The Era of the Ron Paul Newsletters Isn’t Even Past

Since he started leading in Iowa caucus polls, everyone has been writing about Ron Paul.  Especially on libertarian and progressive blogs that I read, everyone is trying to figure out a way to square the parts they like about Ron Paul (anti-war, anti-US-imperialism, anti-Drug War) with the parts they don’t like.  And they are specifically trying to  figure out what to make over a series of newsletters with racist, homophobic, survivalist content that Ron Paul put out (but was likely ghost-written for him) in the early 1990s with some other prominent libertarians, including Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell.  See Conor Friedersdorf, Andrew Sullivan, Coates, Jacob Levy and many others for summaries.

What I find interesting is how much the discussion is focused on the past-ness of these newsletters.  The newsletters stopped with their racist, bigoted and survivalist themes by the mid-1990s, and people are now debating how much they should reflect on both Ron Paul and libertarianism.  Whatever the results of that debate, they represent an era now over – Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez argued that “the best refutation of the old approach is not the absence of race-baiting rhetoric from its progenitors, but the success of the 2008 Ron Paul phenomenon.”  But if you strip away the ugliness and just focus on the underlying political strategy and the coalition it hoped to bring into existence, the newsletters have not only survived but they form the core of the Tea Party movement.

What Ron Paul actually thinks of these newsletters is a bit of a mysterious, as he often dodges hard questions about them.  It is clear that Ron Paul has, to use Dara Lind’s phrase, a “Libertarianism for White Dudes” problem.  The ability to discriminate against a minority at one’s lunch counter is the core of freedom, but a woman’s ability to have some autonomy over what is going on in her uterus is incidental to liberty (Ron Paul has declared Right-to-Life is “the most important issue of our age”).

But I want to abstract away from both Ron Paul and the ugly tone and language in the newsletters.  What was their political strategy?  As Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez dug up, there was a very clear path.  According to Rothbard in 1992, they could gather disaffected working and middle class people by exposing an “unholy alliance of ‘corporate liberal’ Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America.”

Take white middle-class people and explain to them how the safety net is ok for them because they are part of the virtuous hardworking backbone of the country, but it’s a dangerous creation because elite liberals will use it to create a mass, dangerous Other that don’t deserve to be part of it.

20 years later, what forms the core of the Tea Party movement?  According to the latest research on the Tea Party from Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, here’s what is “identified as Tea Partiers’ most fundamental concern: their belief that hardworking American taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for undeserving freeloaders, particularly immigrants, the poor and the young.”

It’s the same logic, amplified by the fact that the relevant white middle/working-class generation is starting to approach retirement.  A demographic battle is being waged between an older, white middle-class generation versus everyone else, people who are especially young and more diverse.  Flip open a copy of National Journal and see how political elites are currently trying to understand the polarization going on in the country as a battle between Brown Versus Gray and it gives you a sense.  To the conservative movement that is doubling down on Gray, their strategy is that of the Ron Paul newsletter.

From summaries of the Skocpol research we learn that “Tea Partiers judge entitlement programs not in terms of abstract free-market orthodoxy, but according to the perceived deservingness of recipients…The fundamental distinction for them is not state vs. individual, it is the division of the United States into ‘workers’ vs. ‘people who don’t work.'”

Right now the major political struggles are over whether or not to scrap major parts of the Great Society for those younger than 55 while older folks take no hit.  There’s a big debate about what to think of the unemployed, whether they are peculiarly unadaptable and untrained, and whether the government should run a higher-deficit and expand monetary policy to reduce unemployment.  Though no groups are doing particularly well in this recession, the young, the poor and those with major debts are doing significantly worse – who are those that the Tea Party views as the underclass looking to loot them.  Just like in the Ron Paul newsletter.

Conspiracies still range over both – from the dollar bills of the Ron Paul newsletters to the FEMA camps of today.  But the core has moved to the battle over immigration, which functions as the glue of this coalition in much the same way that concerns about African-Americans and gays were in the actual newsletters.  The GOP primary has been a consistent battle to out-anti-immigration each of the other candidates, and the major issues have been how underserving undocumented workers are of any and all government services.  One of the most damning political mistakes that have happened so far in this GOP primary campaign was that Texas Governor Rick Perry was ok with allowing undocumented high-school students to qualify for in-state college tuition.  Beyond the primaries, when Congressman Joe Wilson yelled “you lie!” at President Obama during a join session of Congress, it was in response to President Obama’s statement “[t]here are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

Where did the racism go? In 1992 Rothbard argued for “Cops must be unleashed…and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error…[they should]…clear the streets of bums and vagrants. Where will they go? Who cares?” The Ron Paul newsletter argued that:

If you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be…Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the `criminal justice system,’ I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal…We don’t think a child of 13 should be held responsible as a man of 23. That’s true for most people, but black males age 13 who have been raised on the streets and who have joined criminal gangs are as big, strong, tough, scary and culpable as any adult and should be treated as such.

