Is that strange, or what?
When I was a kid growing up in Orange County, folks attacked my home turf as the stronghold of the "racist" John Birch Society. When it was announced that the Society was a sponsor of the 2010 meeting of CPAC, progressives had a field day bashing conservatives as unreconstructed white supremacists. There's a bad reputation there that's not going away, despite the organization's best efforts to come out from the cold. See the New York Times, "Holding Firm Against Plots by Evildoers."
That's why it's revealing that Congressman Ron Paul decided it was perfectly fine to speak at the organization's 50th anniversary celebration in September. That's not the first time Paul has spoken at the Society's events, and his questionable ties to the group, obviously, haven't had a noticeably negative impact on his political fortunes. Perhaps that will change with Paul still leading in the Iowa polls. Jamie Kirchick focused explicitly on Paul's ties to the Birchers the other day: "Why Don’t Libertarians Care About Ron Paul’s Bigoted Newsletters?" And just out is this devastating indictment of Ron Paul at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, "How Did We Get Here? Or, Why Do 20 Year Old Newsletters Matter So Damn Much?" (via Memeorandum and Reason). The author, Steve Horwitz, speaks of the "Rothbard-Rockwell strategy" of appealing to the "paleo-libertarian" base to build a movement fighting "the collapse of Western civilization at the hands of the blacks, gays, and multiculturalists." And to quote Horwitz at length:
The paleo strategy was a horrific mistake, both strategically and theoretically ... The explicit strategy was abandoned by around the turn of the century, but not after a lot of bad stuff had been written in all kinds of places. There was way more than the Ron Paul newsletters. There was the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, which was another major place publishing these sorts of views. They could also be found in a whole bunch of Mises Institute publications of that era. It was the latter that led me to ask to be taken off the Institute’s mailing list in the early 1990s, calling them “a fascist fist in a libertarian glove.” I have never regretted that decision or that language. What the media has in their hands is only the tip of the iceberg of the really unsavory garbage that the paleo turn produced back then.Read the whole thing at the link.
Through it all though, Ron Paul was a constant. He kept plugging away, first at the center of the paleo strategy as evidenced by the newsletters. To be clear, I am quite certain he did not write them. There is little doubt that they were written by Rockwell and Rothbard. People I know who were on the inside at the time confirm it and the style matches pretty well to those two and does not match to Ron Paul. Paul knows who wrote them too, but he’s protecting his long-time friend and advisor, unfortunately. And even more sadly, Rockwell doesn’t have the guts to confess and end this whole megillah. So although I don’t think Ron Paul is a racist, like Archie Bunker, he was willing to, metaphorically, toast a marshmallow on the cross others were burning.
Even after the paleo strategy was abandoned, Ron was still there walking the line between “mainstream” libertarianism and the winking appeal to the hard right courted by the paleo strategy. Paul’s continued contact with the fringe groups of Truthers, racists, and the paranoid right are well documented. Even in 2008, he refused to return a campaign contribution of $500 from the white supremacist group Stormfront. You can still go to their site and see their love for Ron Paul in this campaign and you can find a picture of Ron with the owner of Stormfront’s website. Even if Ron had never intentionally courted them, isn’t it a huge problem that they think he is a good candidate? Doesn’t that say something really bad about the way Ron Paul is communicating his message? Doesn’t it suggest that years of the paleo strategy of courting folks like that actually resonated with the worst of the right? Paul also maintained his connection with the Mises Institute, which has itself had numerous connections with all kinds of unsavory folks: more racists, anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, the whole nine yards. Much of this stuff was ably documented in 2007 and 2008 by the Right Watch blog. Hit that link for more.
Those of us who watched all of this happen over two decades knew it would come back to haunt us and so it has, unfortunately just as Ron Paul and libertarianism are on the cusp of something really amazing. And that only goes to show what a mistake the paleo strategy was: imagine if the newsletters were not an issue and Paul were to win Iowa. Yeah, he might get ignored, but he would not be the easy media target he is now, nor would all of libertarianism pay a potential price. The legions of young people supporting Paul did not come in via the paleo strategy; they came because libertarianism in general is on the rise in all kinds of venues (and yes, the Mises Institute’s post-paleo influence is important here, but it’s hardly the only institution that matters). These young people, for the most part, are surprised by all of this dirty laundry. That, in my view, is the real tragedy: I think libertarianism could have got to this point just as fast, maybe faster, without the toxic baggage of the paleo strategy.
So why deal with this now, when libertarianism is so hot? Because those newsletters are not what libertarianism is and the sooner and louder we make that clear, the better. There are too many young people who don’t understand all of this and who we need to help see the alternative liberal vision of libertarianism – and to understand that “liberal libertarianism” is radical, principled, and humane and not “beltway selling out.” To do that, we need to confront the past and explicitly reject it. That doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting Ron Paul in electoral politics, but it does mean that we cannot pretend the past doesn’t exist and it means that Paul and the others involved need to do the right thing and take explicit responsibility for what they said two decades ago. That has not happened yet. Then we need a complete and utter rejection of the paleo world-view and we need to create a movement that will simply not be attractive to racists, homophobes, anti-Semites etc., by emphasizing, as we have done at this blog, libertarianism’s liberal roots.
That's an admirable essay, and as an ideological initiative it's something that principled libertarians should be proud to embrace. The opposite is something like this, a particularly vile piece of paleo-bullshit propaganda: "Who Leads the Attack On Ron Paul?"