In probably the most foreseeable political development of the last month, the Ron Paul newsletters have moved front and center in news coverage of the Republican primary. We discussed this issue extensively four years ago and I’ll just repeat what I said then: the content of the newsletters is deplorable; I believe Ron Paul when he says he didn’t write them; but he owes the voters a much more thorough response than he has provided if he wants to be a serious presidential candidate. Ultimately, you are responsible for what goes out under your name. This is an entirely legitimate issue.
Of course, now that this cat has come out of the bag, the entire litter of Ron Paul baggage is following: his association with and occasional indulgence in conspiracy theories; the contributions he’s gotten from a few neo-Nazis; his association with the Birchers, etc., etc. The consensus — at least among Lefties — is that Ron Paul is the kookiest of kooks, a radical racist fascist anti-semitic lunatic: a characterization that sounds ridiculous to anyone has actually listened to him. Only in the alternate reality of a political campaign could that description have credibility.
Getting to brass tacks, let me address the last part first: the association with racists and other loons and the support — political and monetary — from some members of Stormfront and other fringe groups. I despise guilt by association arguments and Ron Paul is a good illustration of why. His critics can not point to a single policy point that is fascist. They can not point to a policy that reflects white supremacy, anti-semitism or racism. Well, they’ll claim cutting off support for Israel — as part of ending all foreign aide — is anti-semitic. But most thinking people won’t buy that.
So what’s a slime merchant to do? Use guilt by association. Point out that some racists or affiliated scumbags support Paul and darkly intone, “what does that tell you?” What it tells me is that racial hate-mongers are such idiots they are supporting a candidate who, if he had his way, would make their dreams of a powerful leviathan state impossible.
In this country, people are free to support any candidate they choose. The candidates are not responsible for who supports them or votes for them (although I wouldn’t object if they returned their money). The same people blasting Paul because a few racists support him would not blast Obama if some communists or Black Panthers supported him. Politicians are responsible for their views, their votes and their policies. Getting support from the American Family Association means nothing; supporting their anti-gay agenda does. Getting support from PETA means nothing; supporting their animal rights kookery does. Does Paul support the agenda of the racial hate-mongers? I don’t think so.
It’s not like Paul has a dearth of controversial views. But to the Paul bashers, it’s not enough until they’ve tied him to something truly vile, no matter how many degrees of separation are needed.
Now, to address the more serious point about the newsletters and his buddying with conspiracy theorists and racially-amped paleo-conservatives like Lew Rockwell: this does bother me and is one of the reasons, as I explained here, why I can not support Paul for president.
But tar-brushing has simply gotten out of hand. To be sure, some of the views Paul has advocated and is advocating are extreme or even nutty.
Let’s pause for a moment remind ourselves of some of the things that “mainstream politicians” believe.
That Medicare, which wastes one in five dollars on fraud and has tens of trillions in unfunded future liabilities is a model for healthcare reform (most liberals) or should be preserved at all costs (both parties).
That the government can and should prevent people from getting high (both parties).
That government’s various regulatory, anti-terror and anti-crime efforts should be advanced with things like asset forfeiture, no-knock raids, gag orders on critics and shoving aside Constitutional liberties (both parties).
That there is no problem with a tax and regulatory structure so complex that the enforcement agencies don’t understand them. That’s it’s perfectly reasonable to jail or financially ruin people who violate these codes without a trace of mens rea (all Democrats; far too may Republicans)
That Iraq had WMD’s (both parties).
That we should start a war with Iran (the neocons, several GOP nominees).
That homosexuality can be cured (Bachman), that gay sex should be outlawed and kids taken away from gay families (Santorum).
That you can balance the budget without cutting Medicare and Social Security (most Democrats, many Republicans.)
That you can balance the budget while cutting taxes and increasing defense spending (numerous Republicans and almost all Presidential nominees).
That the cap and trade disaster in Europe is a model for dealing with global warming (many liberals).
That we should mandate increased use of expensive and destructive corn ethanol (members of both parties).
I would submit that the above — all of which are considered respectable beliefs in the political establishment — are far more insidious and dangerous than anything Ron Paul believes. I don’t go to bed worrying that someone thinks the government participated in or provoked terrorist attacks. The danger of Stormfront or other racist groups does not keep me up at night (and as a Jewish astrophysicist married to a foreigner, I’d be near the top of their hit list). But the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the crippling of civil liberties, the expansion of the welfare state and our burgeoning debt do worry me. And from what I can tell, all the mainstream sensible non-conspiratorial candidates support all or most of the whack-job ideas that are ruining this country. Ron Paul may be in bed with kooks, but the mainstream candidates are in bed with entire industries.
Some of Ron Paul’s ideas are dangerous. Ending the Federal Reserve or going back to the gold standard or whatever. But the President’s powers are limited. And they would be especially limited under someone who is already isolated within his own party and is running on a platform of decreasing his own power.
Remember my view of checks and balances: our system is not intended to allow a majority to gang up on the individual; it is intended to allow any of our three branches to derail stupid, foolish, reckless, destructive or unconstitutional behavior. Paul is the only remaining candidate who is even dimly aware of this.
If Ron Paul is a crazy candidate, it’s because we live in crazy times. It’s because he suddenly sounds a whole lot less crazy than many of our mainstream political figures and almost all of the ones running for the GOP nomination (Huntsman excepted).
Personally, I wish the enthusiasm for Ron Paul were directed toward someone like Gary Johnson, who is just as libertarian but has an established and massively successful track record as governor of New Mexico and lacks Paul’s considerable baggage. However, for better or for worse — probably for worse — the libertarian wing of the GOP is rallying around Paul. And the focus on areas where he is a little batty has taken away the focus from where it should be — the issues on which he is the least insane man on the stage.
I don’t think the GOP should nominate Ron Paul. But I do think they should listen to him. Because — dirty laundry or no — he’s talking sense on a number of critical issues.