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January 8, 2008

Implosion Near?

Almost eight months ago, I wrote about the troubling history of Ron Paul's campaign newsletters in the early 1990s, and speculated that it would kill his presidential campaign. Excerpts of newsletters from his campaign, without bylines but at least some written in the first person, contained statements that either bordered on bigotry or crossed over the line completely. The Houston Chronicle had reported on these in 1996 -- but they did not gain nearly the amount of attention some believed they deserved.

Today, James Kirchick at The New Republic published a lengthy article reviewing the issue, and this time it appears to have more staying power, despite the recent issues with TNR's credibility:

Most voters had never heard of Paul before he launched his quixotic bid for the Republican nomination. But the Texan has been active in politics for decades. And, long before he was the darling of antiwar activists on the left and right, Paul was in the newsletter business. In the age before blogs, newsletters occupied a prominent place in right-wing political discourse. With the pages of mainstream political magazines typically off-limits to their views (National Review editor William F. Buckley having famously denounced the John Birch Society), hardline conservatives resorted to putting out their own, less glossy publications. These were often paranoid and rambling--dominated by talk of international banking conspiracies, the Trilateral Commission's plans for world government, and warnings about coming Armageddon--but some of them had wide and devoted audiences. And a few of the most prominent bore the name of Ron Paul.

Paul's newsletters have carried different titles over the years--Ron Paul's Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report--but they generally seem to have been published on a monthly basis since at least 1978. (Paul, an OB-GYN and former U.S. Army surgeon, was first elected to Congress in 1976.) During some periods, the newsletters were published by the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, a nonprofit Paul founded in 1976; at other times, they were published by Ron Paul & Associates, a now-defunct entity in which Paul owned a minority stake, according to his campaign spokesman. The Freedom Report claimed to have over 100,000 readers in 1984. At one point, Ron Paul & Associates also put out a monthly publication called The Ron Paul Investment Letter.

The Freedom Report's online archives only go back to 1999, but I was curious to see older editions of Paul's newsletters, in part because of a controversy dating to 1996, when Charles "Lefty" Morris, a Democrat running against Paul for a House seat, released excerpts stating that "opinion polls consistently show only about 5% of blacks have sensible political opinions," that "if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be," and that black representative Barbara Jordan is "the archetypical half-educated victimologist" whose "race and sex protect her from criticism." At the time, Paul's campaign said that Morris had quoted the newsletter out of context. Later, in 2001, Paul would claim that someone else had written the controversial passages. (Few of the newsletters contain actual bylines.) Caldwell, writing in the Times Magazine last year, said he found Paul's explanation believable, "since the style diverges widely from his own."

Kirchick's research digs up a lot more controversial connections than the Chronicle managed. Paul's colleagues at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which published Paul's books, advocate for secession. For that matter, Paul's newsletters did as well. In 1992, his newsletter argued that the breakup of the Soviet Union should prompt the United States to consider dissolution as well.

Kirchick argues that Paul's strange argument against Abraham Lincoln was no fluke. He and the LvMI believe that Lincoln's insistence on fighting the Civil War created the impetus for the large, bureaucratic, and oppressive federal government against which he rails today. The LvMI serves as a core of Confederate apologists, and with that comes some rather unpleasant commentary on the role of race in domestic issues.

The Paul campaign denies that Ron Paul had anything to do with the writing in the newsletters. Staunch Paul supporter Andrew Sullivan seems a bit taken aback by the reporting at TNR. He includes this rebuttal from their campaign:

Paul had granted "various levels of approval" to what appeared in his publications--ranging from "no approval" to instances where he "actually wrote it himself." After I read Benton some of the more offensive passages, he said, "A lot of [the newsletters] he did not see. Most of the incendiary stuff, no." He added that he was surprised to hear about the insults hurled at Martin Luther King, because "Ron thinks Martin Luther King is a hero."

But here's the problem, which Andrew grasps as well. If this all had come from a single newsletter, then one could accept the "loose cannon among the staff" explanation, along with an apology. However, these went on for years, according to both the Chronicle and TNR. It stretches credulity to the breaking point that his staff produced these newsletters for that long without anyone in the office, including Ron Paul himself, noticing the objectionable material in them.

Even if one accepts that as the truth, it serves as a damning indictment of Paul. How can he be so out of touch that he doesn't notice the hateful writings published in his own newsletter for so long? Doesn't anyone on his staff read their own publications? Either Paul is a complete incompetent, or the truth is in another, more unpleasant explanation.

Just publishing this post will generate a fury of hate mail and obloquy in the comments section, but this is too important to let people intimidate bloggers into silence on this issue. Sullivan is right to insist that Paul has to give a better explanation that what's been forthcoming from his campaign on these publications and their despicable rhetoric -- and it's time we heard it from the candidate himself.

UPDATE: TNR includes links to the PDFs of the newsletters. The date spread goes from 1995, when Paul's newsletter instructed survivalist militias, "Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here," to a 1978 newsletter that references the Trilateral Commission and a 1986 edition that names Jeane Kirkpatrick and George Will as two of its members.


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