I can’t say that I am surprised by the content of recently unearthed Ron Paul newsletters from the 1990’s that talk about a coming “race war,” or about Congressman Paul’s continuing connection to the John Birch society. Neo-Confederates, white supremacists, and those who hate immigrants and gays have been vocal supporters of the conservative wing of the Republican Party for the last 40 years so it is not surprising that Rep Paul would count people with such views among his most loyal supporters. Nor he is alone in such a posture. During her run for the Vice-Presidency, Sarah Palin attracted more than a few such people to the rallies she organized, to the great embarrassment of John McCain, while racist imagery was a fixture at early rallies of the Tea Party before leaders of that movement were able to persuade, or force, individuals with such views to go into deep cover.
But Ron Paul is not your ordinary conservative Republican. The success of his current run for the Republican nomination depends on him persuading Democrats attracted to his anti-war, pro civil liberties policies to register as Republican. Moreover, his presidential run, either as a Republican or an independent, cannot gain traction without gaining support from at least some people of color, leftists and liberals.
If these people are like me- a white leftist who lives in an heavily immigrant city, works in a predominantly black workplace and is part of a multiracial family- they will have something close to zero tolerance for racism, sexism and homophobia. They are not only going to look closely at how Rep Paul responds to these latest revelations, but how his most impassioned white followers act when he is raked over the coals in the media because of suggestion that his campaign is tainted by such prejudices
In my own way, I have been very closely observing how the libertarians to whom I have been connected by social media have dealt with the new revelations about Ron Paul’s past. Have they responded by calmly pointing out that the Ron Paul campaign, and the libertarian movement generally, is a big tent that welcomes blacks, immigrants and gays, or have they attacked those who demand that Rep Paul respond forthrightly and quickly to the new revelations as enemies of liberty whose motives are suspect?
The informal results of my little survey may surprise my friends on the left. The majority of the libertarians I work or correspond with have pointed out that the sentiments in those newsletters do not represent what Rep Paul, or the vast majority of his followers stand for and insist that the movement they are a part of will remain inclusive and multiracial. I don’t necessarily agree with all their conclusions, but the manner in which they have responded has been re-assuring. In defending Rep Paul, they have not allowed themselves to become the very people they were accused of apologizing for or protecting.
However, a few of the Ron Paul supporters in my networks have completely flipped out over the new accusations and have struck out at anyone and everyone who raises questions about the Paul campaign with injured innocence and a torrent of abuse.
Implicitly and sometimes explicitly, they have said that racism is no longer an issue in American society, and that critics of Rep Paul are “playing the race card” to undermine the campaign of a great patriot and a great American
This argument is not only unconvincing, it is counter-productive. It suggests that supporters of Rep Paul have something to hide, most probably the very attitudes that critics accuse the movement of harboring
Let me conclude with the following suggestion. If supporters of Rep Paul want to continue to attract a multiracial following, they will have to deal in a serious and principled way with accusations of racism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant prejudice, not move into a posture of denial
In our very NON post racial society, denying racism’s existence is a posture that arouses, rather than defuses, suspicion among racism’s long time victims.
Healing America’s racial wounds requires open discussion and debate. Those who call for a cover up when real issues arise contribute to the continuation and intensification of the very divisions they claim to abhor.
December 27, 2011