Stripping away the racist language, if the policy argument is that the criminal justice system needs to become more focused on the mass incarceration of young black men, with higher rates of arrests and longer sentencing, I think it’s safe to say that the Ron Paul newsletter completely won that policy issue.  From Pew Charitable Trusts, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, the incarceration rate for Black Male high school dropouts 20-34 goes from one in five in 1992 to over one in three now, even though crime rates drop significantly over that time period:

There’s a lot of explanations for why the newsletters stopped having its racists, homophobic and survivalist content.  The newsletters were probably alienating more people than they were bringing in.  The Oklahoma City bombing immediately changed the debate on survivalist groups.  Perhaps they thought that the tent could be bigger.  But we currently live in the aftermath of this strategy – if the conservative movement learned anything from 2010, it’s that being the party of the older, white vote that feels like they are losing the country to the looters can be a winning strategy,and it’ll form the outline of the 2012 strategy.

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24 Responses to The Era of the Ron Paul Newsletters Isn’t Even Past

  1. Spend a lifetime delivering over 3000 babies and look what happens:

    Real time mentions of “Ron Paul obgyn” (from the top 10 social search engines):

    Fail to notice a few sentences out of thousands of pages in a newsletter with your name on it:

    Real time mentions of “Ron Paul racist” (from the top 10 social search engines):


    • As the “positive” mentions outnumber the negative mentions in both those links you provide (as counted by that site, however it does it), I’m not sure what point you have proved, but based on the way you try and minimize the racism in the RPSR, I think your point is that one little oopsie shouldn’t wipe out a whole lifetime of good work.

      Which is true, it shouldn’t. The racism in the RPSR was not a little oopsie, it is a substantial number of glaring instances, including in some of the most high profile issues of the report (like the one following the LA Rodney King beating verdict riots – you telling me Dr. Paul only skimmed that supposedly ghostwritten issue?)

      Then there is a long track record of Paul speaking to groups like the CCC (why they don’t just call themselves the KKK I don’t know) and other white dominionist groups, and knowingly accepting large sums of money from them. There’s a reason he’s Stormfront’s favourite candidate. He deliberately dogwhistles to them, and they hear him.

      Whether he’s personally racist or just pandering to racists is pretty unimportant. Either he believes evil stuff or is evil enough to pander to evil people, I don’t see either as attractive. Maybe if I was a pregnant woman looking to find a physician to deliver my baby I would find the number of babies Paul has delivered important, but it doesn’t make him a good presidential candidate. Nobody said racists are incapable of any good deeds, but unrelated good deeds don’t make up for the racism when it comes to qualification for high public office.

  2. Thank you for this.

    I wish I had a nickel for every blog post to our local newsrag about “undeserving” welfare recipients…I could go to Vegas and work the nickel slots for a month.

    These old goons are just so, so, frightened of being dis-empowered, it’s beyond pathetic – it’s now pathological. I mean, really, what kind of self-esteem requires such smug self-regard and willingness to kick someone weaker around? How can someone be so afraid of almost everyone else, yet grovel at the boots of those who are taking them to the pulper?

  3. John Cummings says:

    Rothbard is a jew. Labor movement could use anti-immigration as as stepstone of controlling capitalism. This can go ALOT of ways. Just because nobody on the progressive side has brought this up to “old white dudes” is not a reflection of where this is going in the future. Eventually, the progressive movement may fracture, with one side embracing national socialism to combat excess free market doctrine. Obviously jewish Rothbard basically gave up. In the 60’s he was running with the New Left.

    Maybe young white dudes should start prophesizing about the future of the global capital owners dictatorship and the coming ‘free market totalitarian’ tryanny. When capital owners buy up cities and states. States rights is a scam you know.

  4. John Cummings says:

    fwiw, I don’t think Paul is a racist at all. His record is pretty clear on that, but he has such low opinion of “tradtional” libertarian politics in terms of making it into power, he whores himself to the “faux-populism” that appeals itself to aging white men while keeping some cred with younger voters(even though his policies would cripple them). So you get the mythical “paleo” movement with its judeo-christianity strived cultural goals under the guise of biblical capitalism lol.

