Thursday, January 10, 2008

What to Say about that Kirchick Thing

In the coming weeks, every serious Ron Paul supporter will have to respond to this attempted smear by James Kirchick. The gist of Kirchick's article is that as recently as 15 years ago Ron Paul published a newsletter that contained some politically incorrect statements, therefore, Ron Paul is a bigot unworthy of the White House.

Unfortunately, the smear has resonance - even with Paul's supporters. Here is a list of reasons why you shouldn't take it too seriously.

(1) Prima Facie - it is an obvious smear. The author himself has admitted as much. Click the link and, in addition to a reprint of a damning email, you will find evidence that the author deliberately held the article until the day before the New Hampshire primary. Clearly, he was going after the journalist's wet dream: to bring down a candidate with "hard hitting" "investigative" reporting. The problem with the "hard-hitting" and "investigative" bits is that this story is old. You don't get reporter points for reprinting old copy at opportune political moments, I'm afraid. Ron Paul answered for his newsletter back during his congressional run in 1996, and then again in 1998. The link goes to a 2001 article which partially addresses the same issue. Of course, just because something is a smear doesn't mean it isn't true - but it is reason to give it a more thorough look than you otherwise would.

(2) Context - almost all of the damning quotes come from a single article published in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King Riots. Anyone who remembers that time will recall just how ridiculous this situation was. The acquittal of Rodney King's attackers was a reasonable outcome given the evidence. King definitely violently resisted arrest and was unfazed by taser attacks on him. The media, of course, had edited out the sequences in the video that showed this, so the public got a skewed view of events. Following the acquittal, Los Angeles erupted in race riots in which 53 people were killed, thousands injured, and $1billion dollars worth of property damage done. All of this violence was racially motivated, perpetrated almost exclusively by black people against members of other races. Absurdly, Korean shopowners defending their property and lives from the mob were ordered arrested for discharging firearms in the city. Imagine - the police are unavailable and a mob is attacking your store, and your government wants you arrested for defending yourself! Rather than do the human thing and condemn the violence, leaders of the black community made public justifications for it - for example, Maxine Waters, who said called it "a spontaneous reaction to a lot of injustice and a lot of alienation and frustration," and excused looting by saying "There were mothers who took this as an opportunity to take some milk, to take some bread, to take some shoes. Maybe they shouldn't have done it, but the atmosphere was such that they did it. They are not crooks." This is the atmosphere in which the article was written. If it seems unfair to condemn a presidential candidate in 2008 for words written during a volatile situation way back in 1992, that's because it is.

(3) Authorship - Ron Paul has anyway denied authorship. Certainly this claim is plausible. Congressmen rarely write all the things that are attributed to them, and Ron Paul's schedule has always been particularly busy. That said, of course he bears responsibility for things written in a newsletter bearing his name, responsibility which he has never shunned in the past. If he now issues press releases clearing up the matter of authorship, it is because he feels he has already spent enough time answering for his lack of oversight over his newsletter. Regarding the identity of the person who actually wrote the inflamatory statements (assuming, of course, that it in fact wasn't Paul himself) - that is a matter of some intrigue. The link goes to a blog that claims it is an open secret and asks the author to come forward in the interests of the movement. Virginia Postrel seems to agree that Paul probably didn't write the letters himself and speculates that the actual author is Lew Rockwell. This would explain a lot if true. Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell are close, and Lew Rockwell, as head of the Mises Institute, is important to the libertarian movement. "Outting" him is therefore not a simple matter. It's worth noting that the kind of inflammatory language cited in Kirchick's article is definitely his style.

(4) Most importantly - record - Taking Kirchick's smear seriously requires you to be in a position to believe that newsletters that Ron Paul may or may not have written 15 years ago are somehow more relevant to your evaluation of him as a candidate than his actual voting record. Paul's votes are freely available for examination by the public, and nothing among them indicates that he is a racist. Indeed, it is the most honest voting record of any politician I know. Ron Paul does not mince words. He says what he believes, and once elected he votes the way he promises. For an unambiguous condemnation of racism from Paul that he definitely did write, read this.

As a smear, Kirchick's article is shabby in any case. Among other things, he describes the Mises Institute as a "neo-confederate organization." Heh. It's true that the Mises Institute does not have an overly favorable impression of President Lincoln, but this is a case they argue persuasively from historical fact, not out of racist or "neo-confederate" motives. In short, his characterizations of the company Paul keeps are straw mans.

As for what this incident means for libertarianism - I repeat with only minor changes sections of a comment I made on Samizdata:

There is some worry that Paul has now forever tarnished the libertarian movement. Poppycock. If libertarianism cannot grow beyond a single politician, it was doomed from the start anyway. More to the point, libertarianism is the ONLY completely non-racist political position I know (as it is the only position that unambiguously shuns identity politics and regards all people as individuals deserving of equal rights before the law first, middle and last, completely independent of their circumstances, inherited genetic characteristics, or cultural background). No doubt libertarians will get stereotyped as racists in the coming months, and no doubt a lot of us who self-identify as libertarians will be asked to explain Ron Paul's unfortunate newsletter. If we cannot look people in the eye and explain to them why we are less racist than either the Democrats or the Republicans, then the fault is ours and not Ron Paul's. It is not a movement about Ron Paul.

One of the things that keeps us on the fringe is that we have never been honest with ourselves what being on the fringe means. It means that people laugh at, misrepresent, lie about and are generally uncomfortable with our positions not, in many cases, because they have substantive disagreements with them, but just because these positions are unfamiliar. That is unfortunate, but it is the way of the world. People don't grill Republicans and Democrats on what they stand for because these are familiar and generally accepted banners to fly. Being libertarian means we don't get the luxury of avoiding questions, fair or otherwise.

In the wake of Kirchick's article, clearly questions about libertarian positions on race from people who don't know much about us are fair. But they are questions that don't seem too difficult to answer.

Whether or not libertarians should continue to support Paul is obviously a more complicated matter. I myself will continue to support him to the degree that I always have, which is more as a method for convincing the Republicans that they need to pay more attention to their small-government constituency in the future than as an actual viable candidate for the presidency. I can find nothing in Paul's stated positions or in his voting record to indicate that he is a racist. Quite the contrary, he seems to me the candidate most likely to remove the race question from public life altogether. I will therefore lose no sleep over my vote.


At 12:02 PM, Blogger Perry de Havilland said...

I pretty much agree with that. I do think too many of us are hyperventilating about this. We never thought Ron Paul as actually going to go all the way, did we? This was never really about Ron Paul, it was about getting our ideas noticed.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

And hopefully he's still helped us there. I do guess my hopes for a third party run to split the Republian vote are dashed, but maybe that's not such a bad thing in the final analysis.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joshua, I appreciate the cool-headed perspective you have provided here and at Samizdata. Good work! I re-used some of your insights in my own post on the topic:

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