Saturday, January 19, 2008

The company he keeps

I first heard of US Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul via LewRockwell.com, a libertarian, "palaeoconservative" news site/blog that I had been keeping an eye on for a while.

LRC articles tend to be a curious mix of common sense (eg, their views on the Bush wars) and crackpotness (eg, their regular tirades against evolution). Recently I exchanged a couple of mails with Lew Rockwell on the evolution/creationism question and why a "libertarian" website should promote Christian fundamentalism. The answer seemed to be that it's Lew's site and he'll post whatever he likes. (I may revisit this shortly.)

As for Paul, he's stirred up a lot of people via his no-nonsense philosophy: constitutionalism, limited government, sound money (based on the gold standard), non-interventionist foreign policy. It is probably the last two that have attracted a lot of people, from the left as well as the right: the falling dollar and the Iraq disaster clearly worry a lot of Americans but are not being addressed very much by the candidates, especially on the Republican side. (Also in common with liberals, he opposes the war on drugs and the numerous infringements on civil liberties committed by the Bush administration.) Regardless of what one thinks of his extreme laissez-faire economic and social philosophy, his vision of a non-interventionist US is a tempting one.

But more recently, Paul has (not for the first time) been attacked, particularly in a recent article by James Kirchick in The New Republic, over newsletters that went out under his name in the 1980s and 1990s that express virulently racist, anti-semitic and xenophobic views. Paul's official response has been that he did not edit those newsletters or approve the articles in question, denounces such "small-minded thoughts", and takes responsibility for not overseeing better what went out under his name. Meanwhile, LewRockwell.com was full of infuriated posts claiming that all this was old hat and already adequately addressed, and attacking Kirchick for his young age and his alleged pimples.

But inquiring minds elsewhere wanted to know: if not Paul, who wrote those newsletters? Now Reason magazine thinks they know the answer: Lew Rockwell.

To an outsider like me, Reason's article raises serious questions. Even if Rockwell himself did not pen all (or any) of the offending articles, he seems to have had editorial oversight of the newsletter and undoubtedly approved the articles. And in contrast to the furious response to the New Republic article, I saw no mention, let alone discussion, of the allegation against Rockwell on LRC.

And what of Paul? Lew Rockwell is not a former rogue writer whose identity is long-forgotten. He is closely associated with the Paul campaign and his website has been the most consistent cheerleader for him. If he was the author, it is inconceivable that Paul was unaware of it; the decent thing would have been for Rockwell to raise his hand, and recant his views (one is allowed to change one's opinions, after all). And if Rockwell was not the author, surely he'd have denied it unequivocally by now.

It very much looks like the articles had, at the very least, Lew Rockwell's approval, and probably his authorship; and for Paul to finger Rockwell at this stage would be devastating for both of them. I await the outcome of all this with great interest. Most likely there will be no confirmation or denial of the authorship; the negative publicity will have its effect on Paul's numbers, his campaign will fizzle out, and LRC will continue as it used to, little-known outside a certain fringe group of libertarians.

Pity. Paul and Dennis Kucinich were the only candidates talking about the war and civil liberties. They'll both be out of the race soon. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

4 comments:

Abi said...

This LATimes op-ed has some interesting background info on the split that created paleo (Mises Institute) and cosmopolitan (Cato) versions of libertarianism. Paleo, apparently, acquired a whole bunch of unholy fellow travelers.

Is Cato all that better? I'm not sure; in the name of debate, they provide a forum for folks like Charles Murray.

Rahul said...

The Cato institute always seemed more neocon than libertarian to me. The Mises Institute stuff looks much more, I won't say reasonable, but honest on the surface. But probe a little deeper, and it seems it's quite crackpotted and not all that honest either.

I'm not sure where Ron Paul fits into all this. From what I've been reading recently, the palaeo/new split occurred after his 1988 Presidential run as a Libertarian candidate. And apparently this time he says if he does a third party run, it will not be as a libertarian but as an independent, because lots of democrats support him.

Anonymous said...

I am curious...Rahul, which of their stances makes you think the Cato institute is more neocon than libertarian?

Rahul said...

anon - sorry, I had a confused memory of their stand on the Iraq war. Perhaps I was thinking of the AEI. The other thing the Cato crowd have in common with neocons is their stand on global warming, but I suppose they could have different reasons for denying the phenomenon (and of course the Lew Rockwell crowd agree on that).