Reason Magazine’s Nick Gillespie attempted yesterday to confront the dirty little secret about Ron Paul. The libertarian hero may be leading in some Iowa polls, but as the story about the racist newsletters that were published under his name in the 1980s and 90s catches fire, his more respectable backers need to face up to their candidate’s past. To his credit, Gillespie admits that it’s not a “smear” to bring up the issue of the Texas congressman’s connections to hate literature as well as to 9/11 truthers, the John Birch Society and conspiracy mongers like Alex Jones. Gillespie even owns up to the fact that Paul has had as many different answers to the question of his connections to hate as Herman Cain did about allegations of sexual harassment.
But rather than fess up to the fact that their presidential standard-bearer has been a magnet for crackpot racists who regard the United States government as the enemy, Gillespie tried to argue that this ought not to “invalidate” his candidacy because a) Paul is a nice guy; and b) the hate he promoted and the lunatics in his camp are not as bad as the system he’s trying to destroy. Like a good Marxist, all Gillespie can do is to claim that the end justifies the means. But as anyone who listens to him discuss foreign policy, far from being tangential to Paul’s crusade, his hate connections are integral to his appeal on the margins of society.
Gillespie is right that many libertarians and even Republicans will vote for Paul in spite of his troubling connections and not because of them. Many conservatives share with libertarians their disgust for big government and the compromises some Republicans have made in order to buy popularity. But Paul’s isolationism on foreign policy speaks to the conspiracy crowd precisely because his view of the world conforms to their vision of an evil America rampaging across the globe. Given his own extremism — which extends to his rationalizations of the Taliban and the Iranian regime — it’s little surprise that wingnuts of the extreme right and left flock to his cause (and deluge the websites of journalists who point out their candidate’s shortcomings with hate mail). Try as they might, respectable writers like Gillespie can’t explain away the fact that there is a straight line between the newsletters and many of his other views.
I understand that libertarians want to overturn the system, not just to reform it. There’s a facile logic to Paul’s approach, but that is exactly why the haters love him. As much as libertarians and anti-establishment Republicans want to believe in him, he is a product of the John Birch milieu of the far right, and that leaves them twisting themselves into pretzels trying to justify supporting a candidate for president who is irredeemably damaged by the lunatic fringe with which he has long associated himself.
In defense of Paul’s candidacy, Gillespie seems to be arguing that libertarians need to rally around him despite his imperfections because he is the most viable spokesman for their ideas:
Paul is not the perfect vessel for a libertarian message, but waiting for perfection is something ideologues insist on. Most of us are far more interested in someone who at least has shown he understands the most pressing issues of the moment — and the future.
With all due respect to Gillespie, you have to be taking some of the drugs that Paul wants to legalize in order to believe he has even a remote chance of being the Republican nominee, let alone elected president. Far from a pragmatic attempt to get him into the White House, his campaign is still very much the stuff of ideologues. Moreover, libertarians also need to face up to the fact that their little coalition of fellow travelers is populated by those to whom Paul’s disturbing record is an attraction rather than a drawback.
Principled libertarians need to rethink a decision to tie their ideas to such a flawed vessel. It’s more than obvious to all but his zealots that the vast majority of Americans want nothing to do with a candidate like Paul even if some aspects of his libertarian beliefs are attractive. Those intellectuals who try to justify supporting such a person’s futile run despite his long involvement with a hateful lunatic fringe are trashing their movement’s integrity for very little in return.