OT: on the Ron Paul phenomenon

by Ted Frank on January 11, 2008

I’ve been speaking up against Ron Paul privately amongst my libertarian friends in DC, and now I’m mad at myself that I wasn’t doing so more publicly before the “revelations” of the open secret.


After all, the success of the November fund-raising demonstrated that Paul was going to be picking up more than a percent of the vote in the early primaries, which, unfortunately, has made Paul the most prominent libertarian since the death of Milton Friedman. At this point, Jacob Levy has said (or linked to) just about everything I was going to—right down to the same naive youthful New England flirtation he and I both had with the first national Paul campaign in (1987 for me, 1988 for Levy) and quick alienation when each of us realized the man and a good chunk of the associated movement was creepy-nuts. (I don’t think Levy and I ever met, however.)

Two more points, however:

  • It’s fascinating how agrarian populism has turned around 180 degrees from William Jennings Bryan’s Cross-of-Gold speech to know-nothingism demand for a gold standard. (But the irrational scapegoating of Jewish bankers is consistent across the centuries.)
  • It’s extraordinarily disappointing to see Reason, once the magazine of Virginia Postrel and Walter Olson, turn into a defender of the worst elements of paleo-libertarianism. There were hints of this in a largely celebratory 2004 piece on tax protesters that ignored the fact that many of the leaders of that fringe movement were simply scamming the gullible for personal gain by selling fantastic literature on magical incantations to absolve one from tax liability. But in the last few months Reason senior editors went whole hog on Ron Paul, knowing that it could only blow up in the face of the libertarian movement, and (together with the too-public silence from the libertarians like me who knew better) have set back the cause years. Levy’s point on sample sizes is precisely correct, and I’m even more pessimistic than Radley Balko: now it’s going to be a long time before I can say that I’m a libertarian in mixed company without having to issue a disclaimer.

See also David Bernstein and Steven Horwitz.

Update: credit to Ilya Somin for speaking up early; he comments again.

Update: Tim Sandefur, an early critic of Paul, is blogging up a storm, including a comprehensive list of links to other blog discussions.

{ 14 comments }

1 Matt 01.11.08 at 2:22 am

I was absolutely livid when I read the TNR article. I knew that there had been some racist things said in some of his newsletters, but before I knew of their scope, I accepted his ghostwriter explanation. Now that I see how many instances there were, I feel embarassed to have supported him.
As soon as I finished reading the TNR article, I tossed out all of my Ron Paul pins and stickers. It’s disappointing that such a mainstream spokesperson for libertarianism turned out to have such a shady and embarrassing past.

2 Tracy 01.11.08 at 7:58 am

Oh no Ted. You said his name, now the Paultards are going to overwhelm this pleasant site of yours. Try to use R@# P@#$ in the future.

3 martin 01.11.08 at 8:58 am

In fairness to Reason, they did not go whole hog on Ron Paul. They, like I, seemed so focused on an alternative to the statist Big-2 parties that they chose to overlook the warning signals.

4 Ted 01.11.08 at 9:05 am

Nick Gillespie: “On basic fundamental issues [Ron Paul] speaks strongly for libertarians, regardless of the flavoring.” Thanks, Nick. This MSM op-ed seems whole hog to me.

5 Deoxy 01.11.08 at 9:31 am

“now it’s going to be a long time before I can say that I’m a libertarian in mixed company without having to issue a disclaimer.”

I don’t expect that to happen in my lifetime, and not just bcause of Ron Paul: the Libertarian Party is full of crazies, and the concepts of libertarianism are at least as easily manipulated and abused as anything else.

6 martin 01.11.08 at 10:15 am

Yes Ted, you are right. If you read the articles primarily as a vote for the candidate more than a vote for the philosophy. Unfortunately the presidential elections have deteriorated into a personality cult. Every tear, every look are analysed over and over again. I’d rather, and I know that the Reason people do, focus on substance. Only fringe movements rise and quickly fall with their leader.
Ron Paul, as a person, is out for me, too many character flaws, but libertarianism is not. It does have to reinvent itself though and work toward some healthy distance to the kooky types. The consequences of continued nanny statism are too serious to tolerate.

7 Anonymous Attorney 01.11.08 at 12:14 pm

I’m not clear on what Ted Frank’s objection to Ron Paul is, other than an assertion that his supporters are ‘creepy-nuts.’ Digging in a little more, it seems the objection is that Ron Paul and/or his supporters are ‘anti-Semitic,’ New America’s answer to blacklisting.

There are certainly white advocates who support Ron Paul, and what I glean as the reason is this: the war in Iraq is seen as a project designed for Israel’s security, not America’s, and prominent and powerful Jews here and abroad have been central in seeing it through. (It could, would and should be easy enough to oppose this on ‘mere’ patriotic grounds, without even a whiff of anti-Semitism. I am sure that there are both ‘philo-Semitic’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ persons who feel similarly about the war.)

Beyond the war, white advocates (surely part of the ‘creepy-nuts’ characters Mr. Frank refers to) likely see a “freedom” movement as good for them, because it would mean higher levels of freedom of association, for instance.

I know next to nothing (no pun intended) about the issue of a gold standard, getting rid of the Fed, and related issues.

But why Paul supporters’ objections the war are so wrong, Mr. Frank does not say. It seems to thrust the ethnic nature of all this yet further ahead that he cites a Levy, a Bernstein and a Horwitz as his allies in objection to Ron Paul as a libertarian luminary.

