It’s revealing that Sean Hannity, Commentary magazine and Pam Geller have been among those responsible for generating the latest round of consternation over Ron Paul’s old newsletters. Polls suggest he is favored to win the Iowa caucus, and this has (rightly) rattled “National Greatness” conservatives. Whether these critics would ever think to express such vociferous disapproval of policies that in practice are genuinely “racist,” however, is dubious.
So it was equally revealing that during an interview with CNN last week, after Ron Paul again disavowed the newsletters, he added, “Why don’t you look at my comments about the War On Drugs and about how racist the enforcement of drug laws are?” If drug policy indeed amounts to “The New Jim Crow,” as legal scholars increasingly maintain, Paul’s point is not trivial. “I think the minorities come up with a short hand in our court system,” he said in an October debate.
“The more progress I make in challenging the status quo,” Paul went on in the CNN interview, “challenge the bankers and challenging the bailouts, challenging this wicked foreign policy of war forever and the military industrial complex, the stronger they will emphasize picking this and ignoring the important issues of what freedom is all about and what civil liberty is all about and why.”
Without absolving him of moral culpability for the newsletters, it’s hard to deny that Paul’s broader argument here is valid. A number of his positions are, at minimum, impressively unorthodox by the standards of mainstream party politics — and perhaps even courageous. Yet amidst hysteria over the newsletters, they go on largely undiscussed.
For instance, in December 2010, Paul was virtually alone in defending Wikileaks and denouncing its “hysterical” detractors. “Despite what is claimed,” he said from the floor of the House, “the information that has been so far released, though classified, has caused no known harm to any individual — but it has caused plenty of embarrassment to our government.” Paul also ridiculed the Justice Department’s investigation of Julian Assange, warning that it could entail grave consequences for American press freedoms. “Losing our grip on our empire is not welcomed by the neoconservatives in charge,” he concluded.
The conservative advocacy group “Accuracy in Media” recently made a point to condemn Paul’s “support of accused Army traitor Bradley Manning,” whom he has suggested ought to be considered a “hero” and a “true patriot.” In January 2011, Paul read aloud a leaked cable on Iraq into the Congressional record; the organization recently hailed him via Twitter as a “Wikileaks defender.”
In April, Ron Paul defended the logic of heroin legalization before a debate audience filled with South Carolinian GOP activists. On the “Ground Zero Mosque,” he evinced a far more “progressive” view than both Harry Reid and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has consistently said the wars in Iraq and Vietnam were “based on lies,” disputed vapid conceptions of American exceptionalism, and called for abolishing the FBI, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security. In 2007, Paul told Tim Russert that rampant “corporatism” in the United States amounted to “soft fascism.” He opposed the extralegal assassinations of both Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki; for this, leading authoritarian commentator Joshua S. Treviño of the Texas Public Policy foundation has referred to Paul as “the America-loathing libertarian.”
“If it’s Barack Obama versus Ron Paul,” Treviño declared, “I’m voting for the guy who thought shooting Osama bin Laden in the face was a good idea.”
Some conservatives now allege that by virtue of his “extreme” views and devoted volunteers, a Ron Paul victory in Iowa would discredit the caucus itself. It is illuminating that these same people would presumably regard a Newt Gingrich victory, for example, as perfectly appropriate and normal — despite his proposals to execute drug dealers, increase preparedness for electromagnetic pulse attacks, and forcibly intercede to halt the construction of religious structures.
When candidates are ordinarily ensnared by a sudden controversy, the catalyst is some previously unrevealed bit of information. But Paul’s newsletters were widely reported on in 2008, and for months, political journalists never bothered to revisit the subject — even as Paul built a formidable campaign infrastructure. Instead, they opted to blow smoke about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s non-candidacy and chronicle every detail of the Herman Cain sex saga. Last May, when Ben Smith of Politico and Byron York of the Washington Examiner partook in a wide-ranging discussion on the GOP field, neither man uttered the words “Ron Paul” even once (though they did speculate about various hypothetical, rumored candidacies). At the time, Paul was polling in third nationally.
In the Weekly Standard, Jamie Kirchick has contended that Paul’s “lucrative and decades-long promotion of bigotry and conspiracy theories” should disqualify him from serious consideration. To support this thesis, he quotes Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition; Paul was excluded from a recent RJC presidential forum, Brooks explained, on account of “his misguided and extreme views.”
It’s certainly true that Paul departs from the bipartisan consensus in favor of aggressive support for Israeli government policies. He would end all foreign assistance, Israel not excepted. “To me,” Paul has said, “foreign aid is taking money from poor people in this country and giving it to rich people in poor countries.” At a September debate, he suggested that America continues to be reviled around the world in part because U.S. administrations “do not give Palestinians fair treatment,” and he spoke about the folly of sending arms and finances for decades to Mubarak’s despotic regime in Egypt.
Ron Paul’s candor on the creeping American police state is unrivaled: he has identified the militarization of domestic police as a “dangerous trend,” and was one of the few members of Congress to decry the National Defense Re-Authorization Act with appropriate vigor. “This is a giant step,” Paul said. “This should be the biggest news going right now — literally legalizing martial law.”
Where other candidates heap scorn on Occupy Wall Street demonstrators at every opportunity — “Take a bath, then get a job,” Newt Gingrich scolded — Paul has consistently lauded them. “In many ways, it’s a very healthy movement,” he observed this month. “I’m not one to say, ‘Why don’t you get a bath and go get a job and quit crybabying.’ I don’t like that at all.”
“Some are liberals and some are conservatives and some are libertarians and some are strict constitutionalists,” Paul said of OWS in October. “I think that civil disobedience, if everybody knows exactly what they are doing, is a legitimate effort. It’s been done in this country for many grievances. Some people end up going to jail for this.”
But of course, it’s much easier for CNN reporters to quote from old newsletters than seriously explore the ways Paul has distinguished himself in today’s political environment.
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