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Ron Paul’s Newsletter Problem

Should Ron Paul find his currently upward trajectory to continue he will find himself facing greater media (and opposition) scrutiny.  One source of such scrutiny will be the newsletters he published over a multi-decade period.  James Kirchick described the basic history of the newsletter thusly back in a 2008 piece in the New Republic:

Paul’s newsletters have carried different titles over the years–Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report–but they generally seem to have been published on a monthly basis since at least 1978. (Paul, an OB-GYN and former U.S. Air Force surgeon, was first elected to Congress in 1976.) During some periods, the newsletters were published by the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, a nonprofit Paul founded in 1976; at other times, they were published by Ron Paul & Associates, a now-defunct entity in which Paul owned a minority stake, according to his campaign spokesman. The Freedom Report claimed to have over 100,000 readers in 1984. At one point, Ron Paul & Associates also put out a monthly publication called The Ron Paul Investment Letter.

Paul has, over the years, been criticized for these newsletters, although I would argue that he has never faced a full scale onslaught regarding them (and by “onslaught” I means intense and prolonged mass media scrutiny coupled with his political opponents pouring over them as well looking for lines of attack).  In the past he has attempted to deflect criticism by noting that he didn’t write all the newsletters himself (a defense that strikes me as anemic, as they were published under his name and without bylines).  Reason did a piece a while back on this subject:  Who Wrote Ron Paul’s Newsletters?

The main problem, as Kirchick notes, is this:

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.

Examples of problematic passages from the Kirchick piece are as follows:

The Freedom Report‘s online archives only go back to 1999, but I was curious to see older editions of Paul’s newsletters, in part because of a controversy dating to 1996, when Charles “Lefty” Morris, a Democrat running against Paul for a House seat, released excerpts stating that “opinion polls consistently show only about 5% of blacks have sensible political opinions,” that “if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be,” and that black representative Barbara Jordan is “the archetypical half-educated victimologist” whose “race and sex protect her from criticism.” At the time, Paul’s campaign said that Morris had quoted the newsletter out of context. Later, in 2001, Paul would claim that someone else had written the controversial passages. (Few of the newsletters contain actual bylines.) Caldwell, writing in the Times Magazine last year, said he found Paul’s explanation believable, “since the style diverges widely from his own.”

(Note:  it is unclear to me how the lines in question would be any less problematic in context).

And from the Reason piece:

The letters published between Paul’s first run for president and his return to Congress in 1996 are another story—replete with claims that Martin Luther King “seduced underage girls and boys,” that black protesters should gather “at a food stamp bureau or a crack house” rather than the Statue of Liberty, and that AIDS sufferers “enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.”

The one I have heard repeated the most is “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks”—a statement that Reason notes the Paul has “repudiated” and also about which he has states he has “no idea” who wrote it.  (A few more examples can be found here).

Now, Paul may be able to claim some level of plausible deniability about authorship, but it strikes me that this is insufficient to explain away items published in a newsletter bearing his name and that normally was written in a way that suggested he was the author.

Meanwhile, the topic emerged in an interview with Sean Hannity (transcript here) where Paul again rejected what had been written whilst still saying he had no idea who had written it (again:  in the newsletter with his name emblazoned on it).  This response prompted Commentary‘s Alana Goodman to note:

Ron Paul has had three years to formulate a response to these questions, since Jamie Kirchick‘s investigation into his newsletters came out in The New Republic. He had to know that he was going to get asked about this at some point during his campaign. And that’s his answer? That he doesn’t know who wrote these things? That’s completely unacceptable.

Indeed.

She goes to note:

And this was during a friendly interview with Hannity, who didn’t push back too hard. Imagine how that same conversation would have gone with someone from CNN or MSNBC, or even one of the news anchors from Fox.

Double indeed.

Dave Weigel, co-author of the Reason piece above, thinks that unless one of Paul’s GOP opponents decides to use this stuff in an attack that is will not emerge as a major issue.

Unless an opponent tries to tar Paul by saying he endorsed racism, Republican voters probably won’t hear about it. And will someobody attack him? Ah, here’s where the problems with the Paul moment come in. Paul’s very strong in Iowa and strong in New Hampshire. But after those states vote, the race moves to South Carolina and Florida. The first state has always been one of Paul’s weakest. The second state is simply too large for Paul’s fans to overwhelm the vote like they can in Iowa caucuses or in the relatively small New Hampshire primary. They’re mostly closed primaries, with no ways for liberal anti-war Democrats to boost Paul. So Republicans don’t think Paul will grow beyond his new, fairly large subsection of the GOP. Paul only becomes a problem to them if the race continues to the caucus states that he performed very well in last time, where he’s had extra time and money to organize.

