Ron Paul roundup

Glen Whitman highlights a problem that was part of what I was trying to get at when I declined to cast a protest vote for Ron Paul:

Given the relative rarity of libertarians, both in the public eye and in general, most people’s judgment of libertarianism will be based on a very small sample – often a sample size of one. If the first libertarian someone meets is a smart, reasonable, decent person, they will come away with a positive impression and possibly a willingness to explore further. If the first libertarian someone meets is a wild-eyed lunatic, on the other hand, they could easily write off libertarianism as the ideology of wild-eyed lunatics.

The Paul candidacy presents a special case of the small-sample problem. For many people, Ron Paul is the first and only libertarian-identified candidate they’ve ever seen receive any serious media attention. As a result, they may assume other libertarians share all of his views. Many libertarians, including Kling, are wary of supporting Paul – even though they probably agree more with Paul than anyone else in the field – because they fear the public will assume that all libertarians are anti-immigrant gold-bug conspiracy theorists (and possible closet racists).

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat sums up roughly my suspicions about Ron Paul's racial attitudes:

You know, I half-believe Ron Paul when he says that he is not a bigot or a racist or an anti-Semite. I half-believe him in when he says the inflammatory material that James Kirchick has uncovered in years and years of newsletters and pamphlets with his name on them was written by others without his supervision or direct permission. But what I'm nearly sure of is that he doesn't really care that much if some of the people around him are racists - not because he shares their opinions, but because he thinks those opinions aren't all that important in the grand scheme of things.

This doesn't make Ron Paul a terrible person; it just makes him human. He believes in a constellation of ideas - some of them nutty, but some of them not - that have been shunted to the fringe of American political life. And people who find themselves in that position tend to be far, far more forgiving of their allies' various tics and idiosyncracies and yes, bigotries than would otherwise be the case. It's unfortunate, but it's also human nature: If someone agrees with you and supports you when the whole world seems to be against you, of course you'll be more likely to look past their tendency to suggest that Mossad was behind the 1993 WTC bombing, or their fondness for pre-apartheid South Africa. When you're way out there on the fringe, without any obvious way to reach the mainstream, it's very easy to tell yourself that your dubious friends aren't really all that bad - and that besides, if you ever start finding your way back to the mainstream, it won't be all that hard to jettison them along the way. It's easy, as well, to start making excuses for them: If the mainstream accuses you of anti-Semitism, unfairly, because you're a principled non-interventionist who wants the U.S. to pull out of the Middle East, it's easy to find yourself making excuses for other people who get tarred (more justly) with the label. And then time goes by, the mainstream never gets any closer, you're spending all your time in a cramped and crankish and resentful world, and you hear yourself thinking hey, if these neo-Confederate guys are right about states' rights and the Constitution, then maybe they're right about race too ...

It's the most natural thing in the world. Just ask Sam Francis.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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