Things got heated between Ron Paul and CNN's Gloria Borger Wednesday when she pressed him over his old, inflammatory newsletters. "I didn't write them, I didn't read them at the time, and I disavow them. That's it," Paul snapped.
Paul comes off sounding like a cranky old man. "I never read that stuff, I was probably aware of it ten years after it was written. And it's been going on twenty years that people have pestered me about this. CNN does every single time. When are you going to wear yourself out?"
The Atlantic Wire 's Adam Clark Estes dubbed Borger "a good journalist" for pressing Paul to explain the newsletters. "These things are pretty incendiary," Borger told Paul, who replied, "because of people like you" before taking off his mic and walking out of the interview.
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates is unsatisfied with Paul's "I didn't write it" excuse:
I think an honest reckoning with that defense would have someone question the faculties of an adult who would allow a newsletter filled--by Paul's own admission--with bigotry to be published under one's name . . . It is a peculiar thing when the basic standards of honesty and decency are lowered in direct proportion to the power one seeks to wield.
But Ron Paul's stance on his newsletters has changed over time, as, the Atlantic Wire 's Elspeth Reeve pointed out on Thursday. In a 1995 interview with CSPAN (which just so happened to pop up on YouTube on December 20), Ron Paul was much more eager to discuss his newsletters and their contents, and said:
Along with that I also put out a political -- type of business investment newsletter, sort of covered all these areas. And it covered a lot about what was going on in Washington and financial events, especially some of the monetary events since I had been especially interested in monetary policy, had been on the banking committee, and still very interested in, in that subject. That -- this newsletter dealt with that.
Reeve also unearthed a 1996 Dallas Morning News article where Paul takes more ownership of his columns than he is today. The reporter, Catalina Camia, specifically asked him about a 1992 column that contained the line: "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." The column also said black teens can be "unbelievably fleet of foot."
When pressed about the column, "Paul denied suggestions that he was a racist and said he was not evoking stereotypes when he wrote the columns. He said they should be read and quoted in their entirety to avoid misrepresentation," Camia wrote.
Michael Brendan Dougherty doesn't buy that defense. "It's hard to imagine a context that would make the above quotes defensible," he wrote in the Atlantic. Dougherty noted that many are skeptical of the claim Paul wrote the newsletters, as they don't jive with his rhetorical style and he can't be found on film espousing racists sentiments.
"So why were Ron Paul or his ghostwriters engaged in racism and conspiracy theories?" Dougherty asked. Well, the libertarian party was far more fringe in the '80s and '90s, Dougherty wrote, and it was hungry for any supporters it could sweep up. Therefore, the newsletters may have been part of an "Outreach to the Rednecks" strategy (developed by influential libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard) to push their libertarian ideas "into the middle of the nation's political passions." "As crazy as it sounds, Ron Paul's newsletter writers may not have been sincerely racist at all. They actually thought appearing to be racist was a good political strategy in the 1990s. After that strategy yielded almost nothing -- it was abandoned by Paul's admirers," Dougherty writes.
Salon's Alex Pareene distilled Paul's brand of libertarianism this way:
Ron Paul’s libertarianism has plenty of room for nativism and racism because so much of it does sound like a Pat Buchanan-style call for America to return to a golden age of white privilege. Paul isn’t a futurist ... He’s a goldbug. He’s a deeply religious anti-abortion small-town country doctor who basically wants the government to operate as it did in 1837.