Ron Paul's Friends

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.

Thus it's to Ron Paul's credit, in a certain way, that he never went as far down this road as Francis and Joe Sobran and others like them did. But it's a shame that some of Paul's ideas have only Paul - with all his baggage, all his own weird and baseless notions, and all his unfortunate friends - as their champion. Even if you believe, as I do, that the American empire and the administrative state aren't going anywhere and ought to be taken as the givens of our politics, there's still a constructive role for non-interventionists and constitutionalists to play in our politics (and especially in conservative politics!), whether we're debating the invasion of Iraq or the latest appropriations bill. But because those ideas are currently way out on the fringe - and associated with the sort of people who wrote for the Ron Paul Political Report back in the day - there are enormous incentives for most politicians and writers to give them a wide berth, precisely because anyone who does embrace them will find himself, like Paul, sharing a very small boat with a lot of very dubious friends.

With apologies to Jim Antle's fine piece, this is the real "paleocon dilemma": That once a set of ideas reaches the fringes of political discussion, it tends to stay there.