In his defense of Rand Paul yesterday, the normally admirable Dave Weigel offered the following quote, by way of suggesting the unfortunate fate that had befallen Paul in his devastating entanglement with Rachel Maddow:
"As a result of National Review’s above-the-fray philosophizing," wrote Edwards, "and Barry Goldwater’s vote, on constitutional grounds, against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the albatross of racism was hung around the neck of American conservatism and remained there for decades and even to the present."
This, like so much conservative and libertarian mythologizing, is a large load of bunk.
Conservatives have been associated with racism and white supremacy since at least the days of Dred Scot and John J. Calhoun. It was Southern conservatives who defended slavery, who led the South into secession and civil war and ruin, and who led the resistance to Reconstruction that overturned the verdict of the war and produced a century of Jim Crow and segregation that followed. It was conservatives who authored Plessy v. Ferguson, and it was conservatives who successfully led the fight to prevent Congress from ever passing an anti-lynching law. It was racist Southern conservatives who opposed the civil-rights movement at every turn -- well before Barry Goldwater ever tipped his vote in 1964.
But this kind of mythologizing serves a useful function: By idealizing the actual role of right-wing ideologies in history, it severs them from the historical realities they produced. Trotted out here, it lets us pretend that somehow the racist outcome of Rand Paul's ideology -- he at least told Rachel he wouldn't force private business to not discriminate racially -- are simply an accidental byproduct of his intellectually rigorous and consistent approach. As Blue Texan says, that's pretty pathetic.
Bruce Bartlett, a non-libertarian conservative, sagely observes:
As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There is no reason to believe that this system wouldn't have perpetuated itself absent outside pressure for change.
In short, the libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s gave us almost 100 years of segregation, white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs, the KKK, and discrimination of African Americans for no other reason except their skin color. The gains made by the former slaves in the years after the Civil War were completely reversed once the Supreme Court effectively prevented the federal government from protecting them. Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn't work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.
This is a rhetorical game with very real stakes. It is a game Rand Paul knows well, and obviously plays well -- because it's a game his father, Ron Paul has mastered over his several decades in Congress: camouflaging real extremism with a pleasant facade of mellow libertarian reasonableness.
Indeed, this whole fight is over a facet of Rand Paul's ideology that is nearly identical to his father's. As Josh Marshall observes:
I fear though that that's not the whole story with Paul -- father or son. The truth is that there's a long and hard to explain history of both Pauls being associated with a lot of people who are avowed or crypto-racists. There's the well-known story of Ron Paul's early 1990s era newsletter which was rife with racist and homophobic commentary. Paul later distanced himself from the newsletter, claiming that items written under his name were penned by a ghost-writer and that he wasn't familiar with what had appeared there. And then there was the case back in December in which Rand's Senate campaign spokesman Chris Hightower had to resign because of racist posts on his Myspace page. Looked at in broad terms you've got a couple of guys who apparently aren't racist in any way but happen to stumble their way into close associations with racists with an astonishing frequency. It's almost like a painful race version of that classic Onion headline: "Why Do All These Homosexuals Keep Sucking My ----." There is of course the fact that Ron Paul became the darling of numerous skinhead and white supremacist groups -- but that's in a very different category because you're not responsible for who supports you but what you yourself support.
Recall, if you will, the contents of those Ron Paul newsletters:
10th Anniversary Fundraiser:
Martin Luther King Jr. earned special ire from Paul's newsletters, which attacked the civil rights leader frequently, often to justify opposition to the federal holiday named after him. ("What an infamy Ronald Reagan approved it!" one newsletter complained in 1990. "We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.") In the early 1990s, a newsletter attacked the "X-Rated Martin Luther King" as a "world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours," "seduced underage girls and boys," and "made a pass at" fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy. One newsletter ridiculed black activists who wanted to rename New York City after King, suggesting that "Welfaria," "Zooville," "Rapetown," "Dirtburg," and "Lazyopolis" were better alternatives. The same year, King was described as "a comsymp, if not an actual party member, and the man who replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration."