    That is why I feel the left will turn reactionary down the road. Maybe not tomorrow, but they may have no choice, especially when the federal government is liquidated and the economy contracts severely under a libertarian fantasy. LIbertarians underestimate how much government has supported the economy to historic growth since the 30’s. Once that support is gone, a whole generation of growth could be wipped out. Leaving a bunch of angry, hateful and revenge minded young white males open for business.

    Then steps in a man, a man who is telling a story. A story of global capital run amok and are towns,cities and states being sold to capital owners, several foreign. We no longer control our own country. It has all been sold away. The rich live in privilege of their private services(fire stations for example) while we live in rot and despair. This hatred can turn into such a orgy of political oppourtunity for the left. But doesn’t it sound familiar to something we hear now? Their main three goals:
    1.Medicare for all
    2.Major public investment into infrastructure
    3.Raising revenue by taxing the wealthy

    would all be possible on a destroyed economy and isn’t possible now. Yeah, it may mean acting like a bunch of racist,incoherent aholes, but business is business. You gotta take advantage. If I was a old man then, I would be a little worried.

  5. sneezy says:

    “…likely ghost-written for him…”

    While I recognize that there seems to be a consensus coalescing around that view, I am not aware of any good, specific reason to think that anyone other than Paul wrote his newsletters. I do not find his claim not to have written parts of them (parts he would now like to disown for obvious reasons) credible in the least. He could make his claim more credible by naming the person who did write these things, but I do not expect him to do that.

    Honest question: are you aware of any particular reason to think this stuff was written by anyone other than Paul himself?

  6. JTFaraday says:

    so…Ron Paul is a Republican? Did we not already know this?

    We can’t say that Ron Paul *invented* in the 1990s a Republican electoral strategy that was not only de riguer but already well analyzed by scholars–as for example in Omi and Winant’s “Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s,” published in 1986.

    Must be a slow news day. Now, actually, the interesting element would be the survivalists. That’s not something you see everyday. I guess you scrape the bottom of the barrel if you’re a libertarian. Or, maybe, survivalists are the only real libertarians, as opposed to the white collar opportunists who are positioned to take advantage of our neoliberal federal government policy who happen to read Reason magazine and think they’re hard scrabble “survivalists,” LOL, because they can’t recognize an actual welfare policy when they see it.

    Either way, I doubt we’ll think about it too much because we don’t already have an automatic script for that.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. It is good to hear someone finally say what has been obvious to me from the start. The real issue of Ron Paul’s newsletters isn’t so much the racism or the homophobia. It’s the nasty, punitive attitude toward “the Other.” The basic psychology underlying it is exactly the same psychology underlying calls to double GTMO, to torture Arab terrorist suspects, to crack down on illegal immigration, to tremble in fear of shariah law taking over and so forth. The targets have changed, nothing else.

    The real irony is that a lot of Paul’s followers are people thinking he is the one to move away from this nasty, punitive approach.

  8. Matt Haak says:

    As a long-time Ron Paul supporter, the Newsletters are not news to me but they are unfortunate for sure. Mike’s perspective in distinguishing anti-statism from anti-otherism is insightful. But this very distinction is what leads so many Ron Paul followers to believe he didn’t write those words. Many of us have read or listened to literally hundreds of hours of his speeches and have read countless pages of his writing, from early in his career to the present. In all of it, he speaks in terms of anti-statism, never anti-otherism. Thank you, Mike, for clarifying exactly the way these racist comments Paul has denied writing are so unlike the volumes and volumes of things he has in fact written.

  9. Tim says:

    This post gave me sort of an “aha!” moment. I was thinking about why it was so familiar that people with privilege would be so afraid of those who have none, and it hit me. The argument (which you linked to not too long ago) that conservatism has always been this way, that it is about creating and defending centers of privilege, it all sort of clicked. It is consistent and appears at least on its face valid.

    The scary part that follows from that notion is that if any group can become this way in the industrialized world, can it actually be stopped?

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  15. MinnItMan says:

    I’ve met Rep. Ron Paul. I like Ron Paul. I think he could use a little education on the American Civil Rights Movement, the remarkable people who helped make it happen and the sometimes-supreme sacrifices they made. And the fact that many “good people” stood in the way and many more said “not now.” When I was a conservative, I never was able to feel worse than ambivalent about the 60s. Despite its messiness and multiple tragedies, I now think that it was an era that put America on a much better course than we had been on. Conscious decisions and actions of imperfect people during that era have given America a great legacy, and have given real meaning to saying things don’t have to be the way they are. There is such a thing as change for the better. It’s not easy, or free, but I am not ambivalent that both the United States Constitution and the American constitution are better (mostly*) following the struggles of the 1960s.

