By Jacob Sullum
A Hot Air blogger identifies me as one of Ron Paul's "media apologists," citing my comments on Monday's The New York Times story about the Texas congressman's support among right-wingers with odious views regarding blacks and Jews. The main thrust of the Times article was that Paul has repudiated those views but is not returning donations from the people who hold them or telling those people they are not welcome as supporters. I posed the question of whether that is a legitimate complaint, noting the Paul campaign's argument that using bigots' money to further the cause of liberty is better than giving it back. That position seems morally defensible to me, although tactically speaking it might be smarter to make a show of returning checks from the likes of Stormfront's Don Black. In any case, I said, "It surely is unfair to blame Paul for the opinions expressed by some of his supporters."
While Hot Air's "Karl" thinks that position makes me an aPaulogist, the very same post prompted an angry response from a Paul supporter and foe of "neocons" who accused me of writing a "hit piece," mentioned that I graduated from Akiba Hebrew Academy, scolded me for using anti-Semitism as a synonym for prejudice against Jews (Arabs are Semites too!), and listed me alongside other people who he said have sought to discredit Paul: "What do Sullum, Blitzer, Borger, Frum, Rabinowitz, Mantell, and others have in common? I will let you connect the dots."
I have to admit it is a little disconcerting to think that I agree with this guy about the best candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination. But it's a logical fallacy to argue that there must be something wrong with Paul's foreign policy views if anti-Semites like them, just as it's a logical fallacy to say his criticism of the Federal Reserve must be invalid because it appeals to people with a vendetta against Jewish bankers. Over the years, I have received more than a few grateful letters from readers with horrifying opinions, and I have never responded by changing my positions in the hope of attracting a better class of fans. No matter what you say, some people are bound to agree with you for the wrong reasons.
The inflammatory newsletter articles are a more serious issue because they show someone deliberately appealing to bigots. As I said during Paul's last presidential campaign, his explanations for how they went out under his name without his knowledge have not been fully satisying, but the material is so at odds with his public persona and positions during the last 35 years that I believe him when he says he neither wrote nor approved it. Some people either don't believe him or think the carelessness he admits is enough to disqualify him as a presidential candidate. For me the newsletters, while undeniably troubling, are not a deal breaker because Paul strikes me as a fundamentally decent, honest, and principled man who, although he may not be the ideal vessel for the libertarian message, is the closest we've ever seen, by a long shot, in a major party's presidential primaries. He is the only candidate making the points that need to be made about reckless interventionism at home and abroad, about spending money we do not have, about the folly of the war on drugs, about the threat to civil liberties posed by unchecked executive power, and about constitutional limits on federal authority.
An anecdote in today's The New York Times illustrates the qualities that set Paul apart from his competitors and from almost every other politician in America:
One student from Grinnell asked Mr. Paul on Wednesday afternoon whether he could name something he thought government could do to help the country. Another asked about the future of the Peace Corps under a President Paul.
His answer may not have been what either had hoped for, as he cited defense and protection of currency as reasonable governmental duties but added, "Probably about 80 percent of what the federal government does is technically unconstitutional."
By contrast, Mitt Romney, currently vying with Paul for the top position in Iowa, thinks almost everything the federal government does is "absolutely essential," but he will happily pretend otherwise for the sake of a few votes.