Ron Paul's Shaggy Defense

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The Times notes that Ron Paul's racism newsletters are, again, becoming an issue. The standard defense has generally been Paul didn't write the newsletters. I think an honest reckoning with that defense would have someone question the faculties of an adult who would allow a newsletter filled--by Paul's own admission--with bigotry to be published under one's name. Had I spent a decade stewarding an eponymous publication steeped in homophobia and anti-Semitism, I would not expect my friends and colleagues to accept an "I didn't write it"excuse. And I have no (present) designs on the launch codes. It is a peculiar thing when the basic standards of honesty and decency are lowered in direct proportion to the power one seeks to wield. This is especially true of our friends. One has a hard time imagining a President Barack Obama who had done a stint writing for, say, for The Final Call lambasting gays and Jews. 

Be that as it may, I think it's extremely important that the discerning consumer understand that the problem isn't merely that Ron Paul claims that the newsletters are a bizarre forgery, but that when initially asked about them Paul actually defended the letters. 

As Matt Welch reported back in 2008, In 1992, Paul published a newsletter in which he claimed:

Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.

Paul defended this statement citing criminal justice stats and saying, "These aren't my figures," Dr. Paul said Tuesday. "That is the assumption you can gather from" the report.

In that same column, Paul noted that:

If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be.

Challenged on this assertion Paul said in his defense:

"If you try to catch someone that has stolen a purse from you, there is no chance to catch them," Dr. Paul said.

That same year Paul asserted that,

"Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions."

Paul defended the comment through his spokesman:

Sullivan said Paul does not consider people who disagree with him to be sensible. And most blacks, Sullivan said, do not share Paul's views. The issue is political philosophy, not race,

Sullivan said. "Polls show that only about 5 percent of people with dark-colored skin support the free market, a laissez faire economy, an end to welfare and to affirmative action," Sullivan said. [...] 

 "You have to understand what he is writing. Democrats in Texas are trying to stir things up by using half-quotes to impugn his character," Sullivan said. "His writings are intellectual. He assumes people will do their own research, get their own statistics, think for themselves and make informed judgments."

You can make what you will of that defense. But the point I am driving at is that Paul not only did not disown the opinions at the time, he actively claimed them as his own and then disparaged anyone who questioned his words:

"If someone challenges your character and takes the interpretation of the NAACP as proof of a man's character, what kind of a world do you live in?" Dr. Paul asked. 

In 2001, Paul found himself in a new millennium, and a new country, and in due course, came upon a different tune. Confronted with the newsletters in 2001 (before The New Republic story) and particularly his brutal attack on Barbara Jordan as "Barbara Morondon," the "archetypical half-educated victimologist" whose "race and sex protect her from criticism" Paul explained:

When I ask him why, he pauses for a moment, then says, "I could never say this in the campaign, but those words weren't really written by me. It wasn't my language at all. Other people help me with my newsletter as I travel around. I think the one on Barbara Jordan was the saddest thing, because Barbara and I served together and actually she was a delightful lady." Paul says that item ended up there because "we wanted to do something on affirmative action, and it ended up in the newsletter and became personalized. I never personalize anything." 

His reasons for keeping this a secret are harder to understand: "They were never my words, but I had some moral responsibility for them ... I actually really wanted to try to explain that it doesn't come from me directly, but they [campaign aides] said that's too confusing. 'It appeared in your letter and your name was on that letter and therefore you have to live with it.'"

Note Paul's language: It "ended up" in the newsletter. "Other people" wrote the words. "Campaign aids" said that honesty was too confusing. No actual named person did anything. 

Racism, like all forms of bigotry, is what it claims to oppose--victimology. The bigot is never to blame. Always is he besieged--by gays and their radical agenda, by women and their miniskirts, by fleet-footed blacks. It is an ideology of "not my fault." It is not Ron Paul's fault that people with an NAACP view of the world would twist his words. It is not Ron Paul's fault that his newsletter trafficked in racism. It is not Ron Paul's fault that he allowed people to author that racism in his name. It is anonymous political aids and writers, who now cowardly refuse to own their words. There's always someone else to blame--as long as it isn't Ron Paul, if only because it never was Ron Paul.

This is not a particular tragedy for black people. The kind of racism which Paul trafficked is neither innovative nor original. Even his denials recall the obfuscations of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens. But some pity should be reserved for the young and disgruntled, for those who dimly perceive that something is wrong in this country, for those who are earnestly appalled by the madness of our criminal justice policy, for those who have watched a steady erosion of our civil liberties, and have seen their concerns met with an appalling silence on the national stage. That their champion should be, virtually by default, a man of mixed motives and selective courage, is sad. 

MORE: Scans of Ron Paul's newsletters can be seen here. Also, I want to urge people to read Matt Welch's piece. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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