As such, the logic goes, there will be no reason to seriously attack Paul.  A legitimate line of reasoning, I will admit.  Still, should Paul have some unexpected level of success, I expect the newsletter issue to become more prominent and I do think this presents Paul with a serious problem.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Al says:

    Paul will still claim that he didn’t write anything or have any editorial control over anything racist in those newsletters. Then when people start to ask why his campaign endorsed white supremacist Bill Johnson in 2008 he’ll go back to blaming it on an unnamed staffer. Then people will wonder just why he said he wouldn’t have voted for the Civil Rights Act.

    This is a big reason why Ron Paul isn’t, and shouldn’t, be taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 12

  2. A pretty thorough debunking was done in 2008. It’s perhaps a little uneven in quality, but I think it’s an interesting read, especially when Kirchick’s quotes are read in context. I agree that Paul should take some responsibility for what’s sent out in his name (something an applicant to a major executive position should be required to do), but I also think that Kirchick’s piece is hatchet job.

    Why the Beltway Libertarians Are Trying to Smear Ron Paul” by Justin Raimondo

    Anyhow, agree or disagree, I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on Raimondo’s debunking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  3. @Eric Williams: Thanks for the link. I must confess, however, that I wouldn’t consider that piece a “thorough debunking”–it mostly strikes me as attacks on other writers and attempts at justification and rationalization.

    My favorite: “One might quibble about the “fleet-footed” quip: it seems more like a compliment, albeit a left-handed one, rather than an insult—but never mind.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  4. PogueMahone says:

    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.

    Except that GOP primary voters wouldn’t consider raising these issues against Paul as an “attack.”

    Cheers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  5. @Steven L. Taylor: That’s a fair criticism, and I wish Raimondo could have suppressed his rapid loathing of the Reason/Cato crowd long enough to write without prejudice. There are informative parts to that piece, but I can understand how they could be obscured by the parts written as though spoken from a foaming mouth. Had I the time I might consider using Raimondo’s sources to write something more objective.

    Anyhow, let’s get really specific and ask this: What are your thoughts on the section beginning with “It was a rush job, and a sloppy one” and ending with ‘never mind proof of “racism.'”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Paul has “repudiated” and also about which he has states he has “no idea” who wrote it. (A few more examples can be found here).

    President Paul responded to the unprovoked nuclear attack on Tehran by the US of A, saying, “I repudiate that action and I have no idea who could have undertaken it. Therefor, it is not my fault.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  7. de stijl says:

    Commentary‘s Alana Goodman:

    Ron Paul has had three years to formulate a response to these questions, since Jamie Kirchick‘s investigation into his newsletters came out in The New Republic. He had to know that he was going to get asked about this at some point during his campaign. And that’s his answer? That he doesn’t know who wrote these things? That’s completely unacceptable.

    Maybe, I’m too big of a cynic at times, but this paragraph made me think that perhaps Paul doesn’t want to absolutely, totally disavow this stuff in case it catches on with the base. Face it, this stuff is catnip to a healthy chunk of the electorate.

    In the one chance in million he could actually win the nomination, then it would be to publish the actual author name(s) and deny that he had editorial control. Deny, deny, deny.

    Maybe 1 in a million is too high, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  8. de stijl says:

    I’m thinking about hiring G.A. Phillips to ghostwrite my comments. What could go wrong?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  9. @de stijl: You win the thread.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. mantis says:

    My favorite: “One might quibble about the “fleet-footed” quip: it seems more like a compliment, albeit a left-handed one, rather than an insult—but never mind.”

    No kidding. Those blacks, when they rob you, which they will, sure are fast at getting away! Quite the compliment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  11. Everyone that followed/follows the Libertarian Movement/Literature knows *who* wrote these newsletters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    Odd the usual suspects who make the rounds to defend GOP candidates no matter how egregious their behavior and speech are nowhere to be found in defense of Paul. It appears bigotry alone is insufficent to gain their support: one must also call for eviscerating the Constitution, war against Muslims, persecution of atheists and the beating and imprisonment of anyone who protests the existing order to get backing from the base.

