James Leroy Wilson's blog

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The New Republic Article

Four years ago, I wrote, "A Presidential campaign can be a useful means of furthering the cause, but on the other hand it would be easy, in this age of media groupthink, to see us all written off as racists and extremists."

Last year, I wrote, "And let’s suppose that Paul’s campaign is effective. That it pulls off a few surprises, and success will breed success. What happens then? The newspapers and news programs will be forced to take a closer look at Ron Paul."

What I had in mind was that a story like Jamie Kirchick's piece would appear, and it is in some ways worse than I would have predicted. Berin M. Szoka rebuts it, but concedes that some of the statements attributed to Paul are "truly odious," whereas others are "merely politically incorrect (but accurate) and/or contradict Kirchick's ignorant, knee-jerk misconceptions of American history." Jim Babka calls the piece a disaster, and asks, if Ron Paul did not write what was put out under his name, that the writer(s) be a man, stand up, and take the heat.

Here's my theory. Ron Paul's career has not just been about spreading a libertarian message. When he began, he ran in a southern, conservative district with a general, Reaganesque "anti-Washington" message that appeals also to non-libertarians, and probably on its surface is not too different from that of other post-Civil Rights era southern conservatives. Apparently, in the years where much of the offending material was published, libertarian leaders aligned with Paul began to reach out to paleo-conservatives and speak at events hosted by organizations like Chronicles magazine, where talk of race and ethnicity would often be blunt. At the same time through these years, the racial politics at the time were intense. There were high rates of crime and welfare in the black community, and a great deal of Bell Curve-style prejudice on the far-Right. (I don't think The Bell Curve was published yet, but the assumptions were already there.) Combined with what were perceived as generally deteriorating social conditions and boiling anger toward liberalism, there was a market for a politically incorrect, right-libertarian newsletter.

This provided an opportunity to earn some extra money for Paul and his friends. If Paul had little connection with newsletters going out under his name, and this allowed for offensive remarks to be published that Paul would never endorse, then one can only conclude that the newsletter was largely written and/or edited by someone, or some people, in whom Paul had absolute trust. Long-time friends and advisers. Perhaps they still are friends and advisers, and perhaps they are now too ashamed to come forward because it would rock the libertarian movement at its foundations.

All that said, what I saw in James Kirchick's piece doesn't seem to be much worse than what Rush Limbaugh or National Review might have said at the time - in context. (If a conservative at the time called a black looter or criminal an "animal," that is certainly offensive, but does not imply that all blacks are criminals or animals, or that blacks are not entitled to equal natural rights.) Views of race and homosexuality have certainly evolved over the past 15-20 years, and this really is a more politically-correct time. (In the sense of greater tolerance and acceptance, this is good; in the sense of lawsuits, suspensions, and firings, it is most unfortunate.)

And we should point out that much of what is "offensive" in Paul's newsletters really isn't. To be critical of Israel is not the same as to be anti-Semitic. To support the right of secession is not to defend slavery. And what, exactly, is so threatening about militia movements? And there are unanswered questions about Waco, and the federal police are thugs. Former Paul staffer (30 years ago) Gary North is a Reconstructionist, but his agenda is not to use The State to impose Old Testament law, but to abolish the State as we know it. As such, his ideas are dangerous to the status quo, but only in the sense that libertarianism is.

Paul has taken "moral responsibility" for what went out under his name. I assume by this he means, he has apologized to all those he should apologize to. On the whole, I think this is an unfortunate but minor episode in Paul's career, and that his peace-and-freedom platform would advance race relations and gay-straight relations by leaps-and-bounds. I understand how some blacks or gays may feel differently, and this may be a reason to withdraw support from Paul. If so, please consider the Libertarian Party, or focus less on candidates and more on direct action through organizations like DownsizeDC.org. It's understandable to withdraw support from a candidate who was responsible for disseminating bigoted views decades ago, but that is no excuse to then support a pro-aggression, anti-civil liberties, pro-counterfeiting candidate, which seems to be all that is left in the Democratic and Republican fields.

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