While bashing King, the newsletters had kind words for the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. In a passage titled "The Duke's Victory," a newsletter celebrated Duke's 44 percent showing in the 1990 Louisiana Republican Senate primary. "Duke lost the election," it said, "but he scared the blazes out of the Establishment." In 1991, a newsletter asked, "Is David Duke's new prominence, despite his losing the gubernatorial election, good for anti-big government forces?" The conclusion was that "our priority should be to take the anti-government, anti-tax, anti-crime, anti-welfare loafers, anti-race privilege, anti-foreign meddling message of Duke, and enclose it in a more consistent package of freedom." Duke is now returning the favor, telling me that, while he will not formally endorse any candidate, he has made information about Ron Paul available on his website.
The same was true of Ron Paul's record in Congress, where he has consistently tried to make it easier for racial and ethnic discrimination to occur in our society:
A bill to provide that the Internal Revenue Service may not implement certain proposed rules relating to the determination of whether private schools have discriminatory policies.
H.R.5842: A bill to make all Iranian Students in the United States ineligible for any form of federal aid.
H.R.4982: A bill to provide for civil rights in public schools.
[This was the "Public School Civil Rights Act of 1984", an anti-busing bill: "Eliminates inferior Federal court jurisdiction to issue any order requiring the assignment or transportation of students to public schools on the basis of race, color, or national origin."]
-- He would propose an amendment to the Constitution to gut the Fourteenth Amendment by denying citizenship to people born here whose parents aren't already citizens "nor persons who owe permanent allegiance to the United States". That latter part could produce some serious political discrimination, especially if radicals can have their citizenship revoked:
- H.J.RES.46: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to deny United States citizenship to individuals born in the United States to parents who are neither United States citizens nor persons who owe permanent allegiance to the United States.
I've also written at length about Ron Paul's history of far-right extremism, including his associations, both accidental and intentional, with far-right extremists:
Paul's associations with the radical right, in fact, are fully relevant, on three levels:
1) He has a fully documented history of actively seeking their support.
2) His ideological framework -- fighting "the New World Order," eliminating the Fed, the IRS, and most federal agencies, getting us out of the U.N., ending all gun controls, reinstating the gold standard -- meshes neatly with theirs.
3) The organizations with whom he's associated are not benign, nor merely even "controversial", but are truly noxious elements that no responsible politician should be seen endorsing: racists, xenophobes, conspiracists, and frauds. This isn't the Rose Garden Society we're talking about here, or even the NRA.
As I recently pointed out:
- [I]if you run through the broad array of kooky theories about the federal government promoted on the far right, you can find any number of Ron Paul's positions -- particularly regarding the gold standard, the Federal Reserve, the IRS, and the United Nations -- floating about there. Notably, Paul also played a significant role in Congress' ongoing failure to confront the growing problem of conspiracy-driven tax protests by diverting the blame to the IRS itself.
But that's who Ron Paul is -- a "constitutionalist" who deals in conspiracy theories and extremist anti-government beliefs. It's who he always has been, and who he is now. It isn't just an accident that Paul very recently spoke to a group with troubling racial ties, or that he attended a Patriot Network banquet in his honor in 2004, or that he gave an interview to a conspiracist magazine the same year. Hell, he's been operating within those same circles since 1985.
Rand Paul was an adult when his dad's racist newsletters were being published; someone should ask him about them.
The problem Rand Paul is having right now is that no one asked his father these questions about civil rights when he ran for president. Because they should have.
Ron Paul and Rand Paul both like to present radical ideas in reasonable clothing. But the consequences of their ideas have outcomes that we have seen proven in our own history as toxic and destructive to our democratic ideals. Their ideas were long ago discredited, and simply fluffing them up in new language will not make their real-life consequences any less horrific.
There is, after all, a simple reason the Pauls attract racists to their campaigns: Their ideologies would make racist discrimination legal again. You can call it a matter of deep intellectual consistency if you like. I call it selling cheap rationalizations for real evil in the world.
Who cares if they themselves are racist or not? What matters is the fruit from the tree. As ye sow ...