Reason is a libertarian magazine of long standing. They now have an article up speculating on the origin of the infamous Ron Paul newsletters. I think Reason's explanation makes a lot of sense of the situation. They note that many veterans of the libertarian movement suspect Lew Rockwell was involved. Though Rockwell denies writing the articles, Reason brings up some interesting points about the history of Rockwell and another individual by the name of Murray Rothbard. The name Jeff Tucker also came up in association with the newsletters.
This is the general picture: these people, Rockwell, Rothbard, and Tucker, apparently were quite explicit in advocating that the only way the libertarian movement would ever get anywhere was to form a broad coalition which had room for "paleo-conservatives," but which they apparently mean people like Strom Thurmond and David Duke. As Reason puts it:
Lamenting that mainstream intellectuals and opinion leaders were too invested in the status quo to be brought around to a libertarian view, Rothbard pointed to David Duke and Joseph McCarthy as models for an "Outreach to the Rednecks," which would fashion a broad libertarian/paleoconservative coalition by targeting the disaffected working and middle classes. (Duke, a former Klansman, was discussed in strikingly similar terms in a 1990 Ron Paul Political Report.) These groups could be mobilized to oppose an expansive state, Rothbard posited, by exposing an "unholy alliance of 'corporate liberal' Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America." (italics and link original)
The fact that people who were explicitly advocating this sort of pragmatic strategy makes sense of a lot of what has gone on. For instance, Paul's response to the newsletter which came out in 1996 was consistent with someone who does not want to actually endorse any form of racism, but is more concerned about alienating or offending racists than about alienating or offending non-whites: he didn't deny having written the newsletters, nor did he say anything in them was false, he simply said that his comments were out of context and he was not a racist.
It appears that somewhere between 1996 and 2001 a shift occurred. 1999 was the year in which Paul claims he spoke of Rosa Parks from the House floor as someone "who stood steadfastly for the rights of individuals against unjust laws and oppressive governmental policies." By 2001, Paul granted an interview for a profile in Texas Monthly. Here is the relevant portion of the profile:
In one issue of the Ron Paul Survival Report, which he had published since 1985, he called former U.S. representative Barbara Jordan a "fraud" and a "half-educated victimologist." In another issue, he cited reports that 85 percent of all black men in Washington, D.C., are arrested at some point: "Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the 'criminal justice system,' I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal." And under the headline "Terrorist Update," he wrote: "If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be."
In spite of calls from Gary Bledsoe, the president of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, and other civil rights leaders for an apology for such obvious racial typecasting, Paul stood his ground. He said only that his remarks about Barbara Jordan related to her stands on affirmative action and that his written comments about blacks were in the context of "current events and statistical reports of the time." He denied any racist intent. What made the statements in the publication even more puzzling was that, in four terms as a U. S. congressman and one presidential race, Paul had never uttered anything remotely like this.
When I ask him why, he pauses for a moment, then says, "I could never say this in the campaign, but those words weren't really written by me. It wasn't my language at all. Other people help me with my newsletter as I travel around. I think the one on Barbara Jordan was the saddest thing, because Barbara and I served together and actually she was a delightful lady." Paul says that item ended up there because "we wanted to do something on affirmative action, and it ended up in the newsletter and became personalized. I never personalize anything."
His reasons for keeping this a secret are harder to understand: "They were never my words, but I had some moral responsibility for them . . . I actually really wanted to try to explain that it doesn't come from me directly, but they [campaign aides] said that's too confusing. 'It appeared in your letter and your name was on that letter and therefore you have to live with it.'" It is a measure of his stubbornness, determination, and ultimately his contrarian nature that, until this surprising volte-face in our interview, he had never shared this secret. It seems, in retrospect, that it would have been far, far easier to have told the truth at the time.
Murray Rothbard died in 1995. Today, Lew Rockwell and Jeff Tucker seem to have been partially ditched and partially reformed - they still appear with Paul more or less regularly and enthusiastically endorse him, but are not closely associated with the campaign; they also haven't said anything as bad as this in a long time (furthermore, neither of them is on record ever saying anything as bad as Rothbard, as far as I can tell). The picture painted is that Paul lost control (or was never in control) of the political mini-movement for which he was the figurehead, but allowed himself to continue to be used as a figurehead for it. Nevertheless, as Texas Monthly says, "Paul [has] never uttered anything remotely like this." At least not on the record. It also seems that Paul has managed to more or less shake off the elements of his political world that led to the problem, but he hasn't radically dissociated himself from them. In short, he became involved in sleazy politics at its worst: a pragmatic appeal to some of the most evil and destructive elements of American society in an attempt to advance his political program. It doesn't seem to have been his idea, and he seems to have been mostly passive in its implementation, but he must have known that some of his close associates supported this sort of strategy, and he nevertheless entrusted them with his good name. He did this in order to build a fundraising network, in order to get elected, in order to advance his libertarian political platform. He also personally made good money on the newsletter publishing venture, and it seems that more money came in the crazier and more vitriolic they got.
Texas monthly also notes other incidents of pragmatic nastiness in Paul's congressional campaigns, especially the 1996 campaign against one Loy Sneary:
In the years of defending himself against the assembled liberal multitudes, Paul has learned a slashing campaign style of his own. "Ron Paul specializes in attack, only he is much better at it than they are," says Dan Cobb, the editorial page editor of the Victoria Advocate, which endorsed Sneary. "He used Sneary's own record as a county judge to attack him in a misleading fashion, but it worked." Indeed, in a "Truth Test" report during the 2000 campaign, TV station KVUE in Austin found three out of four claims in Paul's ads to be false; a fourth was "true but misleading." Says Sneary, who is still upset about the campaign: "It's one thing when you criticize our position. It's another thing to take that information and use half-truths and no truths in a campaign."
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