Ron Paul

Paul on CNN

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Paul's appearance with Wolf Blitzer didn't do it for me.

I haven't been in the libertarian movement long (I'm 32, and I really only became a full-fledged movement libertarian at 25, when I started working for Cato). But reading the long-time activist's descriptions of those newsletters and how they were written, edited, and distributed, when Paul says he had no idea who wrote them, and that he rarely read them—well, I simply don't believe him. Nor do I think that would be a viable excuse even if it were true.

I thought his appearance was overly defensive, lacked any sort of contrition, and found it wholly unconvincing.

Take Paul's discussion of the drug war's impact on minorities. Yes, it was spot-on. But I've been watching this campaign fairly closely, and I believe that's the most time to date that Paul has spent talking about the drug war. I've actually been surprised at how little he has discussed it. His position on the drug war is one of the main reasons why I was encouraged by his candidacy. This campaign could have represented the first time ever (that I know of) that a GOP candidate challenged his rivals to defend the failure and moral corruption of drug prohibition in a nationally-televised debate. It hasn't happened. That his longest discussion of the drug war to date had to come only after he was confronted about the newsletters, and in the context of defending himself from accusations of racism, is unfortunate. And perhaps telling.

Here's the other thing: Paul talks in the Blitzer interview about how the drug war has disproportionately sent black people to prison. He's right. Black people use drugs in proportions only slightly higher than their share of the general population. But the proportion of blacks in prison for drugs crimes is substantially higher. They are far more likely to get arrested for drug crimes, far more likely to be convicted, and even when facing similar charges, tend to receive longer sentences than whites.

A big reason why is the latent sentiment at every level of the criminal justice system—from cops to prosecutors to jurors—that black people are inherently more prone to criminality than white people. It's sort of the opposite of "group rights." It's "group wrongs"—or punishing black people on a individual basis for perceived transgressions by black people as a group. It's also a form of collectivist thinking—the antithesis of libertarianism.

I have no idea if Paul is a racist. I suspect that he isn't, at least today. But he's certainly had no problem benefiting from the support of people who are. It's more than a little disingenuous for him to now defend himself by invoking what the criminal justice system has done to the black community when for fifteen years a newsletter bearing his name, and the profits from which went into his bank account, celebrated and encouraged the black-people-are-savage-criminals lie in particularly vile and perverse ways.

The newsletter defended the Rodney King beating, for God's sake, on the bullshit argument that King was part of a criminal class of people. The implication is that some people deserve substandard treatment under the rule of law because of the color of their skin. There's nothing remotely libertarian about that.

Whether he was active or passive in the newsletters doesn't matter. Paul perpetuated that way of thinking for more than a decade in a newsletter he published. He did it during the 1980s and 1990s, the very period over which the drug laws exacerbated the white-black disparity in America's prisons. He can't now use the "blacks are treated poorly by our criminal justice system" defense to distance himself from those very newsletters.

Perhaps it's too much for us to expect Paul to turn over the names of the paleo types who wrote those screeds (if it's true that he had no hand in writing him himself—which I'm having a harder and harder time believing), to apologize that they ever went out under his name, and to disavow and repudiate the beliefs of the paleolibertarian supporters who have propped him up for most of his career, some of whom he still calls friends.

But if he can't, it's also too much to ask libertarians who find those views abhorrent to continue to support him.

I have defended Paul on this site and on my own site. I'm sad to say I'm becoming more and more embarassed at having done so.