December 1, 2007

Is Ron Paul a Racist?

I have said before that while I am not without reservations about Ron Paul, I think that he is far and away the best candidate to enter the race so far. What was previously my principle reservation has, in fact, been answered by the campaign. This letter to the editor of the National Review, written by Ron Paul's communications director, Jesse Benton, is the second source I have seen that answered my concern directly (the first was a news clip on YouTube, and didn't feature a direct quotation from Paul or anyone on his campaign staff, so I didn't both reporting it). The letter says: "Clearly, a Paul administration cannot end the IRS on January 29, 2009. Ending the income tax, a goal all real conservatives should share, would take major cooperation with the Congress. But, with honest communication and a lot of hard work, Dr. Paul knows that we can end the end the income tax over the course of just a few years." In other words, a Paul administration would not act unilaterally to abolish the IRS, but would attempt to work with Congress (of course, unfortunately, that means it probably wouldn't happen). Presumably similar reasoning applies to the Department of Education, etc.

The letter is also the first attempt directly by the campaign that I have seen to dispel the rumor that Paul is a racist and/or anti-Semite. The letter says: "Dr. Paul stands for freedom, peace, prosperity, and the protection of inalienable individual rights. He knows that liberty is the antidote for racism, anti-Semitism, and other small minded ideologies."

As for the origin of this rumor, I have heard it by word of mouth from a few different people, and have seen major news sources hint darkly at it by commenting that Paul has support of various fringe groups, including white supremacists. However, the major news sources have not actually claimed that Paul agreed with these people, which always suggested to me that the evidence for Paul's alleged racism was not particularly strong.

So what is going on? Where does the rumor come from?

A quick Google search reveals this article from Free Republic quoting some old news reports with some comments by Paul when running for Congress.

Before delving into these comments and examining Paul's alleged racism, let's make some definitions:

  • A racially insensitive remark is a remark that might cause a reasonable and well-adjusted person to feel insulted or otherwise marginalized on the basis of race, or that might cause a reasonable person to infer that the speaker holds racist views (as defined below).
  • A racist view is a view or claim which, implicitly or explicitly, holds that people of some races are inferior to others, or that people of different races ought to be treated differently, simply on account of their race. (I emphasize the word "simply" - do not confuse a racist view as defined with, e.g., the view that people ought to be treated differently on account of their culture or socio-economic class. Even if this leads to a de facto racial division, it is not a racist view as such.)
  • A racist policy is a legal policy which necessarily leads to discrimination against, mistreatment of, or marginalization of the members of certain races, or which is intended to lead to these things. (I emphasize the words "necessarily" and "intended" because, for instance, here in Philadelphia where the lower class is mostly black and the upper class is almost exclusively white, a classist policy will contingently lead to mistreatment and marginalization of blacks, but that doesn't make classist policies racist as such - classist policies are only racist if they are intended to have these results.)

Now, in terms of evaluating a politician, I think it is clear that these things, from first to last, get progressively worse. That is, a person who makes racially insensitive remarks, but does not actually hold racist views or advocate racist policies is in certain respects a poor leader: he or she is a poor communicator, and is not good at inspiring all portions of society. Similarly, an individual might hold racist views (and therefore probably make racially insensitive remarks), but not actually advocate racist policies. For instance, it is possible, in principle, to be a racist and a libertarian: libertarians hold that private business owners have the right to discriminate if they so choose (let me pause to add that if they do I think we all ought to boycott them and put them out of business). Someone could hold that government ought not to discriminate and ought to protect everyone's rights equally, but choose to discriminate in his or her own private business practices. That person would hold racist views, but not support racist policies.

It seems clear to me that it would be immoral to support a politician who supports racist policies. A candidate who held racist views but successfully separated his or her personal opinions from what ought to be law would make me uncomfortable, but I wouldn't automatically disqualify that candidate from consideration for this reason. (I should note, however, that such a candidate would have to go a long way to prove to me that his or her personal views were separated from his or her policy positions.) A candidate who was prone to racially insensitive remarks would be, as I have said, in certain respects a poor leader (and, of course, not very electable), so, other things being equal, I would rather vote for someone who showed some sensitivity. There is also the issue that, although the remarks themselves are merely insensitive and not actually expressing racist views, they may still be indicative of racist views which the candidate simply doesn't want to express publicly.

I think that Paul clearly made some racially insensitive remarks (all of them over 10 years ago, it should be noted), but I have been unable to find solid evidence of any racist views on his part, and he certainly cannot, consistently with his other positions, support racist policies. He has not, to my knowledge, supported any policies that might reasonably be called racist during his time in Congress.

So what did he actually say?

