Ron Paul: Now for the piling on

I guess we should have expected it.

The Beltway libertarians, those polished public intellectuals at Cato and Reason, have been falling all over themselves the past few days in an effort to distance themselves from Ron Paul following the “outing” of his old newsletters last week by The New Republic. Not that they were ever that close to begin with. The Cato gang never liked Dr. Paul, and the folks at Reason only warmed up to him after his campaign began to catch fire on the internet. Now, their blogs are full of I-told-you-sos, denunciations, and warnings of dire consequences for libertarianism.

Typical of these was David Boaz, Cato's executive vice-president, who told the world that “…over the past few months a lot of people have been asking why writers at the Cato Institute seemed to display a lack of interest in or enthusiasm for the Paul campaign. Well, now you know.” Even Radley Balko, a Reason editor and former Cato policy analyst whose research on police misconduct made him one of the few shining lights among the Beltway libertarians in recent years, has joined the lynch mob. You can find links to dozens of other similar comments here.

Interestingly, all of them say they don't believe Dr. Paul is really a racist, and most of them say they believe him when he says he didn't write the articles in question. In fact, their real target seems to be something they call paleolibertarianism, a branch of libertarianism that has its center of gravity at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. And the man they really seem to loathe is the institute's president, Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. Ron Paul is merely collateral damage.

I should point out at this point that I really have no firsthand knowledge of any of the details of the mutual animosity that exists between the Beltway libertarians and the paleos. I only know that it exists and that it runs deep. I was a libertarian activist from the mid-'60s until the early '80s. I then decided to get a life and, except for an occasional blog post or attendance at a meeting, I was pretty much out of it for the next quarter century. It was my son who urged me to support Ron Paul in his run for President. (I didn't deliberately raise him to be a libertarian. Do you suppose it's genetic?) I did a lot of Googling of Ron Paul's name, and…well, here I am.

So, what about those newsletters? According to The New Republic article, the newsletters reveal “decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays”. Actually, that's a gross overstatement. It's more like a careless phrase or choice of words here and there — sometimes very careless, and sometimes even mean.

What the newsletters remind me of is the “gold bug” marketing in the early '70s. The “gold bugs” — those who believed that the dollar was destined to continue to lose value — were a mixed bag: conspiracists, libertarians, John Birchers, survivalists (of both the Left and the Right), racialists, and some who just wanted to turn a quick profit. Following the dollar's devaluation in 1971 a number of businesses and newsletters appeared on the market to capitalize on the uncertainty of the times. They sold their wares, whether precious metals or newsletter subscriptions, by instilling fear and serving up red meat to the gold bugs. I remember attending one precious metals “seminar” in 1974. A black couple was sitting near me. When the speaker got to the part about riots in the cities and a breakdown of civil authority, I could see that the couple were extremely uncomfortable. They left before the end of the presentation.

For whatever reason, Ron Paul has a very bankable name in that market. The International Harry Schultz Letter, the granddaddy of all the gold bug newsletters, prominently features a plug from Dr. Paul on its webpage. So it would make sense that a newsletter bearing Paul's name, aimed at gold bugs or their like, would be profitable.

So, did Ron Paul write that awful stuff posted on TNR's website? I’m a former writer and editor and also a former college professor who got to be pretty good at sniffing out plagiarism in student papers, and I have to say I very much doubt it. It isn’t at all like Ron Paul’s style of writing (you can go to the Mises Institute website, where there is an extensive archive of Dr. Paul’s writings, if you don’t believe me), and there’s nothing in his voting record over 10 terms in Congress to suggest those are his views. I don't find it at all implausible that someone would use his name to sell subscriptions to a newsletter written and edited by others.

But I agree with Alex Wallenwein and Bill Westmiller that we need to know who did write that objectionable material so that we can move on. Otherwise, this stuff will come up again and again.

However, I am not so naive as to think that this will mollify the Beltway libertarians. In their writings on this controversy, I've detected a barely suppressed undercurrent of glee, as if they're trying to keep from shouting “Aha! Gotcha now!” They say they are concerned about what all this is doing to the reputation of libertarianism — although, it seems to me they're more concerned about what it's doing to their own standing in Georgetown — but I think they doth protest too much.

If the Beltway libertarians are really concerned about the reputation of libertarianism, let them take a look at what they're saying about Ron Paul over on the Left. Although they like his antiwar, pro-freedom message, a lot of the bloggers over there don't care for the fact that he's a libertarian. You see, they equate libertarianism with the Cato Institute. And to them, Cato is just another D. C. think tank laboring in the service of the corporate elites.


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