Who's His Daddy?
My, my, it seems as if everyone's writing about Rand Paul this morning. I wasn't going to bother because those of you who read this blog regularly know that I've been writing about him for months --- eve since he emerged as a front runner for the Kentucky nomination. And, as everyone knows, his father's very special brand of Bircher libertarianism libertarianism has informed the tea parties from the beginning.All this is old news to us, right?
Last night on Rachel Maddow's show Paul tried to walk the fine line between the inherently racist effect of libertarian policies and being a racist. And he didn't do a very good job of it. (His father is a much, much smarter politician.) But part of his problem is that it's very difficult to know if Paul is just a childishly naive Randian or if he actually has more racist motives, in the Bircher tradition. He protests a lot that he doesn't. But it's complicated by the history of his father, who most definitely has held some very noxious racist views:
Finding the pre-1999 newsletters was no easy task, but I was able to track many of them down at the libraries of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Of course, with few bylines, it is difficult to know whether any particular article was written by Paul himself. Some of the earlier newsletters are signed by him, though the vast majority of the editions I saw contain no bylines at all. Complicating matters, many of the unbylined newsletters were written in the first person, implying that Paul was the author.
But, whoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.
To understand Paul’s philosophy, the best place to start is probably the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Auburn, Alabama. The institute is named for a libertarian Austrian economist, but it was founded by a man named Lew Rockwell, who also served as Paul’s congressional chief of staff from 1978 to 1982. Paul has had a long and prominent association with the institute, teaching at its seminars and serving as a “distinguished counselor.” The institute has also published his books.
The politics of the organization are complicated--its philosophy derives largely from the work of the late Murray Rothbard, a Bronx-born son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” who viewed the state as nothing more than “a criminal gang”--but one aspect of the institute’s worldview stands out as particularly disturbing: its attachment to the Confederacy. Thomas E. Woods Jr., a member of the institute’s senior faculty, is a founder of the League of the South, a secessionist group, and the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, a pro-Confederate, revisionist tract published in 2004. Paul enthusiastically blurbed Woods’s book, saying that it “heroically rescues real history from the politically correct memory hole.” Thomas DiLorenzo, another senior faculty member and author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, refers to the Civil War as the “War for Southern Independence” and attacks “Lincoln cultists”; Paul endorsed the book on MSNBC last month in a debate over whether the Civil War was necessary (Paul thinks it was not). In April 1995, the institute hosted a conference on secession at which Paul spoke; previewing the event, Rockwell wrote to supporters, “We’ll explore what causes [secession] and how to promote it.” Paul’s newsletters have themselves repeatedly expressed sympathy for the general concept of secession. In 1992, for instance, the Survival Report argued that “the right of secession should be ingrained in a free society” and that “there is nothing wrong with loosely banding together small units of government. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we too should consider it.”
The people surrounding the von Mises Institute--including Paul--may describe themselves as libertarians, but they are nothing like the urbane libertarians who staff the Cato Institute or the libertines at Reason magazine. Instead, they represent a strain of right-wing libertarianism that views the Civil War as a catastrophic turning point in American history--the moment when a tyrannical federal government established its supremacy over the states. As one prominent Washington libertarian told me, “There are too many libertarians in this country ... who, because they are attracted to the great books of Mises, ... find their way to the Mises Institute and then are told that a defense of the Confederacy is part of libertarian thought.”
Paul’s alliance with neo-Confederates helps explain the views his newsletters have long espoused on race. Take, for instance, a special issue of the Ron Paul Political Report, published in June 1992, dedicated to explaining the Los Angeles riots of that year. “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began,” read one typical passage. According to the newsletter, the looting was a natural byproduct of government indulging the black community with “‘civil rights,’ quotas, mandated hiring preferences, set-asides for government contracts, gerrymandered voting districts, black bureaucracies, black mayors, black curricula in schools, black tv shows, black tv anchors, hate crime laws, and public humiliation for anyone who dares question the black agenda.” It also denounced “the media” for believing that “America’s number one need is an unlimited white checking account for underclass blacks.” To be fair, the newsletter did praise Asian merchants in Los Angeles, but only because they had the gumption to resist political correctness and fight back. Koreans were “the only people to act like real Americans,” it explained, “mainly because they have not yet been assimilated into our rotten liberal culture, which admonishes whites faced by raging blacks to lie back and think of England.”
Rand Paul was 29 years old in 1992. Granted, there's no reason to assume that he holds views like that. But to he best of my knowledge, he hasn't repudiated them either.
There's also the little problem of Rand Paul's spokesman's crude racism, which led to his resignation. Is Paul to be held liable for the words of others? No. But a pattern does start to emerge that raises the question as to whether Paul is just a starry-eyed libertopian who thinks that government is the only institution that oppresses and that racism will disappear naturally once people realize that bigotry interferes with profits --- or if he's a chip off the old block.
Not that it matters in practical terms. Obviously, libertarians in general are not necessarily racists. But their ideology inexorably leads to a society in which racism is normal and tolerated and where those who have the social power and economic clout are able to rig the game in their favor. You know --- the America of 40 years ago before the Civil Rights Act. It's not like we never gave Rand's libertarianism a chance to work.