embodies all those things. Combine that with the amazing buzz Paul’s gotten over the last year on the internet, driven by all those techno-libertarians, and it’s easy to believe there really is a Ron Paul Revolution.

I think my interest in Paul comes from the perception that he’s the 2008 equivalent of Ralph Nader in 2000. I know both Paul and Nader supporters might rip their hair out at the comparison. But but but look at all the policy differences! Diametrically opposed! Yes, but as Ezra Klein aptly noted, the positions aren’t the point. “It’s a movement united behind Howard Beale: They’re mad as hell at politics, and not going to take it anymore. Paul’s candidacy is an indictment of the system, not an argument for who would best administer it.”

The problem, of course, is that when you’re running for the highest office in the land and start polling—let alone receiving votes—in sufficient numbers to no longer be a “fringe” candidate, people will, as inconvenient as it may be, start asking questions about whether you are the best person to administer said system.

A racist article or two from Paul’s past had gotten blogosphere mention months ago; it was countered with “Dr. Paul didn’t write that, it was just published under his name,” Paul issued a statement taking full responsibility for it and apologizing, and it didn’t really make that much press. (At the time, a couple journalists who latched onto the story made comment on how difficult it was to find back issues of these newsletters, hinting darkly that perhaps there was a reason the Paul campaign wanted them out of the spotlight.) And, when the reports about support from white nationalists, including quasi-endorsements from David Duke and actual money donated from founders of the notorious racist web site “Stormfront” bubbled up a bit later, that was met with, “but Dr. Paul can use the money for better purposes, and just because racists endorse him doesn’t mean he endorses them!” In other words, by not rejecting the money and the endorsements, the claim is that Paul behaved in a more principled fashion than all those other politicians who would have returned the money and denounced the wackos.

But it seems it wasn’t an article or two. Paul supporters are now pointing fingers at TNR and accusing them of overstating things, making it sound like it was consistent over a decade when it was just a few times. Maybe so, but if it happened multiple times over multiple issues, it’s no longer an isolated incident, something that just happened to slip through. It’s a pattern. Paul’s newsletter was publishing things that were explicitly targeted at racist wackos and the “black helicopter” crowd. As blogger Wirkman Virkkala writes, “The issue is not that [Paul] wrote these things, but that he let them go out under his name for years. What does that say about his sense of justice, rhetoric, or even self-image?” Virkkala concludes that he would still vote for Paul, “for whereas he is morally compromised, his opponents should be so lucky—their main points of ideology are morally compromised in far more dangerous ways.”

Spoken (well, written) like a true libertarian, but as Jim Henley notes, Ron Paul had an unprecedented national contributor base for his House races, and he asks:

How did Paul develop and maintain a national contributor base? Through the newsletters. […] the various newsletters over the years weren’t trivial pursuits. They were central to Paul’s political success. During Paul’s early, dicey contests for the 14th District seat, the early 90s numbers with the most racist items were fresh, not ancient history, and the donors Paul was drawing on would have included people who liked what they were reading.

But while Virkkala sees the newsletter as a sign that Paul allowed himself to be used, it looks to me uncomfortably like the reverse. The wackos his newsletter was courting in the 1990s showed up during his presidential campaign in 2007 to offer money and wave banners. One has to at least ask if the reason we didn’t see a strong repudiation of them now has little to do with libertarian ideals and a lot to do with not alienating a known support base.

In the final analysis, Ron Paul probably isn’t a racist. Instead—and this may be the most serious ugly of all—he may just be a politician.

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