Ron Paul "Deserves Substantial Blame" for Racist Newsletters

By Ilya Somin

The Politico website recently asked its contributors for commentary on the controversy over Ron Paul’s racist newsletters. Here is an excerpt from my response:

Ron Paul clearly deserves substantial blame for publishing racist and anti-Semitic material in his newsletters in the early 1990s. Although he almost certainly did not write those articles himself, it is difficult to believe that he was completely unaware of their contents. Moreover, there is no disputing the fact that, in the early 1990s, Paul was part of a small group of libertarians led by Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard who sought to forge an alliance with “paleoconservative” elements by adopting a political strategy of appealing to white racial resentment.....

Paul is not a racist himself. But at least for a time, he was clearly willing to get into bed with political allies who sought to exploit racist sentiments. In some ways, Paul’s situation is similar to that of other politicians with dubious past associations. Indeed, there are parallels between Paul today and Barack Obama in 2008, when he was attacked for his past relationships with anti-American and anti-Semitic minister Jeremiah Wright and ex-terrorist and self-described communist Bill Ayers....

Despite their respective efforts at damage control, it is entirely legitimate to hold these past associations against Obama and Paul. While they were not bigots or terrorists themselves, they clearly were willing to ally themselves with people who are.....

I am not a Paul supporter myself – both because of the newsletter issue, and because I think he is badly misguided on some other issues. But I can understand why a reasonable person might reach the conclusion that Paul’s strong libertarian stance on a number of issues today outweighs his earlier sins.

One of my concerns about Paul’s candidacy is that it could end up tarring libertarianism by association with his past misdeeds. It is important to recognize that the Rothbard-Rockwell strategy was opposed by most libertarian intellectuals and movement organizations when they and Paul pursued it in the early 1990s.....

[N]umerous libertarian commentators have denounced Paul’s equivocations about the newsletters during the 2008 campaign and this year. We have neither excused nor ignored his very real flaws. Rothbard and Rockwell’s “paleo” strategy was widely opposed in libertarian circles long before it became a major public controversy during Paul’s most recent presidential campaigns.

Paul’s relative success this year shows that the libertarian message has considerable appeal even when the messenger is deeply flawed. It remains to be seen how much the messenger’s sins will tarnish the libertarian cause in the long run.

For my earlier commentary on Paul, see here and here, and this series of posts written during the 2008 campaign.