    I think I like President Obama. I voted for him. He was the first Democrat I ever voted for. I had and continue to have doubts about his executive ability. I had and continue to have doubts about Rep. Paul’s executive abilities. The only other candidate I would consider is Gov. Romney, who does have proven ability, but whose religion (the truly American religion of Revelation – Mormonism) will cost him something, and whose recent work history as a hedge fund CEO will surely remind plenty of voters what they [rightly] despise about our economic regime.

    I know something about Rep. Paul and his connections to some of the folks involved or formerly involved with a group called the League of the South – who may have been the “ghostwriters.” It would be easy, too easy, to call them racists. Instead, I would use Gov. George Wallace’s term. They are “pointy-headed intellectuals” whose arrogance and over-blown sense of grievance blind them toward what they messing with. I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather be called a racist. I don’t actually think the LoS-ers I’ve read, and the few I’ve met, are genuine racists. In fact, I’m nearly sure of that. They are, however, inflexible ideologues who appear to delight in adopting repellent in-your-face positions that, IMO, are simply just high-brow FU’s to what they perceive as the intolerant forces of political correctness. I would add this piece – just got back from a visit with the family at my dad’s. I have a niece who’s a senior in college and didn’t know what diversity training is, and she’s a Peace and Justice major. I would say it time for the anti-PCers to chill out. It’s a bad game and it’s well past time to stop.

    In any case, Glenn Greenwald wrote this piece yesterday, and I thinks it’s worth a read

    * (asterisk denotes ways in which we are not better off since the 60s and with which I agree with Mr. Greenwald, and with which I vehemently disagree with conventional conservatives, and regrettably, partisan liberals, as well):

    • Treg Loyden says:

      Oh Thank You MinnItMan for not giving the Anti-PCer the “racist” ticket.. Oh thank you thank you thank you master of the universe. You write: “They are, however, inflexible ideologues who appear to delight in adopting repellent in-your-face positions that, IMO, are simply just high-brow FU’s to what they perceive as the intolerant forces of political correctness. I would add this piece – just got back from a visit with the family at my dad’s. I have a niece who’s a senior in college and didn’t know what diversity training is, and she’s a Peace and Justice major. I would say it time for the anti-PCers to chill out. It’s a bad game and it’s well past time to stop.” To us anti-PCers, its not a ‘high brow” intellectual game of no importance….its not a game at all. Its serious business when you PC’ers have enacted very unlibertarian laws and have stiffled free speech. Hate Crime is flat out the wrong kind of legislation that comes from such incorrect freedom thinking. Diversity training is another that makes one roll the eyes. The worse part Political Correctness and its wide and vague definitions has been perhaps has been The New Republic’s succcessful attempt at equating the dislike of the government in Israel & its policies with being antisemitic and antisemitism generally. Talk about stiffing free speech, its been done by the “PC Thought Police”. Now not even libertarian jews from whom Ron Paul gets his inspiration dare speak out about the racist apartheid policies of by Israel –EVEN WHEN IT IS A CLEAR VIOLATION of the very PRIVATE PROPERTY INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS LIBERTARIAN PRINCIPLES that they champion. Sad, turly sad. .Ayn Rand failed and I believe Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman and Ludwig Von Mises failed. The living libertarian Jews today all prefer to talk about something else, except maybe the great Sheldon Richman, but even he has written far to little. . .

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  19. C. Wendt says:

    Let it be pointed out that Ron Paul argues and always has argued that black incarceration rates are too HIGH, that this is an injustice, and that it should be ended with an end to our standing police state policies, and that Ron Paul has voted this way and introduced legislation to this effect. The evidence indicates that these offensive newsletter articles do not reflect Ron Paul’s views on race.

    • Treg Loyden says:

      and not to mention the ONE issue he had a change of heart on: The Death Penalty.
      When DNA data came back exposing the innocent blood, and of course that is innocent black blood, Ron Paul did what no one else has done, changed his position NOT BECAUSE it was politically expedite (it hurt him as a Republican). Does not sound like an action of a “racist” to me.

  20. Subjectmoney says:

    Ron Paul is NOT a racist. Listen to all of his speeches and interviews and see if you can find anything that sounds like that which has been written in the newsletters.

