Ron Paul’s Name
December 26th, 2011
Americans have an incredibly short attention span. One would imagine the public’s latest outrage was over a recent discovery of a tranche of Ron Paul’s racist and homophobic newsletters written from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. The problem, though, is that while the renewed outrage may be recent, the discovery wasn’t. Many of those newsletters came to light the last time he ran for president, just short of four years ago. The New Republic, which broke the story in 2008, has an updated rundown on just what some of those reprehensible ideas were:
The December 1989 Ron Paul Political Report contains entries on a “new form of racial terrorism,” cites former Congressman Bill Dannemeyer’s claim that “the average homosexual has 1,000 or more partners in a lifetime,” and quotes Lew Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in the third person.
In January 1990, the Ron Paul Political Report cites “a well-known libertarian editor” who “told me: ‘The ACT-UP slogan on stickers plastered all over Manhattan is ‘Silence=Death.’ But shouldn’t it be Sodomy = Death’?”
The September 1994 issue of the Ron Paul Survival Report states that “those who don’t commit sodomy, who don’t get blood a transfusion, and who don’t swap needles, are virtually assured of not getting AIDS unless they are deliberately infected by a malicious gay.”
The June 1990 issue of the Political Report says: “I miss the closet. Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.”
A January 1994 edition of the Survival Report states that “gays in San Francisco do not obey the dictates of good sense,” adding: “[T]hese men don’t really see a reason to live past their fifties. They are not married, they have no children, and their lives are centered on new sexual partners.” Also, “they enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.”
Those links go directly to the PDF’s of the newsletters in question. And those quote are just a selection of some of the anti-gay rants found in his newsletters. They don’t even touch on the racist and anti-Semitic ramblings and the strange conspiracy theories which were the heart of his newsletters. The 2008 outrage lasted, I think, a week or two, and then Ron Paul’s supporters found a way to shrug it off, pretty much as Ron Paul himself did:
Ron Paul released a very brief statement claiming that he was acting something like an absentee landlord with regard to those now-infamous newsletters:
When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.
And that was that. Except that I really haven’t seen him take “moral responsibility,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. He didn’t explain how it came to be that those newsletters with his name emblazoned across the top — some of which raised money for his political campaigns when he decided to re-enter politics — came attached to such reprehensible ideas, other than to just say he didn’t write them. Which is a different story from the one he offered in 1995, when those newsletters, still fresh from the press, became a campaign issue in his run for Congress:
Paul, a Republican obstetrician from Surfside, said Wednesday he opposes racism and that his written commentaries about blacks came in the context of “current events and statistical reports of the time.” … A campaign spokesman for Paul said statements about the fear of black males mirror pronouncements by black leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has decried the spread of urban crime. Paul continues to write the newsletter for an undisclosed number of subscribers, the spokesman said.
In this 1995 video, Ron Paul talks about his newsletters with a certain pride in ownership:
Here, we see a politician who was not particularly worried about how the themes of his newsletter would play out with his constituents. And he apparently knew his constituents well; he won his seat for Congress.
But now that he’s running for President with a new constituency he needs to convince, the 1995 explanation won’t wash. So today, this is what he’s saying:
“Why don’t you go back and look at what I said yesterday on CNN and what I’ve said for 20-something years, 22 years ago?” Paul said on CNN Wednesday. “I didn’t write them. I disavow them. That’s it.”
Unfortunately, he didn’t CC his Iowa campaign chairman with his new line:
However, Ivers said, Paul does not deny or retract material that Paul has written under his own signature, such as the letter promoting Paul’s newsletters.
When asked whether that meant Paul believed there was a government conspiracy to cover up the impact of AIDS, Ivers said, “I don’t think he embraces that.”
Paul’s newsletters “showed good factual information and investment information,” Ivers said. “It was a public service, helping people understand and equip them to avoid an unsound monetary policy.”
All of this leaves us with just a few possibilities, with only one of them potentially positive from Paul’s point of view. The first possibility to consider is that he is saying today: that he really didn’t write them, and that his role was that of an absent landlord. The problem with that, however, is that those racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic conspiracies found a home in his newsletters for more than a decade. They weren’t just a rare escape of an editor’s notice. And that presents a significant problem. Paul is running as a different kind of politician, and he asks us to accept him as a man of his word. But which word is he a man of? Do we trust his word today where he claims not to have any connection with those newsletters which provided such a financial benefit to him? Do we trust his word in 1995 when he promoted those newsletters? Or do we trust what was presented as his word in those newsletters — with his good name across the top and, in some cases, a likeness of his signature below? If you’re running as a man of his word, the last thing you want is for your audience to constantly ask themselves, “Which word?”
The second possibility is even worse. Some have suggested that Paul was aware of the content of those newsletters, but that he didn’t necessarily agree with the content. According to this theory, he stuck with it because it was both a good campaign strategy and a good money raiser. Michael Brendan Dougherty considers that possibility:
At that time a libertarian theorist, Murray Rothbard argued that libertarians ought to engage in “Outreach to the Rednecks” in order to insert their libertarian theories into the middle of the nation’s political passions. …As crazy as it sounds, Ron Paul’s newsletter writers may not have been sincerely racist at all. They actually thought appearing to be racist was a good political strategy in the 1990s. After that strategy yielded almost nothing — it was abandoned by Paul’s admirers. You can attribute their “redneck strategy” to the most malignant kind of cynicism or to a political desperation that made them insane.
If that’s true, then it betrays exactly the kind of cynicism that Paul claims to be running against, and turns the entire mess into an indictment of his character. A cynical politician is hardly shocking, sure, but it certainly says something when a man, who claims to stand on principle regardless of that principle’s popularity, decides to adopt a different set of principles solely for political and financial advantage. This is a worse problem than the first possibility. As much as you don’t want to have to ask, “Which word?”, you definitely don’t want to have to ask, “Which principle?”
And this leaves us with the third possibility: that he was aware of those newsletters and let them go out under his name because they did reflect his views at the time. This possibility at least has the benefit of restoring his integrity. First, it would mean that he was a man of his word then, and it would mean that he’s a man of his word now. And his word now would demonstrate that he is someone who is capable of changing and adapting his views over time. After all, Rep. Paul did vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and told one GOP debate audience that “heterosexuals are causing more trouble than gays” in the military. But that’s a far cry from what we see in those newsletters, and it would show an evolution which his supporters could take comfort in.
The problem with that possibility though is that it’s not the one Paul is running on. He’s running on the first one. And yet, he still wants us to believe that he is a man of principle and a man of his word, while also expecting us to swallow the corollary that he was extremely reckless with what was associated with his good name.
I can’t accept that, and no one else should either. Every time I write something with my name on it, you can be sure that it reflects my opinion and understanding at the time that I write it, however flawed and poorly spelled it may be. You can count on it because my name is firmly attached. I can always change my mind later about an opinion I’ve held, I can always retract when I’m convinced that I’m wrong, and I can always apologize when I offend.
But one thing I can never do as a blogger (which is the 2011 equivalent of writing a newsletter, after all) is run away from my name. And when it comes to voting for president, I would expect that the candidate I support has at least as much integrity as a blogger.