The Corner

The Trouble with Ron Paul’s Defense

The New York Times has an interesting front page piece on Ron Paul’s relationship with the racists,  anti-Semites and neo-Nazis in his coalition (sorry, but whatever you think of Lew Rockwell,  Stormfront and David Duke certainly deserve such labels).

His three defenses are: 1) He didn’t have direct knowledge of the really bad things and cannot remember anything when people provide evidence that he did.

2) He won’t disavow support from neo-Nazis and white supremacists because their endorsement of him doesn’t imply or suggest his endorsement of them. “If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say.”

3) Last he believes that his continued reliance on their support can be justified because he’s championing the cause of liberty. “I’ll go to anybody who I think I can convert to change their viewpoints — so that would be to me incidental,” he said. “I’m always looking at converting people to look at liberty the way I do.”

All of these are deficient. Let’s start with his first argument. I simply don’t believe him. His claim would require not only that he never wrote the newsletters in question but that he never read them, either. It would also strongly suggest that he never discussed their basic editorial thrust with a close aide and editor who was writing under Paul’s own name. He even claims that he never paid attention to his lucrative newsletter business because nobody ever complained about their content.

I admit to a writer’s bias here, but your byline is one of the most valuable things you own because it reflects not just your work and thought but your character and reputation as well.  I think Paul is lying about at least some of this. But even if you take him at his word that he was merely grossly irresponsible and incompetent in his handling of a few newsletters, how are we supposed to believe he could do the job of president if he has such poor management skills and such rotten choice in staff? (Admittedly, his choice in staff was only rotten if he’s telling the truth and his newsletters don’t reflect his views).

Then there’s his second argument. Yes, it’s true that support from racists doesn’t make you a racist. But working with them is a different matter. Tolerating them, never mind campaigning for their support, even obliquely, is damning. 

Which brings us to his third claim: that he’s on a quest to convert people. I’m actually very sympathetic to this argument, as it is one I’ve invoked myself and it’s one Bill Buckley used to make. Politics is about persuasion. If Ron Paul were out there converting neo-Nazis to classical liberalism I’d be cheering him on. But where is the evidence he’s doing anything of the sort? Talking about hard money and the conspiracy at the Fed is not a sincere way to convince racists to drop their odious views. Is there any serious evidence that he’s tried to convince such supporters they’re wrong? I’ll take the word of people like Cato president Ed Crane and others that Paul doesn’t in fact believe much of this stuff. But where’s the proof Paul ever spent any real effort trying to enlighten Lew Rockwell, never mind the folks at Stormfront?  If there is such proof, his communications people are doing a fantastic job keeping it secret.

If Paul’s explanations are to be believed at face value, he’s a shockingly naïve man. If your goal is to persuade people that the libertarian cause is free of bigotry, courting support from bigots is a really stupid way to do it.

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