Ron Paul, a longtime Republican from Congress, announced his third presidential run today. In 2008, he fell way short, and given that many of his essential messages—about fiscal discipline, chiefly—have if anything been co-opted by the Republican mainstream since then, it is even less likely that he will win the GOP nomination this time. Still, his announcement means it is time to remember that the folksy doctor who has some comparatively wonderful answers to some questions (he doesn’t really care if people marry whomever they want to), he has a history of allowing really crappy, racist, and even anti-Semitic things published under his aegis, and has surrounded himself with people who tap into a certan American undercurrent that advocates not just military isolationism but a more generalized fear of the Other, whether blacks, gays, or Jews, the last usually in the form of paranoid musings on Israel.
Tablet Magazine contributor James Kirchick broke this story in early 2008, in a New Republic article that still bears reading. In the early ‘90s, Paul’s newsletters—the equivalent of blogs back in that ancient historical time—routinely had kind words for the Ku Klux Klan and harsh ones for blacks, particularly urban blacks who were going to foment “The Coming Race War” (an article about the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C., was called, “Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo”); gays (fear of AIDS); and, of course, Jews, both implicitly (tirades against “the industrial-banking-political elite”) and explicitly, with Israel as the correlative (one newsletter questioned whether the Mossad was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing).
Libertarian journalists Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez followed up on this exposé by reporting that most of these newsletters, which were generally unbylined, were written by Lew Rockwell, a former Paul chief-of-staff who went on to found the Ludwig von Mises Institute, whose modus operandi at the time, they say, was “an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist ‘paleoconservatives.’” Paul, meantime, consistently situated himself close to that organization.
Noting that Paul’s 2008 campaign was thankfully bereft of such a strategy, Wiegel and Sanchez argue, “Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists—and taking ‘moral responsibility’ for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past—acknowledging who said what, and why.” To date, he hasn’t really done so.
So—and trust me, what I am about to describe will happen—when you are watching a GOP presidential debate, and you see the nice doctor call for closing the gaping budget deficit; argue for pulling back on America’s overseas commitments (this is the main reason that AIPAC and its like are against him, but it is a legitimate position to take, and here he is not motivated by, say, anti-Jewish animus); remind you that he voted against the Patriot Act all the way back in 2001 (a badge of honor no one can minimize or take away from him); and essentially call for legalizing it (rock on!), please remember that this xenophobic, neo-Southern Strategy B.S. is in his past, and that he has yet to honestly reckon with it. Have a good afternoon.