It shouldn’t surprise anyone who remembers anything about Ron Paul’s run for the Presidency four years ago that The Newsletter Issue has cropped up again. There are many things that place a low ceiling on the Texas Congressman’s potential level of support and the newsletters are one of the reasons for that.
This won’t matter for the true believers for whom Paul is an increasingly apostolic figure but it will, indeed must, be a problem for those coming to the Doctor for the first time. Matt Welch has the indispensable summary of the whole sorry scenario, but the shorter version runs something like this:
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, after he’d run on the Libertarian ticket in the 1988 Presidential election and before his return to Congress in 1996, Paul published a newsletter entitled the Ron Paul Political Report. (You can read some of them here). He didn’t write everything in it but it all, you know, appeared under his name. And some of what was there was pretty ugly stuff. There was talk of young black males as "animals" and much else besides. It was crude and it was a sorry example of one strain of libertarianism’s willingness to play to the (white) gallery as part of an attempt to latch on to the culture wars while also advancing rock-ribbed concerns for property rights and all the rest of it. A nasty, discreditable business.
Paul’s subsequent explanations, as Dave Weigel (who has done more reporting on the newsletters than most) observes do not answer all questions. If he didn’t write the newsletters who did? (The leading suspect: Lew Rockwell, chief neep of the rump paleolibertarians. The question few wish to consider: what if Murray Rothbard had a hand in it too?) Weigel applies a hammer to the nail:
It’s now comfortable for CNN and CBS to pepper Paul with these questions. (He says CNN "asks me every single time," but he’s done scores of CNN interviews since 2008 where this never came up.) He has answered some of the questions, but only some — he has never said who wrote the offending stuff, and whether he still associates with the author. I think that’s the wound that the press can keep poking. Imagine a less sui generis politician — imagine, say, Mitt Romney being found out for having published internal Bain memos, or something, that indulged in conspiracy theories. The media wouldn’t let him off if he just said someone else must have written them.
This is true. Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan sticks to his Paulite endorsement:
I’m not sure what he is supposed to say at this point. He’s unwilling to out Lew Rockwell and disown him. And the focus on it – rather than, say, his views on Iran or the drug war – is in line with press behavior. This is the "Jeremiah Wright" scandal for Paul.
[…] For the record, my own position is and has been: yes, this is relevant; yes, it’s disturbing; no, it’s not disqualifying. And the real debate needs to be about fiscal restraint and global prudence.
Except Jeremiah Wright was never damning America or suggesting AIDS was a US government plot in the pages of the Barack Obama Political Report. Had he been then Mr Obama would have been in a ticklish position, tasked with explaining why he published all this stuff under his own name, fostering the impression – accurate or not – that this was his view too. So the situations are not at all comparable.
And so, like ED Kain, Andrew wants us to ignore the awkward parts of Paul’s history and concentrate on the better, bigger picture. Which is fine. But it also means that the reason the newsletters (or the goldbuggery, if you prefer to seize on that) aren’t "disqualifying" is because you know that Ron Paul won’t qualify for the Republican nomination. If he were a more serious contender – in terms of votes, not principles – then the newsletters would be a bigger, quite possibly fatal, problem even for Paul’s journalistic admirers. Since he isn’t a real contender they may be ignored on the grounds that the other issues Paul raises are much more important.
This is fine and not a disreputable position but it reinforces the fact that, outside the wholly committed, Paul’s support is in large part a well-deserved protest vote against the dreadfulness of the other Republican candidates. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. But one should admit it, not try and pretend that it’s not really all that important or it’s just old news. It’s not old news for most of the people who didn’t know much about Representative Paul until a few months ago and I reckon most people would think it pretty important if Mitt Romney had baggage like this cluttering up his past.
And of course it would be important if this were Romney because Romney might be the next President of the United States. Ron Paul, who is not a very convincing racist, will not be and so it is easier to forgive or quietly ignore these awkward blemishes. It’s not disqualifying because he won’t really win so let’s just talk about the better stuff, ok? That’s fine but you can see why this might be a tough sell to people who don’t already know the whole story.
UPDATE: See Nick Gillespie for yet more on all this. Paul’s a good guy, on the whole, but he has some pretty dubious past associations and friendships (hello Birchers!) and while that’s not what the point of Ron Paul is it’s certainly the kind of stuff you’d wish he’d ditched long ago.
Also: here’s a PDF of another Paul newsletter, this time published in, I think, his first spell in Congress. It’s not got any of the racial stuff but, my, there’s some kooky currency fretting going on here. It is, I’m afraid, tinfoil-hatted stuff.