NAACP Head Ben Jealous on Ron Paul: "We've Found Common Cause with Libertarians…"; Plus, New Newsletter Allegations


Delayed hat tip to Slate story: Alan Vanneman, whose blog is always worth checking out.

Former Reason scribe, now with Slate, Dave Weigel caught up with the head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, and asked him a question about Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Slate: Ron Paul answered a question about his old newsletters by saying he was the most anti-racist candidate: He wanted fair criminal justice reform. Did you buy it?

Jealous: We've found common cause with libertarians across the South, for years. In Texas, Ron Paul's state, we've passed a dozen progressive criminal justice reforms last year, working with the Tea Party. In South Carolina we got one-to-one on crack versus powder, which we couldn't get Congress to do when Democrats controlled it. In Georgia, we just pushed through the biggest review of criminal justice policy in the entire country, again, working with a Tea Party governor and Tea Party supporters. Criminal justice reform is, if you will, the big silent agreement in this country. It's ideas like treatment instead of incarceration appeal from libertarians to liberals alike, to progressives and conservatives alike.

If you divide the Tea Party, it divides into three groups: The libertarians, the fiscal conservatives, and the social conservatives. And when you go them and say rehab is seven times more effective than prison, they pay more attention. The pot-smoking wing pays attention. The Christian conservatives, who are very involved in prison ministry, already know it. So Ron Paul has a point that policies he is promoting, on criminal justice reform, are policies that need to be discussed and would have a positive impact on the black community.

Emphasis added. More here.

Hat tip: Alan Vanneman.

In a related story, The Washington Post reports allegations today that while the congressman may not have written the racist newsletters that went out under his name for years, "he always got to see the final product. .?.?. He would proof it." That comes from Renae Hathaway, who worked at Ron Paul & Associates, the publisher of the newsletters. The same article cites another Paul business associate who says, "I just do not believe he was either writing or regularly editing this stuff.''

Paul's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, tells the Post that when it comes to the racist material, Paul "abhors it, rejects it and has taken responsibility for it as he should have better policed the work being done under his masthead."

If you've read Reason's 2008 story, "Who Wrote Ron Paul's Newsletters?," there isn't much new in the Post account, which itself indicates a problem. At this point, the only one who can end interest in the story is Ron Paul himself.

I wish that Paul would be more forthright in naming the people behind the newsletters (and if he doesn't remember off the top of his head, he could certainly burn a few more calories in finding out). I don't think that Ron Paul is a racist and I agree the NAACP's Jealous that Paul's policies are in most ways far more beneficial to black Americans than those pursued by the rest of the Republican presidential field, the Democrats, and President Obama. Indeed, Paul is the only would-be GOP presidential nominee who is clearly against the drug war, which disproportianately affects African Americans. The economic freedom he promulgates, especially when concerning licensing regulations that hurt very small, low-capitalized ventures such as hair-braiding and taxi services, would similarly help low-income blacks as much or more than any other group in America.

Yet when you go back and look at the actual newsletters, the level of offensiveness and sheer stupidity is stunning. In one "Survival Report," for instance, the writer defends "Poor Marge Schott!," the rancid owner of the Cincinnati Reds who defended Hitler, railed against "sneaky goddamn Jews," and at one point whined about "million-dollar niggers" (one of whom, Eric Davis, had helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series). Schott was fined for such comments and eventually squeezed out of baseball. The writer of the Surivial Report likens such actions to being prosecuted for "thought crimes from the novels of Orwell and Huxley [sic]." While regularly arguing that businesses are private spaces that can set their own rules for employment and service, the writer argues that "Schott's leftist critics have no concern for the First Amendment." What's more, people who get bent out of shape by racist language "never seem to mind whenever someone uses the Creator's name in vain?" The writer also doesn't bother quoting Schott's slurs, a classic strategy in defending the indefensible.

Schott didn't deny making offensive comments, instead usually argued that she was joking or taken out of context. She worked in a business whose long history of institutionalized racism is still rightly a touchy subject; no one with half a brain could be surprised that she would get sanctioned for such loose talk, or eventually kicked out of the ownership club for good. Poor Marge Schott? Eh, I don't think so.

As I wrote in late December, I don't think the newsletters invalidate Paul's candidacy or his years of principled small-government legislating. But they remain disturbing and, more to the point, show a real failure of leadership first in their existence and second in his unwillingness to get to the bottom of a story that troubles some of his most sympathetic followers. His unwillingness to settle things once and for all is a sad reminder that no politician is perfect, even one who wants to cut $1 trillion from next year's budget.