January 9, 2008

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Ron Paul and Racism Revisited

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 in the New Republic on the newsletters that were published in Paul's name in the '90s containing racist content and the like. The blog links to Paul's issue page against racism and a campaign press release to clarify the campaign's positions on the subject.

When I first read the campaign's response, not having seen the New Republic article, I was quite satisfied with it. I was glad that the campaign had addressed the issue and clarified Paul's stance, and I was fairly impressed with the press release. Here is an excerpt from Paul's statement:

I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts.

In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person's character, not the color of their skin. As I stated on the floor of the U.S. House on April 20, 1999: �I rise in great respect for the courage and high ideals of Rosa Parks who stood steadfastly for the rights of individuals against unjust laws and oppressive governmental policies.�
When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.

Now, I think this would have been a perfectly adequate response to the previously reported quotations, which all came from one newsletter and were clearly insensitive and generally unfortunate, but did not explicitly claim that some races were inherently superior to others or explicitly advocate racist policies (though the fact that the author thought the facts he cited were relevant suggests support for racial profiling). If Paul happened not to see that particular issue until later, then simply stating that he did not believe and never had believed in its contents and that once it came to his attention he insured that it did not recur would probably be believable and sufficient. The fact that he has "publicly taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention" is even better. Not many politicians will acknowledge when they are at fault.

Unfortunately for those of us who have supported Paul, the earlier reports don't seem to have communicated the full scope of the problem. In comments to my previous post, Jeremy points to analysis at the Volokh Conspiracy which links to the article itself. For those of you who, like me, are libertarians and skeptical of political correctness, read the whole article. In a few places, the author's quotations do not fully justify his claims, and he occasionally jumps to conclusions or leaves out important information (for instance, the author fails to state that when, on Meet the Press, Ron Paul recently said he opposed Lincoln should not have gone to war, Paul was quite clear that he believed slavery could have been ended peacefully; whether he is factually right or wrong, such a view is not racist or pro-slavery). Nevertheless, in the context of all the provided quotations, most of the author's conclusions are quite justified.

In short, the quotations from Paul's newsletters are horrible, hateful, and offensive, and they took place not in a single letter but over the course of several years (the author states that they went on for "decades" but unless you count negative remarks about the government of Israel in 1987, all of the racist quotations in the provided selections are between 1990 and 1994 - the Salman Rushdie article is a red herring). In this context, Paul's explanation and semi-apology ring hollow, to say the least.

On the other hand, nothing of this sort has come directly from Paul's own mouth, as far as we know, and the statements that have come from his own mouth don't appear ad hoc - they fit very neatly with his overall political theory. He says on the previously mentioned issue page that "Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than as individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups." This is exactly the sort of statement we would expect someone like Paul, an adamant individualist, to say. Racism would be inconsistent with the rest of his positions (well, except perhaps his position on immigration, which also troubles me).

This leads me to suppose that his explanation is at least more or less true. During the period in question, Paul probably thought of himself as retired from politics (it wouldn't surprise me if he was frustrated and apathetic during this time, which was shortly after his unsuccessful 1988 Libertarian presidential run), but some fellow libertarians (or so he thought) wanted to use his name to promote libertarian political views so he told them they could go ahead, and then didn't pay any more attention. This turned out to be a big mistake, as the management turned out not to be so trustworthy as he thought.

Now, if this narrative is correct, there is still more explaining to do. As some Volokh Conspiracy readers asked, why were there no lawsuits? Why is there not documentation of Paul demanding that these people to stop printing this hate-filled garbage in his name? Well, one plausible answer to these two questions is simply that Paul felt that he was responsible for having trusted them with his name, and shouldn't complain in court or demand damages for his own failure of oversight.

This, however, only plays further into the biggest problem. If Paul really does accept "moral responsibility" for the propagation of hatred and bigotry that took place in his name, then why has he not made a real apology? You would expect a person of firm morals and high ideals - as Paul has appeared to be during his time in Congress and his presidential campaign - to be horrified to discover that his own negligence had led to this sort of thing. Granted, it happened a long time ago, and for Paul himself the shock has probably long-since worn off, but if he's been taking responsibility for "decades," where is the record of his initial response when he first discovered what had happened? Ron Paul will not receive my primary election vote unless, between now and Washington's primary, he can produce a more complete explanation and a convincing, sincere, heart-felt apology. He must provide details which corroborate his claim not to have been aware of what was happening, and he must show that he is truly grieved by the hatred propagated in his name.

Posted by Kenny at January 9, 2008 7:42 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry: https://blog.kennypearce.net/admin/mt-tb.cgi/390
Ron Paul Responds to Racism Charges on CNN
Excerpt: Ron Paul recently appeared on CNN to address charges of racism. The video is available on YouTube and I recommend that everyone watch it. I still don't think the response is fully adequate, but there are a number of points that I think are important in...
Weblog: blog.kennypearce.net
Tracked: January 12, 2008 12:55 PM


If Ron Paul take "moral responsibility" why isn't that good enough for you? Dr. Paul came out and said that MLK, Rosa Parks and Ghandi were his heroes. Do you want hin to go Hillary and shed crocodile tears?

Posted by: stevencinco at February 6, 2008 8:52 AM

What I want is an actual apology. You can take moral responsibility for GOOD things as well as bad things. It would be sufficient for him to say "allowing these newsletter to be published under my name was a serious lapse in judgment and I apologize to those who were hurt or offended by them. I have learned from my mistakes and in the future..."

At any rate, I am still supporting him.

Posted by: Kenny at February 6, 2008 9:26 AM

why is it that he wont apologise to like the naacp yet they say hes not racist?

Posted by: Anonymous at February 17, 2008 6:12 PM

Well, the NAACP has not supported him at the national level or in any official capacity. The director of a local chapter of the NAACP in his district has endorsed him, apparently because he believes that Paul's libertarian policies will benefit racial minorities more than the opposing candidates' policies. I don't really know anything beyond that.

Posted by: Kenny at February 18, 2008 12:13 AM

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