Ron Paul is exactly like other politicians

The fans of Ron Paul often describe him as a principled man. Unlike other politicians who swing with the wind and pander, Paul sticks to his guns and says what he means. Or so the story goes.

When stories about Ron Paul’s decade-long racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and otherwise disgusting newsletter surfaced, the Ron Paul supporters found themselves in a difficult bind. If Ron Paul is a straight-shooter who says what he means, then what do we make of these racist newsletters? Do they say what he means?

Despite originally taking responsibility for the newsletters and even defending them at times, Ron Paul eventually denied writing them and denied knowing what was in them at the time of publishing. This story is so implausible that it is surprising anyone ever believed it. Even Newt Gingrich’s ongoing lie that he was paid $1.6 million dollars from Freddie Mac to provide historical advice is more plausible than Ron Paul’s newsletter defense. Nonetheless, the Ron Paul supporters lapped it up and claimed that Paul had no idea what was being published under his name for more than a decade.

As transparently silly as that defense is, it is starting to crumble even more. The Washington Post ran a story today in which they interview those who worked in Paul’s company at the time the newsletters were published. It turns out Ron Paul was actively involved in the running of his company and the newsletters:

“It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it,’’ said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul’s company and a supporter of the Texas congressman.

Another anonymous associate of Paul furthers:

“It was playing on a growing racial tension, economic tension, fear of government,’’ said the person, who supports Paul’s economic policies but is not backing him for president. “I’m not saying Ron believed this stuff. It was good copy. Ron Paul is a shrewd businessman.’’

So what does this say about Ron Paul? There are two options. Either Ron Paul believed the bigotry he published, or he did it to pander to an audience that he knew would buy it — or both. Even if we accept at face value the claim that Ron Paul is not actually a racist or homophobe — something which nobody knows for sure except Ron Paul himself — that only means that he is a typical politician. In the newsletter, he is pandering to a white supremacist base that he knows will buy up his product and support him. Of course, that is the precise kind of unprincipled pandering that his supporters claim Paul would never do. According to his supporters, only establishment politicians do that kind of thing, not Dr. Paul.

Ron Paul supporters increasingly confronted with the reality of Paul’s past need to change their tune. Claiming that Ron Paul never saw the newsletters is no longer even remotely serious. Instead, as Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out today, honest Ron Paul supporters are now pressed to make a different defense:

If you believe that a character who would conspire to profit off of white supremacy, anti-gay bigotry, and anti-Semitism is the best vehicle for convincing the country to end the drug war, to end our romance with interventionism, to encourage serious scrutiny of state violence, at every level, then you should be honest enough to defend that proposition.

Whether any Paul supporters are up to that challenge, we shall see.

Imagine a class-centered campaign against Mitt Romney

With inequality growing, middle-class wages stagnant, lower-class wages falling, record high corporate profits, and substantial high-end income growth, a presidential campaign centered on class is not out of the question. Mitt Romney — who almost perfectly embodies the greedy, privileged, Wall Street Banker stereotype — would be an incredible candidate for just such a campaign. Consider the following things about Romney:

  • Mitt Romney ran a private equity firm that bought out companies and laid off scores of workers while extracting tens of millions of dollars in debt-financed dividends.
  • Mitt Romney admitted to paying around a 15 percent tax rate on his income because most of it comes from capital gains. The capital gains Mitt Romney collects as his main income are not subject to payroll taxes either. Despite having much lower incomes than Romney, middle-class families pay anywhere from 15 to 25 percent marginal tax rates on top of a 7.65 percent employee-side payroll tax rate.
  • Mitt Romney remarked that in addition to his primary income source — capital gains — he makes some money from speaker fees but “not very much.” That “not very much” turns out to be $360,000 per year, or more than 7 times the median household income. Romney’s understanding of “not very much” will probably not resonate with most people.
  • Mitt Romney accuses those who talk about inequality as participating in the bitter politics of envy, and suggests that it is only appropriate to talk about inequality in quiet rooms, i.e. not publicly. With half of Americans reporting that they are worse off financially now than a year ago, accusations that discussions of economic inequality are merely envy could alienate those who are suffering.
  • Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, was a rich businessman and governor of Michigan. Romney’s rise to success then is hardly the kind of motivational rags-to-riches story that the defenders of inequality so often hide behind.

In a society that increasingly recognizes the growing class tensions between the haves and the have-nots (a full 66% of Americans think there are strong conflicts between the rich and the poor), Romney’s almost cartoonish amount of wealth, his previous jobs, and his out-of-touch statements could become a huge liability for his campaign. After forty years of the benefits of productivity increases going exclusively to the top ten percent of earners, Wall Street wrecking the economy via the housing bubble, and hundreds of billions in unpopular Wall Street bailouts, the last thing most Americans probably want is a candidate like this:

Romney pictured center.

One missed note about Ron Paul

In my long Ron Paul post, I left out a point I wanted to make about Paul’s dog-whistle politics. For those unfamiliar with the idea, dog-whistle politics is “a type of political campaigning or speechmaking which employs coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience.”

The most striking explication of dog-whistle racial politics on the right-wing comes from the famous Republican strategist Lee Atwater. Atwater remarked:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

The difficulty with certain kinds of dog-whistle politics is that you cannot ever be certain whether a politician actually intends a dog-whistle effect. A politician who is genuinely interested in cutting welfare programs is not readily distinguishable from one whose criticism of welfare is simply a coded way to signal that they think Blacks are lazy (e.g. those who perpetuated the welfare queen stupidity).

So the best you can generally do with any given politician is guess what they are trying to say. But with Ron Paul’s checkered past, it becomes very difficult not to regard his adamant dislike for the federal government, welfare programs, and the Civil Rights Act as nothing more than Old South dog-whistle politics.

In any case, you know that is how the racist fringe he has engaged with in the past understands those statements. That is what explains the swell of white supremacist support Paul received in 2008 and again this election. It is possible that Paul is totally innocent in all of this, but extremely implausible. His years of working the racist fringe along with his former chief of staff Lew Rockwell — the libertarian tactician who celebrated the congressional campaign victory of KKK Grand Wizard David Duke — has put him in the perfect dog-whistle position among the right-wing fringe.

Whether Paul is intending racial dog-whistling or these right-wing groups are just projecting it onto him is ultimately of little importance. The fact simply is that Paul’s desire to eventually cut all government social programs will hurt people of color the most. The racists know it; Ron Paul knows it; and, it would be devastating if Paul ever had a change to make it happen.