Ron Paul’s bigoted newsletters: the wench is not dead

Andrew Sullivan thinks the bigoted rants published by Ron Paul and in his name are “very, very old news.” But I can’t parse his argument.

UPDATE Sullivan changes his mind.

I disagree with Andrew Sullivan more often than I agree with him, but in general I have no difficulty following his reasoning. But his defense of his endorsement of Ron Paul leaves me shaking my head and doubting my reading comprehension.

The history – for those not well-versed in the deeper circles of the Wingnut Inferno – is that for several years during the late 80s and early 90s Ron Paul made a stack of money as the publisher, and nominal author, of a couple of newsletters filled with claims such as:

Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.

Ta-Nehisi Coates reviews the bidding, pointing out that Paul has never actually repudiated the garbage published under his name.* (It appears that the newsletters were actually written by Paul’s good friend Lew Rockwell, though Paul has never quite said as much.)

Sullivan, who has endorsed Paul in Iowa, responds:

This issue comes up again and again. Paul has taken two stands on it: the first was to take formal responsibility, even though he claims he didn’t know about the contents; the second was to insist he didn’t write them or know who did. Some of his early responses cited by TNC do seem defensive and cranky. … I think the papers (and comments almost two decades ago) should definitely be considered, in context, when judging his candidacy, and not because the neocons are determined to smear anyone challenging their catastrophic record. But compared with Rick Perry’s open bigotry in his ads, or Bachmann’s desire to “cure” gays, or the rhetoric around “illegals” in this campaign, these ugly newsletters are very, very old news. To infer from them that Paul is a big racist is a huge subjective leap I leave to others more clairvoyant than myself.

Yes, the story is “old” as news: that is already known, no longer fresh. But Sullivan seems to be offering, on Paul’s behalf, a mixture of “everyone does it” and the Barabas Defense: “But that was in another country. And besides, the wench is dead.” The problem is that racial bigotry is far from dead, and since Paul has never either retracted what was said in his name (and to his financial benefit) nor apologized – let alone given away the money he made peddling bigotry –  it’s not unreasonable to continue to hold him accountable for it.

I’m not sure what he relevant “context” is. If Sullivan’s point is that Paul’s bigotry was never sincere, I see no reason to disagree. But is a willingness to – insincerely – push poisonous lies for money and political advantage such a minor flaw? As (aaaaarrrrghhhh!) President, Paul would face lots of moments where hurting black people would be politically advantageous. Why should anyone care if he acted that way without any subjective bias?

Paul’s fundamentally John Birch Society view of the world makes him fit in well with the Tea Party crowd. But what on earth is Andrew Sullivan doing in such company?

If Paul manages to win Iowa’s Tallest Midget Contest, we’ll see the knives come out. I wonder if Romney et al., who need the votes of the GOP racist base now and its enthusiasm in November, will dare to attack him for for publishing racist rant. I’d bet against it.

* Update Here’s video of Ron Paul laughing off the whole affair; he now says he doesn’t believe all that garbage, “but I didn’t write them and those aren’t my beliefs, so I sleep well.” When he was challenged about the newsletters during his Congressional campaign in 1996, he didn’t deny writing them and defended their substance, so his claim that “this has been addressed for 20 years” is a bit of a stretch.



Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

34 thoughts on “Ron Paul’s bigoted newsletters: the wench is not dead”

  1. Given Andrew Sullivan’s predilection for rooting around in the various trash-heaps of scientific racism, which recently surfaced once again – and was defended with the usual blend of self-righteousness, dishonesty and injured innocence by its practitioner – I should say that he and Ron Paul have a certain natural affinity which goes far beyond their brotherhood as unrepentant right-wing cranks railing at society.

  2. I am shocked, shocked to find that an unrepentant promoter of The Bell Curve is now giving a pass to pseudo-intellectual racist screeds.

  3. If Ron Paul has never actually “repudiated” this, I’m not sure what “repudiate” is understood to mean. It seems to me that I’ve seen him repudiate them over and over, every time somebody brings them up.

    1. Well, not every time. Sometimes he’s acknowledged writing the columns in question. Sometimes he’s denied ever reading them. Sometimes he’s defended them. Sometimes he’s repudiated them.

      So, yeah, he’s repudiated them. He’s also done a lot of other things with them depending on the time, circumstance and audience.

    1. I have no idea who “Warren Drugs” is, but I would like to buy him a temperate amount of his favorite intoxicant. (Perhaps a cup of Coca-leaf tea?)

  4. From the original post:

    If Sullivan’s point is that Paul’s bigotry was never sincere, I see no reason to disagree. But is a willingness to – insincerely – push poisonous lies for money and political advantage such a minor flaw?

    And from fallibist’s link:

    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.