Well, it all goes back to a 1992 Paul campaign newsletter. One commenter on Free Republic says that the newsletter was written by a staffer and not Paul himself, and that Paul apologized for it, but I haven't found anything about that, so I'm going to operate under the assumption that Paul actually said these things. In a discussion on gang crime, the newsletter says, "If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be." (To be perfectly honest, I find that sentence very amusing - if that's insensitive of me, I apologize.) Now, to be "fleet-footed" is a positive thing so that, at least, is not expressing a racist view. However, it is probably racially insensitive, in that it is really an unfair generalization, and people don't like to be stereotyped, whether positively or negatively. Furthermore, depending on the context, the assumption that the robber's race is somehow relevant to the discussion may be indicative of a racist view.

Slightly more troubling is the remark in the same newsletter regarding crime in D.C., that "we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal." When this was reported this during Paul's 1996 campaign, "Paul said ... that his comments came in the context of 'current events and statistical reports of the time,' and that he opposes racism." In other words, if we believe Paul's own explanation of his comments (and note that the newspaper report implies that Paul acknowledge the words as his own), he was simply observing a statistical fact. The comment is not racist insofar as it makes an observation about demographics; it is only racist if it is taken to imply a causal connection between the individuals' being black males and their turning to crime, a connection which Paul disavows. Still, this is probably another racially insensitive remark, as it could easily be taken to imply a causal connection, and the relevance of the information is extremely questionable. It could even be taken as supporting racial profiling, which IS a racist policy.

According to the report, "In later newsletters, Paul wrote that lobbying groups who seek special favors are evil, and that 'by far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government.'" This, however, is certainly not racist, or even racially insensitive. Paul supports a non-interventionist foreign policy, and the Israeli government lobbies the US government for military assistance against its enemies. It should be obvious that this is the reason for Paul's remark, and not anti-Semitism of any type. Furthermore, no one would be accused of being a racist for opposing providing military assistance to any country other than Israel, even if the population of that country was one that a lot of racism had been directed against.

The final remark on Free Republic is: "Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions, i.e. support the free market, individual liberty and the end of welfare and affirmative action." This is, however, once again merely insensitive rather than actually racist. Furthermore, it is well-known that the majority of black voters vote Democrat, and Democrats do not, according to Paul, "have sensible political opinions."

It should be noted, however, that in this article, dated Dec. 23, 2002, Paul talks about the philosophy of liberty and individualism as the antithesis of racism. He in fact views racism as a serious problem and argues that his own policies are a better solution for it than affirmative action. This is an important counter-balance to the previous remarks.

Thus, I would conclude that the evidence shows simply that Paul used to make racially insensitive remarks 10 years ago. Thus far in his presidential campaign he doesn't seem to have made any mistakes like this, which is evidence that he has become a better leader over the last 10 years. Furthermore, the evidence does not show that Ron Paul holds or ever has held any racist view.

I am still, however, a bit concerned. There are questions that I can't answer without more context. In particular, the statistics Paul gives are rather extreme, lumping huge groups of people (young black males in DC, blacks generally) almost entirely together and, as such, the statistics seem rather suspicious. Furthermore they are reported without controls - i.e., the number of poor whites in DC who are criminals (probably a lot of them) is not mentioned, nor is the percentage of whites who have what Paul considers to be "sensible political opinions." So, although the remarks themselves are merely insensitive, and Paul seems to have stopped making such remarks quite some time ago, there may be a real problem behind them. Why did Paul find these statistics credible? Why did he think they were relevant? What was his point in citing them? I urge the Paul campaign to go farther in actually addressing this issue, rather than simply brushing it aside. If the newsletter was not written by Paul himself, and if the staffer was fired and/or an apology issued (which is what pro-Paul Free Republic readers claim), I urge the Paul campaign to publicly document this.

Posted by Kenny at December 1, 2007 3:34 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Ron Paul and Racism Revisited
Excerpt: Ron Paul did rather poorly in yesterday's New Hampshire primary. He barely matched hist poll results. In Iowa, which is much less fertile ground for Paul and his views, he got nearly double what the polls predicted. The campaign blog blames an article ...
Tracked: January 9, 2008 7:59 PM


If you didn't find Paul's statement about the lame rascist comments in the newsletter with his name on it, then you're really not looking very hard.

The Democrats have done nothing to help my community move past the 50's, and I'm quite tired of seeing the white bleeding heart liberals speak for us.

We're not weak, we're not stupid, sp quit telling our children that we need white folks to take care of us.

Posted by: Alexia at December 1, 2007 5:18 PM

Alexia - I didn't find Paul's statement by searching google for "Ron Paul racist" or following links from the Paul supporters who mentioned such a statement. Some of the links were broken, others didn't actually address the issue. If you know where it is, you could help me out by linking to it, and I will gladly post the correction.