If Mr. Frank feels compelled to note that there are ideologically impure ethnic motivations behind some of Ron Paul’s supporters, it seems only fair to note the high likelihood that he has ethnic motivations himself.

8 Ted 01.11.08 at 12:28 pm

Thank you for vividly illustrating my point, 12:14.

9 Timothy E. Harris 01.11.08 at 2:43 pm

I am registered to vote as a Libertarian, and I supported Ron Paul in 1988. I’ve always liked his positions on fiscal responsibility and restricting the federal government to its enumerated powers.

But 1988 was before the World Wide Web was available, and I never saw any of those newsletters Ron Paul wrote for. His public image was “sanitized” in that election. I never heard anyone at the time talking about his racism – the issue his opponents brought up was that he wanted to legalize drugs. (I agree, prohibition doesn’t work as well as legalization & regulation)

In 2007 I have much more information about him & I realize he *is* a nutcase.
From what I’ve seen of his campaign, he’s hardly even libertarian anymore.

And I am saddened as I believe libertarianism is a necessary counterbalance to the growth of government and with people like Ron Paul as the public face of it, it will lose some credibility.

10 Joe Bingham 01.11.08 at 10:10 pm

As a RP supporter and libertarian, I’m deeply embarrassed by these newsletters, about which I already knew, as many did. I give him the benefit of the doubt about not having written the offensive content, but I’m only still a supporter because I think Paul himself is deeply embarrassed by them.

The connections of the Rockwell and the Mises Institute I’m now learning about are pretty disturbing, too.

I have to say, though, that I was first introduced to libertarianism by the Austrian school and, whether the MI represents the school well or not, most of my initial encounters with economics and libertarianism were through them. I even attended one of the weeklong lectureships there. I was eventually turned off by their enforced-orthodoxy anti-empirical version of libertarianism and economics, but I have to say that I don’t believe I ever encountered any neoconfederacy or racism in my extended, if not extensive, involvement with them, and I do owe them a debt, since it was through them that I discovered groups like Cato and people like Friedman. Even if they hate Cato and Friedman. =)

All this makes me sad, since I admired (and still admire) Paul, and admired (and still hate to dislike) the Mises Institute.
_ _ _ _ _ _

12:14: My God, if calling them “white advocates” doesn’t give away your sympathies, I don’t know what would.

11 ben tillman 01.12.08 at 1:36 am

Set aside the issue of whether Paul wrote or agrees with the passages from the newsletter. Even if Paul did agree with everything written, the quoted passages have no moral implications. They don’t constitute or advocate any wrongful acts against anyone else. They are “wrong” only from the perspective of someone administering a political correctness examination.

Most of Paul’s opponents are guilty of real moral transgressions with real consequences, including the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and many times that number of Iraqis.

Doesn’t it bother any of the critical thinkers here that that the alleged “racist” Paul is the one who opposes the killing of all those non-white Iraqis?

12 Steven Horwitz 01.12.08 at 11:24 am

Thank you 1214 for including me in the Zionist conspiracy. If you’d read my earlier piece on the newsletters, you’d know I’d said there was nothing anti-Semitic in them. Anti-Israel, yes, but that’s not the same thing. And, oh yeah, I’m against the war.

For Joe at 1010: there are Austrian economics alternatives to the Mises Institute. Foundation for Economic Education for one and to a lesser degree the Institute for Humane Studies for another.

13 Anonymous Attorney 01.12.08 at 11:36 am

No, ben tillman, it doesn’t matter that “racist” Paul opposes killing non-white Iraqis, while supposed “non-racist” Rudy Giuliani supports the idea, and then some. That’s because “racist” in today’s discourse does not mean across-the-board “improper” considerations of race. Else, affirmative action, Zionism, Hispanic nationalism a la “La Raza” and other movements would come under just as much scrutiny. Substitute every statement Giuliani made at the New Hampshire debates about “Islam” with “Judaism” and you’ll see what I mean.

Only white expressions of unity and/or dissatisfaction are deemed “racist,” as Shelby Steele has noted. But amid all the hysteria over Ron Paul’s “racism” (never mind that for the millionth time, there never seems to be any hard evidence and/or definitions on this charge, the mere making of it being sufficient for most), nobody is asking the next-level question: are there legitimate white interests? If not, why not? If it is acceptable for blacks to want to vote for Obama on nothing more than his being (half) black, why is it not the moral equivalent for a white person to want to vote for a white candidate for the same reason? Or, if it is acceptable for Jews to want a homeland in Israel for reasons of religious/ethnic/cultural preservation, why is not permissible for white Americans to oppose open immigration from Third-World countries on precisely the same grounds? And so on.

But, observe the posts that will appear below. Few will address these questions directly. They will only caterwaul about racism.

14 Deoxy 01.14.08 at 12:52 pm

AA,

While I completely and thoroughly agree regarding the double-standard (with a slight exception for Israel, due to the ongoing attempts by other groups to literally exterminate them all), the answer for this is not to have “white advocate” groups but to oppose all those other groups (which I do).

Racial groups are, in general, a very bad idea, white, black, or otherwise.

(I do admit to a bit of schadenfreud watching the PC-types when “white advocate” groups make such claims, though – sauce for the gander, eh? That’s about the nicest thing I can say about such groups, though.)

Comments on this entry are closed.