    Pretending to be racist is itself racist. I’m reminded of Vonnegut’s joke:

    Q: What’s the white stuff in birdshit?
    A: That’s birdshit, too.

  5. Sullivan has always had an appalling record on race. He wrote long ago, and repeatedly, that the Civil Rights Act was an unwarranted interference with the liberty of private actors. As far as I know he has never changed his position.

    Some will say this isn’t because Sullivan is racist, but because he’s a libertarian. (That was Goldwater’s excuse as well.) There’s something to this. Sullivan strongly supports gay marriage but opposes, I believe, laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    Still, I think the conclusion in both cases is clear. Personal bigotry isn’t the issue. The question is whether libertarians are willing to countenance mild restrictions on individual choice as the necessary price for addressing a massive social injustice. Paul’s answer is no, and so is Sullivan’s. And one reason, in both cases, is that they feel a deep, visceral attachment to choice but frankly don’t care much (or in Paul’s case, at all) about the injustice.

    1. In our actually existing society, libertarianism is effectively indistinguishable from racism. It requires a willful act of amnesia, combined with ongoing blindness about the degree to which the government subsidizes the “personal choices” of the rich and powerful.

    2. I think this is an overly generous interpretation of how people come to believe the political and social beliefs they hold. I’m not saying that Paul’s “libertarianism” and Sullivan’s are the same or that the reasons they came to those positions are the same. But I don’t think it’s a reasonable model of how people work to start from the premise that they have these deep purely analytical or cognitive assumptions that they hold for reasons entirely unrelated to their emotional and motivational attributes and functioning as human beings, and simply work out the implications of those assumptions in a similarly Mr. Spock-like “logical” fashion. And to the extent that these motivational and emotional components of our make-up are neurotic (and all of us have have issues), we’re responsible for them, because one of the jobs of an adult human being is to understand and master these kinds of problems — not project them outwards.

    3. The question is whether libertarians are willing to countenance mild restrictions on individual choice as the necessary price for addressing a massive social injustice.

      “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

      I’m fairly convinced that “injustice” is the Left’s shibboleth, as safety is the Right’s–and that in neither case is trading liberty for something else likely to further either.

    4. “The question is whether libertarians are willing to countenance mild restrictions on individual choice as the necessary price for addressing a massive social injustice.”

      Surely the real question is why libertarians would, in the first place, countenance brutal and humiliating restrictions on the choices of a group of individuals separated from their more privileged contemporaries only by race?

  6. My take is this: during the years that the newsletters were being published, surely somebody who actually knows Ron Paul personally must have seen them. And of those people, not a single one of them reacted by saying “Wow, I can’t believe that garbage is being printed under Ron Paul’s name! I have to tell him about this so he can stop it!”

    1. It’s at least as plausible as Obama’s claim to not have noticed the Reverend Wright’s sermons all those years.

      Politicians are, as Twain noted, America’s native criminal class. We cut them slack when they’re generally on our side, we highlight their wrongs when they’re not, but if there’s a politician out there who you’d trust to babysit your 2 year old, you’re probably not a very good parent.

      1. Actually, Twain didn’t write about “politicians” in general: he specified the Congress. No doubt he had foreseen the current House of Representatives.

        Unlike Brett, I actually know a fair number of actual politicians. Some of them I wouldn’t trust with a nickle; others I’d trust with my life.

        All of them have taken on a personally challenging and morally difficult set of tasks that I couldn’t do and that need doing: in this they’re like cops, nurses, and soldiers. Criticizing individuals is fair game; sitting back and poking fun of the entire class of people who do the day-to-day work of free government is pretty low: what Kipling called “making mock of uniforms that guard you as you sleep.” As one of Heinlein’s characters says, the alternative to politics is civil war.

      2. It’s interesting that Brett Bellmore can never find a convincing defense of Ron Paul. It’s all deflection, irrelevance, squeaks that both sides do it, so there – and in general the rancid, predictable and pathetic slop of internet trollery.

        1. I don’t particularly care to defend Paul on the newsletter, because I don’t see anything particularly defensible about it. I’d never have something ghost written on my behalf without reading every word of it, and (Charitably!) Paul did. I find it dubious that he didn’t find out the nature of what was going out pretty quick.

          If I had an alternative to Paul who didn’t have this in his past, and still agreed with me on a long list of issues, I’d pick him over Paul. I care about issues more than this, but I do care about this.

          Now can we have similar admissions concerning Obama, and his past associations with terrorists, crooks, and radically anti-American preachers? Where’s the demand that Obama repudiate Ayers?

          IOW, I see a serious double standard here.

          1. Oh, c’mon. You know that Obama never let Ayers or Wright speak for him, and that his association with them is not comparable to Paul’s publishing a racist newsletter.