I'm not sure who the rest of your comments are supposed to be directed at. I am obviously not a "bleeding heart liberal," and I agree that encouraging a group of people to live on handouts generation after generation, or imposing other paternalistic policies on them undermines their basic human dignity, sense of worth, etc., and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. If I made any racially insensitive remarks in the above, I sincerely apologize, but if your comments are directed at me I can't figure out what statement you are responding to.

Posted by: Kenny at December 2, 2007 12:01 AM

Very well said. Nice to see someone tackle an issue fairly without picking a side before thinking it through.

I think this country needs a drastic risk taker and not a corporate stooge who will kiss the middle (cl)ass.

We have done all we can to destroy our country and we need someone who is going to aggressively correct our misdeeds.

I would be voting for the first time in my life for ron paul. I can look past his lame take on abortion and other creepy republican like opinions but his questionable attachment to comments of bigotry are too much for me.

Every mind in the world is valuable and I cant stand bitter people pulling out facts and figures to support their bigoted views. I dont give a crap about stats. Every actio has a pre action to explain it. Quite simply there are good people and bad people. And sometimes there are bad people who try to do good.

We need to encourage every mind out there to participate so a real leader would do this and not exude his personal hatred for cultural differences by espousing facts and figures in an attempt to blanket ethnic association.

Once again as a result of Pauls past I have no candidate so I will not vote. Edwards is the only other one running that is mildly interesting but he has a BS campaign too. Made up of carefully crafted and scripted ideas.

If ed rendell or feingold (wisocnsin) were running i would vote for them.

Posted by: henry at December 17, 2007 1:04 PM

There's another way of being racially problematic. Politicians can have views that cater to racist views or groups, and they can use rhetoric that they know racists or white supremacists will take as favorable to their cause. This can happen deliberately, and it can happen inadvertently. My suspicion is that Paul is somewhere between the two when it comes to certain kinds of racists, particularly with respect to immigration questions. Tom Tancredo also seems to me to walk the line. I wonder sometimes if what they say is designed to play to certain anti-black or anti-Hispanic sentiments. But I do give them the benefit of the doubt, so I won't assume they're doing this.

What truly worries me about Ron Paul is that his attempts to explain that he's not racist seem extremely lackluster, as if he has no clue where the real racial problems lie. He thinks the federal government is to blame for most racism, and that's completely ludicrous. I don't get much sense that Paul has any connection with the average person, certainly with people outside his congressional district and from diverse backgrounds. He just strikes me as having tunnel vision.

I did see one story that Paul was polling better than any other GOP candidate with black voters. It's funny that this can be true of the same candidate white supremacists are also most sympathetic toward. But I've also seen people supporting him out of complete ignorance of most of his views simply because they agree with his stance on the war and don't like the Democrats. So it's hard to tell how many of the people supporting him are doing so with all the information.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at January 3, 2008 6:11 PM

Jeremy - Let me point again to this article which I think it quite good. In terms of the previous newsletter, my impression is simply that the campaign is embarrassed by it and would rather ignore it. Of course, if one was cynical about Paul, one might instead claim that they were trying to give it a low profile but not actually repudiate it on the theory that then the extremists would be aware of it but ordinary people wouldn't.

When Ron Paul accepted money from a notorious white supremacist, the donor was quoted as saying, "We know that he's not a white nationalist. He says he isn't and we believe him..."

Immigration is the one issue I actually really disagree with Paul on (but it's not one of my big issues), but I haven't seen where he is more extreme than other Republican candidates. The interesting thing about your claim that Paul doesn't connect to the average person, is that Paul's contributions come overwhelmingly in small amounts from individuals, and his support comes from a diverse crowd, whereas it is my understanding that most Republican candidates, especially Romney and Giulianni, are getting most of their money from interest groups and rich white men. Paul is getting enough support especially from young people, but also across the spectrum, that he is generating huge campaign contributions and, furthermore, his campaign seems mostly to run itself.

Personally, I suspect that concerns about Paul connecting with ordinary people are usually reflective of general concerns about how libertarian economic policy (i.e. elimination of most social programs) will effect the middle and lower classes, but I don't want to make assumptions in your particular case.

Posted by: Kenny at January 3, 2008 10:52 PM

It's not that other people don't see a connection between Paul and themselves. I don't think he has the kind of connection with people that allows him to understand others very well on an ordinary level. He's an idea guy, and idea people are attracted to him if they like his ideas. But he's not the sort of person who draws people in by showing that he understands what it's like to be them.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at January 8, 2008 11:33 AM

Have you seen this? It's more worrying than the things you mention in this post, largely because it went on long enough and happened often enough that if he did really care he should have done something about it and made sure it didn't continue.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at January 9, 2008 6:17 PM

Post a comment

Return to