  21. Treg Loyden says:

    Wow that was some interesting THEORY… but totally not true. Go ahead and believe it if it makes your liberal feelings feel better about rejecting Ron Paul. You weave a false tail of conspiracy. As a long time reader and subscriber to the Ron Paul INVESTMENT newsletters for all the years (Hence it was not the ‘Ron Paul Racist Newsletters’) I can tell you that they were at war with the Political Correctness that was sweeping America at the time. Reason and Cato went with the wide and vague terms of PC. Thankfully, the RP newsletters did not. So for the record, nothing in those newsletters was “racist”. As much as liberals and big govt conservatives like Sean Hanity-Insanity want to say it so, it still is not so. The fact that the left libertine wing of libertarianism went PC, and to prove its PCness “outs” Ron Paul 5 days before the 2008 New Hampshire primary, still does not make it so. The fact that THE NEW REPUBLIC liberal rag was one of the first PC champions and at war with the Ron Paul Newsletters who called TNR “socialist” to their charge “racist” is a fact that should not be ignored. The fact that Political Correctness in now nearly universal still does not make it “right” or “correct” or with pure unbeatable assumptions. Racism, the definition might surprise you, is NOT defined the way the liberal mag The New Republic defines it or for that matter the rest of Politically Correct media does. The way Ron Paul Newsletters and the non PC world defines racism is thus: “Racism is the denigration of an ethnic characteristics (real or imagined) in an attempt to gain LEGAL discrimination.” Hence, simple generalities (good or bad, real or imagined) about an ethnic group is simply NOT racists. I know, I know, in your “multi-culturally politically correct” super sensitive universe, it is, but it is not. Last night on the Daily Show with John Stewart Charles Barkley stated about hockey that “brothas don’t skate. We just don’t skate”. Well that got a laugh because it is an unspoken generality about black people, yet there was nothing racist about it. It is not racist if ANYONE says it, despite what Political Correctness says. If Charles Barkley had said, ” If you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can
    be…Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the `criminal justice system,’ I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal…We don’t think a child of 13 should be held responsible as a man of 23. That’s true for most people, but black males age 13 who have been raised on the streets and who have joined criminal gangs are as big, strong, tough, scary and culpable as any adult and should be treated as such.” [By the way, all those sentence were put together by YOU and they did not all follow together like that. Which means, you took them COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT. How would you like me to take four or five of your sentences spread out over several years and put them all together in one paragraph? Yea, I didn’t think so. But THAT should let the objective reader know how desperate and hard the Left is trying to hurt the good Doctor Paul. At 76 years of age and over 40 years of public life and dozens of books and thousands of written essays, a this is all you’ve got on the man? Yes its a sad attempt at smearing NeoCon style. But don’t worry, they are doing it too, right along with you, dropping context and smearing. But Doctor Paul’s true nature can be seen by anyone willing to look and listen for 5 minutes ]

    NOTHING about that would be called RACIST if Charles Barkley said it. Indeed, it is NOT racist at all. There is no call for LEGAL discrimination BECAUSE of SOME bad ethnic characteristic. There is no call for any Legal discrimination at all and there is no call for ANY discrimination period. Notice this statement, “If you have ever been chased by a white middle-aged cop, you know that after 50 yards you are home free”. Is THAT racist? No, again its a generality that may or may not be true, just as its a generality to say that criminal black teenagers, are very quick. Moreover, its not even a negative of the ethnic group to be fast. Notice that real non-PC racism captures real racists such as Hitler and the KKK who routinely denigrate ethnic characteristics and use those ‘faults’ as ‘reasons’ for legal discrimination. Notice how with Hitler ‘those jewish cockroaches’ are not fully human and thus legal discrimination is therefor ‘justified’? That is what racism is. That is what racist do. Those kinds of remarks are racists remarks. Hitler did it, the KKK does it, and even black waring tribes do it, But neither Charles Barkley or Ron Paul INVESTMENT Newsletter was calling for legal discrimination. nor was their ethnic characteristic disparagement.

    Now I know that few liberals are as brave as this one to go up against Bill OReilly and call a spade a spade without backing down or seeking some PC compromise “position”, . … but I do expect that REAL liberals and progressives to champion the man who champions 1/2 THEIR CAUSES & PRINCIPLES. Indeed, if the 2012 election year vs different and the shoe was on the other foot, you better believe libertarians everywhere would be crossing party lines (what the heck are they anyway but false self image constructs that keeps people prisoners of the fraudulent 2 party system?) to vote for an ALan Grayson or Denis Kucinich. . ..

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