            This is not to deny that the newsletter by itself should not be disqualifying, or that, as Warren Drugs wrote, only Ron Paul would take on the New Jim Crow. Ending drug prohibition would do more to help African-American people than anything that any non-racist candidate would do, and it is certainly not something that former cocaine-user Obama is doing; he just wants to deny cancer and glaucoma patients their medicine.

          2. Ayers? Are you serious???

            When did Ayers write newsletters under Obama’s name? Or are you buying the outer-space National Review theory that Ayers was Obama’s ghost-writer?

            And Obama did repudiate Wright, another non-ghost-writer, by the way,

          3. You seem to be inventing a double standard, Brett, based on what are rather obvious fictions by degenerate gossip-peddlers like Jerome Corsi. Funny how everything the right wing believes these days sooner or later traces back to some sad, angry, hate-filled old white man who can’t handle the reality of modern America or the facts of its past.

    2. DonBoy’s point is sound but can be made even more strongly. Whether or not Ron Paul wrote a single word of the newsletters, allowing them to go out under his name constituted an embrace and endorsement by Paul of the contents (possibly excepting at least to some extent any portions — apparently very rare — explicitly attributed at publication to someone else). The rest is angels dancing on the head of a pin. I am astounded that the question of whether he can be held responsible is considered even to need or justify debate.

  7. Oh, I don’t know. Much of conservatism is predicated on the same assumptions that would predicate racism. This is why it has always made perfect sense for there to be considerable overlap between racists and conservatives. I think the vast majority of conservatives despise the idea, yet privately rue the dogged logic that much of what they believe is entirely consistent with the racist cognitive framework. It’s a dirty truth, and the conservatives have two options: live in denial, or live dirty. The Ron Pauls, Pat Buchanans, Rush Limbaughs, Charles Murrays, etc. of the world have merely found themselves on the dirty end.

    1. When one considers that conservatism, in America at least, has, as a fundamental motive, the preservation of the privileges of certain groups (i.e.the white, rich and male), it’s not really surprising to see how Ron Paul and Rush Limbaugh consistently end up on the same side of the Mason-Dixon line.

  8. From the New American, dated October 8, 2008: “Dr. Ron Paul, Texas congressman and 2008 Republican presidential candidate, was the featured speaker Saturday evening, October 4 on the final day of the John Birch Society’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. The topic of his keynote address was “Restoring the Republic: Lessons From a Presidential Campaign,” in which he lectured the audience on how our republic can be restored with groups such as the John Birch Society (JBS) and his own Campaign for Liberty leading the way.”

    In the sixties, WF Buckley famously kicked the JBS out of the conservative movement because of its anti-Semitism and racism. The revival of this hateful, ridiculous group is a shame to America and a greater shame to conservatives. Conservatives like to say that racism is dead, except for racism against white people (an old hobbyhorse of Paul’s ghostwriter, amanuensis, whatever). If so, then why do allegedly respectable conservatives go to such lengths to appease and appeal to them? I’d very much like to think that appealing to racists is a loser today, but conservatives obviously don’t.

  9. Now can we have similar admissions concerning Obama, and his past associations with terrorists, crooks, and radically anti-American preachers? Where’s the demand that Obama repudiate Ayers?

    I, for one, am angered at Obama’s repudiation of the good rev. Wright.

  10. Andrew Sullivan just exposed Paul as a neo-confederate revisionist historian. He repeats the canard that Lincoln should have somehow purchased and released the slaves.

    Those neo-confederates always talk about compensating the slaveowners, but never, ever mention any compensation to the bondsmen for their two centuries of unrequited toil.

    Ron Paul is being mercilessly exposed as a panderer to the racist white vote out there. He has opposed the civil rights acts and the voting rights act on bogus “constitutional” grounds to get their support.

    His theme about buying and releasing slaves is an old one. It may have worked in other countries. But the reason it would never have worked here is because the slaveowners were unalterably opposed to it.

    As a matter of fact, Lincoln proposed compensated emancipation to the border slave states that stayed in the Union, but the slavers rejected it outright.

    Moreover, Paul is a hypocrite because there was no authority at all under the Constitution in 1861 to impose compensated emancipation on the states. The strict “constitutionalist” rapidly disappears when he is blowing smoke about compensated emancipation. Where in the Constitution was the federal authority for that kind of program in the slave states?

    In any event, there was not enough money in the entire country to fund such a program. I recall that the value of all the slaves in the south was about 9 trillion in current dollars, fully 60 per cent of the national wealth.

    Finally, the neo-confederates never mention that Lincoln actually signed a compensated emancipation bill for the District of Columbia, where Congress had plenary power. They never mention that he signed a compensation bill where he and Congress had the power, but they had no such power in the states. They are probably unaware of it.

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