    The most disturbing aspect of the last four years is that it starkly reveals a very sizeable chunk of the American electorate are insane and waiting for the opportunity to hurt anyone they consider to be the “Other”. I can’t believe I called myself a conservative Republican for so long and just turned a blind eye to it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  13. AnonRRealist says:

    Sadly, race realism is considered “racist,” regardless of truth. It’s the reason why we talk about “bad neighborhoods” and “bad public schools” as euphemisms. Detroit is said to be a destroyed and dangerous city because of “liberal policy” when it is inhabited by 81% “bad” type of people. While Sweden is much more liberal and heaven in comparison.

    Ron Paul will never be elected nationally because he has Eyes That Can See (or did, when the newsletters were written).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  14. @AnonRRealist: Blaming the problems of Detroit on the fact that there are a lot of black people living there is not “race realism” it is, in fact racism. It is also sloppy mono-variate thinking.

    And comparing Detroit to Sweden, as if the only difference between the two is the hue of the population is sloppy, mono-variate, racist thinking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Further that sort of racism fails to account for… say… Moldova, which despite a nearly 100% Caucasian population (the poorest country in Europe) which is far poorer that quite a number of countries who are populated almost exclusively by brown or yellow people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Jay says:

    @Al: FYI his campaign didn’t endorse Johnson, they accepted an online donation, and afterwards, publicly stated their opposition to his beliefs.

    Reading the newsletters is what turned me from a Paul supporter to a strategic Paul voter to now looking for another candidate. The things written under his name are disappointing, as was his angry response.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. G.A.Phillips says:

    I’m thinking about hiring G.A. Phillips to ghostwrite my comments. What could go wrong?

    :)…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. AnonRRealist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You and I both know I’m right, but I accept that you are a public blogger with a real name on the internet. I wouldn’t expect anybody in polite society to openly admit I’m right. Nonetheless, the evidence is there for all to see. Whether we talk about Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Birmingham, Memphis, Chicago, Baltimore, St.Louis, South Africa (or all Africa).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  19. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @AnonRRealist:

    I wouldn’t expect anybody in polite society to openly admit I’m right.

    So, basically, you’re admitting that you’re a racist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. @AnonRRealist: With friends like you, Dr. Paul doesn’t need enemies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Al says:

    @Jay: Actually, the donation was from Don Black, same Don Black who runs Stormfront. Paul kept the donation saying he’d use it for good. Contrast that with how Bob Barr handled a donation from Black.

    Bill Johnson was on Paul’s endorsement list but quickly pulled him when people started asking questions. Tom Lizardo released a statement claiming that Johnson didn’t go through a vetting process and the whole thing was in error.

    In isolation I’d be willing to write that off as an honest mistake. Given Paul’s history, I’m not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  22. Les Moore says:

    All articles up to this point seem to omit a very significant factor and that is that he made a lot of money peddling those newsletters…that he didn’t write…won’t divulge…that have his name all over them…written in first person…signed in first person…all legal claims going to Ron Paul & Assocs, but don’t have a convenient byline. About $1million/year is what he made! If someone handed me a mill a year, I think I’d know where it came from and what was behind it. He’s lying through his teeth but at the very least, and by default, that should be disqualifying. What’s he gonna tell us “sorry…I didn’t know my Sec’y of State was Klan”!? At the very, very least it speaks to his lack of skill in management, but I know better than that. There’s a lot more than just newsletters it’s not just 20 years ago that raises red flags…for me anyway.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. @Les Moore: Actually, I mentioned the money issue here yesterday.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. jb says:

    I’m a Ron Paul supporter and believe me, his fan base knows all about this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. de stijl says:

    @jb:

    I’m a Ron Paul supporter and believe me, his fan base knows all about this.

    That’s really disheartening.

    I may not agree with his policy choices, but not all of Paul’s ideas are unrealistic or outlandish. It’s sad that they’re now sullied with this rancid racist crap.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. James says:

    Ron Paul puts his principles and policies before his votes, something which no other politician has ever done. His passionate responses on the war is a great example. Stop trying to discredit Paul on something that he may or may not have said 20 years ago. He’s the most consistent candidate (politician) out there at the moment and although I believe everyone in the running for such an important role needs to be fully investigated, he is miles ahead than everyone else when it comes to being honest and consistent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  27. livex says:

    Stop trying to discredit Paul on something that he may or may not have said 20 years ago.

