With Ron Paul ascending in Iowa, winning the hearts of independents, and even the endorsement of Andrew Sullivan, it’s worth pointing something out: Ron Paul is not a kindly old libertarian who just wants everybody to be free. He’s a really creepy bigot.
Around four years ago, James Kirchick reported a lengthy story delving into Paul’s worldview. As Kirchick writes, Paul comes out of an intellectual tradition called “paleolibertarianism,” which is a version of libertarianism heavily tinged with far-right cultural views. The gist is that Paul is tied in deep and extensive ways to neo-Confederates, and somewhat less tightly to the right-wing militia movement. His newsletter, which he wrote and edited for years, was a constant organ of vile racism and homophobia. This is not just picking out a phrase here and there. Fear and hatred of blacks and gays, along with a somewhat less pronounced paranoia about Jewish dual loyalty, are fundamental elements of his thinking. The most comparable figure to Paul is Pat Buchanan, the main differences being that Paul emphasizes economic issues more, and has more dogmatically pro-market views.
How, then, has Paul become a figure of admiration among social liberals?
One reason is that nobody is attacking him. Paul is (correctly) considered to have no chance to actually win the GOP nomination, so debate moderators have not bothered to research his past, instead tossing off generalized questions that allow him to portray himself on his preferred terms. The Republican Establishment is focusing all its fire on Newt Gingrich, and indeed, Paul’s rise in Iowa would greatly aid Mitt Romney’s campaign by preventing an acceptable alternative from emerging from the state with momentum.
In this atmosphere, Paul has been able to cast himself in the most flattering light. Since 2008, he has managed to rally Republican (and even non-Republican) opposition to the failures and excesses of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Sullivan writes, in his endorsement of Paul:
Breaking the grip of neoconservative belligerence on conservative thought and the Republican party could make space again for more reasoned and seasoned managers of foreign policy. Embracing the diversity of a multi-cultural, multi-faith America is incompatible with Christianism and the ugly anti-illegal immigrant fervor among the Republican base. But it is perfectly compatible with a modest, humble libertarianism that allows a society to find its own way, without constant meddling and intervention in people’s lives.
“Embracing the diversity of a multi-cultural, multi-faith America?” What on Earth does that have to do with Ron Paul? Here’s a chunk from Kirchick’s story:
This “Special Issue on Racial Terrorism” was hardly the first time one of Paul’s publications had raised these topics. As early as December 1989, a section of his Investment Letter, titled “What To Expect for the 1990s,” predicted that “Racial Violence Will Fill Our Cities” because “mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white ‘haves.’” Two months later, a newsletter warned of “The Coming Race War,” and, in November 1990, an item advised readers, “If you live in a major city, and can leave, do so. If not, but you can have a rural retreat, for investment and refuge, buy it.” In June 1991, an entry on racial disturbances in Washington, DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood was titled, “Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo.” “This is only the first skirmish in the race war of the 1990s,” the newsletter predicted. In an October 1992 item about urban crime, the newsletter’s author–presumably Paul–wrote, “I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense. For the animals are coming.” That same year, a newsletter described the aftermath of a basketball game in which “blacks poured into the streets of Chicago in celebration. How to celebrate? How else? They broke the windows of stores to loot.” The newsletter inveighed against liberals who “want to keep white America from taking action against black crime and welfare,” adding, “Jury verdicts, basketball games, and even music are enough to set off black rage, it seems.”
Such views on race also inflected the newsletters’ commentary on foreign affairs. South Africa’s transition to multiracial democracy was portrayed as a “destruction of civilization” that was “the most tragic [to] ever occur on that continent, at least below the Sahara”; and, in March 1994, a month before Nelson Mandela was elected president, one item warned of an impending “South African Holocaust.” …
The newsletters were particularly obsessed with AIDS, “a politically protected disease thanks to payola and the influence of the homosexual lobby,” and used it as a rhetorical club to beat gay people in general. In 1990, one newsletter approvingly quoted “a well-known Libertarian editor” as saying, “The ACT-UP slogan, on stickers plastered all over Manhattan, is ‘Silence = Death.’ But shouldn’t it be ‘Sodomy = Death’?” Readers were warned to avoid blood transfusions because gays were trying to “poison the blood supply.” “Am I the only one sick of hearing about the ‘rights’ of AIDS carriers?” a newsletter asked in 1990. That same year, citing a Christian-right fringe publication, an item suggested that “the AIDS patient” should not be allowed to eat in restaurants and that “AIDS can be transmitted by saliva,” which is false.
There’s way, way more of this in Kirchick’s piece. The slight complicating factor is that Paul’s newsletter was unsigned, so even though it purported to express his views, he can plausibly deny having authored any single passage personally. But the general themes of white racial paranoia are so completely pervasive that the notion that they don’t represent Paul’s own thinking is completely implausible. It is possible that another contributor could have snuck in a line here or there that did not reflect Paul’s thinking, but they couldn’t have set the consistent ideological line for his newsletter. Paul may be a dissident from the main thrust of Republican policy-making but this is not because he’s more tolerant or more sensible than the leaders of the GOP. It’s because he’s crazier.