    Thank you for clarifying just how delusional Paul supporters are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. cindy says:

    @James: OMG…WAKE UP!!! This man IS a conspiracy theorist and a racist….c’mon, Alex Jones, Jesse Ventura…they both are behind him 100%….and he took money from the KKK back in the day, (google that one)…his main support comes from the pot smokers who want it legalized….if you think he will ever be president you really r delusional! If he gets the nomination, we will probably find out alot more gory details about him…and Obama will win…unless of course there is a 3rd party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  29. Censoring offensive and bigoted(oppositional) speech is relatively new. When these newsletters were published–it was a time of libertarian understanding. Now with Hate Speech laws–of wich are the logical conclusion to Politically Correctness– most are quick to take offense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. @Wesley Mcgranor:

    I could use some help on definitions here:

    1. “a time of libertarian understanding”? (I don’t recall the 1990s being a special time of libertarian understanding).

    and

    2. Which “Hate Speech laws” do you speak of? Also, why would the existence of such laws, if they did in fact exist, necessarily result in people being more prone to offense?

    The curious thing about your “defense” of Paul: you seem to agree with the content of the speech in question.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. One more thing: what censorship?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. James says:

    @cindy: Wake up? I’ve been reading right wing news for years now and it fucken stings to do it, but I do it because I believe everyone’s opinion is valid. All the opinions expressed on this page (from obvious right Paul haters) are so narrow minded, where is your proof? You try so hard to discredit him.

    Your reply is full of conspiracy theories lol eg, “He took money from the kkk”, “Support comes from pot smokers who want it legalized”, that’s rediculous, anyone with half a brain knows the war on drugs is a war that cant be one.

    You conservatives need to start thinking outside the box.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Chris says:

    Obama was a member of, and attended, a church for 20 years with a racist pastor and other racist individuals. Despite this, no one would seriously consider Obama a racist. Though there are differences, this is similar to Paul’s story. These mentioned remarks are unacceptable, and Paul needs to apologize in greater measure for his association with them, but I do not believe Paul authored or directed this hate speech. I am not here to defend Paul, but if you notice in debates and speeches, over the past 20 or so years, Paul seldom criticizes individuals. He is more interested in criticizing ideas (interventionism, the Fed, etc). When he does criticize an individual, the criticisms are usually weak and don’t involve personal or informatory comments. Though this issue deserves to be raised, judging by his character, I think it would be wrong to quickly characterize Paul as a racist and/or a liar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. Wesley Mcgranor says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Libertarian in the sense that certain cultural elements were intact. I am not talking about the crowd that claims to own the term. Also, i am no intellectual but a member of an actual culture, not an avid book reader nor collegiate theorist.

    Libertarian is in contrast to authoritarian.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. cindy says:

    @James: First of all, I am NOT a ‘right winger”…and you damn well know that Ron Paul is a conspiracy theorist!!! Why don’t you RP supporters just tell the truth about him and get it over with…it’s all going to come out in the end. OH, and I do listen to alex jones and jesse ventura…it stings to do so, but they give hell of information on the REAL Ron Paul….and believe me, I have been researching him for some time now….he isn’t any better than the rest of the candidates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. Jim says:

    I have no axe to grind in either direction but reading about Paul’s views on Blacks, Jews, and gays it seems to me that he could almost qualify to be a Grand Wizard of the KKK. I wonder if that is his problem and he just can’t quite keep it under wraps. One thing that really bothers me is all of the mud-slinging. Paul accuses Gingrich of a bunch of crap and now we find out Paul has his own dirty wash and skeletons to worry about, except Gingrich isn’t the one bringing it to light! It’s the same with Romney. He wants to spend millions throwing mud at Gingrich but is too much of a coward to debate him and prove what is true!!! And he has some skeletons he better be careful about or they might jump up and bite him in the a**! I just wish all of them would tell us how they planned to fix this d**n country instead of blasting each other. I want to know how they plan to get rid of Obama!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. James says:

    @cindy: What conspiracy theories? Ron Paul isn’t so sensitive he doesn’t speak his mind. Saying there are a lot of black people in jail is true, and treading lightly over the matter and giving them special rights is actually more rascist than not mentioning at all out of fear of being labelled a racist. If WE as a human race can’t learn to take shit as well as give it freedom of speech looks very dim indeed.

    Ron Paul will say what he believes even out of knowing he will lose votes because that’s what he believes is right. Can you say that for any other candidate?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0