Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Race, Ron Paul, the Primaries, and More -- Now and...at Lolita 2/6 with John Derbyshire!

Well, so much for that Ron Paul thing — he was fine on Leno last night, with or without media training from me, but he didn’t pull off any miracles in today’s New Hampshire primary and now has other PR problems, which I will attempt to explain below. As promised, I’ll turn my attention to other candidates after tonight, since he appears to be coming in fifth in the state that was perhaps most likely to love him.

It seems increasingly likely Republicans will consolidate around McCain as the one guy who can unite conservative factions and win over enough moderates to triumph in the general election — hopefully yielding budget cuts next year, the one thing I keep desperately longing for out of the whole sick political process — remember the idea of budget cuts?

Regardless of where things go from here, though, the nominee of each party will almost certainly be known by Feb. 6, the day after the so-called Super Duper Tuesday primaries, when about half the states vote — and on that day-after, we’ll gather at Lolita Bar at 8pm to hear some reactions to it all (Obama, Paul, Giuliani, race politics, math, or whatever else he feels like talking about) from National Review’s John Derbyshire, himself a Ron Paul booster heretofore.

Tempting as it is to bid farewell to my own Paul obsession on an optimistic, high note (crusade for liberty continues and all that, which is true), I ought to say something about the not-coincidental primary-day onslaught of articles about his past flirtations with conspiracies, racism, and militia-think, with two articles on the topic (from New Republic and Pajamas Media) linked for an oddly brief period on Drudge this afternoon (mercy on the part of libertarian-leaning Drudge?).

The Anti-Paul Articles

I can’t fault journalists for turning a harsh spotlight on Paul or any other political candidate, but I will say that Koffler, the Pajamas writer (and former Reason intern, apparently), must either have been a poor philosophy student or not much of a libertarian, despite his claims to the contrary. I know of no other libertarian who would consider it shocking that Paul admires gun ownership or that Paul denounces p.c. jury-tampering and UN eco-summits, for instance. Yet Koffler includes such items in his litany of ostensibly scary quotes from Paul’s old newsletters (which were apparently ghost-written and which he has since partially disavowed). Koffler seems thereby to suggest that these are alarming positions — or worse, he simply expects that his liberal-leaning audience will see them as shocking positions and doesn’t care whether they’re reasonable ones or not.

A handful of the quotes are genuinely shocking and inappropriate, but most are simply tactless statements of unpopular facts — such as the black crime rate being (for whatever tragic historical reasons) about seven times the white crime rate — a pattern that has held for at least twenty years, since it was about that long ago that I stumbled upon this unpleasant fact myself, not while reading some deranged Klan pamphlet but while reading through lots of Department of Justice stats based on crime victims’ own reports. I was at Brown at the time, so I had never once before — not once — heard that there really was a substantial difference in rates of criminality between ethnic groups and, arch-rationalist and arch-individualist that I was, took a thoroughly liberal pride in thinking that anyone who thought there were differential ethnic crime rates was probably an ignorant bigot.

Now, whether those differential rates are attributable to anything more than a lot of fleeting historical and social factors (for which whites are perhaps primarily to blame) or whether they are even fit topics for conversation is a complex subject on which reasonable people can disagree — but simply noting them cannot be considered damning evidence of evil intent. One could be the most warm-hearted of social-working reformers and prison-abolitionists — even a Marxist who viewed all crime through a lens of materialist determinism and class conflict — and still start from recognition of those differential rates. Claiming they aren’t there doesn’t make you a good liberal or libertarian individualist, it makes you wrong — as far as we can tell from the stats.

That doesn’t excuse turning social problems into apocalyptic or race-baiting rhetoric, of course, but like a lot of libertarians familiar with the weirder corners of the movement, I think I can understand how something resembling that happened.

How Did Paul Get Like That (Even If It Was Decades Ago)?

I notice Nick Gillespie, the outgoing (and outgoing) editor of Reason, basically called the Paul comments “jaw-dropping” and horrific on Reason’s blog. I’m sure he’s sincere (and that the militia-like views in Paul’s old newsletters are a far cry from the admirably hip, tolerant, and cosmopolitan version of libertarianism Nick did so much to forge during his stint as Reason editor). However, the newsletter quotes can’t be too much more shocking to Nick than they were to me — I’ve seen enough of the Mises Institute faction of libertarianism to know they sometimes sound like that (or used to, or do when taken out of context). Perhaps Nick, understandably, is a bit uncomfortable about how the public will now react to the February issue of Reason, already on stands, which has a fairly laudatory Brian Doherty cover article about Paul (and is scheduled to be followed with a March cover story by me about nanotech if all goes according to plan, by the way).

What a lot of the overheated Paul rhetoric of decades past comes down to, I think, is mainly the fact that he (like the establishment-hating Mises Institute crowd) never really expected to be in a position to have any of these hyperbolic rants affect policy or mainstream discourse in the slightest — any more than Ron Paul expected the countless bills he has introduced over the years calling for the abolition of the Federal Reserve and similar radical changes to get brought to the floor, let alone pass the House.

So, a lot of the nasty-sounding rhetoric, written in the militia-compound-like isolation of legislative irrelevance, was really meant to create colorful depictions of the sort of worst-case-scenario situations in which philosophy — not polite political debate — often deals:

•What if a mob came at your house threatening injury — not death — but you had a deadly Gatling gun as your sole means of fending them off?

•What if civilization fell apart and you had to declare your neighborhood a sovereign nation?

•What if some UN cabal said you had to wear a tracking device at all times but would otherwise leave you unmolested?

•Does a Korean protection racket cease to be a racket if they actually turn out with guns to defend your grocery store when the riots come?

Back when there was (more clearly) no hope of libertarian politicians getting anywhere in mainstream politics, libertarians — including, apparently, some on Paul’s congressional staff — spent a lot of time idly tossing around such questions, not so unlike the writers of the anarchist books that used to be sold by the (defunct) fringe publishing company Loompanics — post-apocalyptic how-to titles such as Where There Is No Dentist and Home and Recreational Use of High Explosives (both real). That doesn’t excuse the inexcusable bits, but it’s the broader, more harmless context in which a lot of those doomsday-is-at-hand Paul newsletters have to be taken (they were also from the 80s and early 90s — militias seem a lot less cute after Oklahoma City, and violent solutions to domestic problems in general are pretty taboo post-9/11, even among the kind of people who used to join militias — most of whom, of course, never shot anyone, it must be noted).

Similarly, I’ve got leftist friends who enjoy talking about idly-speculative questions like whether a perfectly egalitarian society would be devoid of gendered clothing, but even I would not suggest those people are an imminent threat to my (extremely manly) wardrobe.

What Is to Be Done?

So, yes, I knew — though not in as much gory detail as I do now — that Paul had ties to that milieu. I had hoped, nonetheless, that we’d at least make it to the New Hampshire primary without this side of Paul becoming a significant element of the conversation about him, so that when, (almost) inevitably, he exited the stage without becoming president, he could be remembered for the substantial good things about his campaign, as I hope will still be the case. He has obviously inspired far more lovers of liberty and limited government than he has hatemongers, and I trust those lovers of liberty will have far more impact on politics in the future than the handful of malevolent crackpots will.

And then, one day (as I have hoped for nearly two decades), I expect a smarter, more moderate, more polished version of Paul (or rather, of Paul’s best qualities) will emerge — someone with Steve Forbes’ establishment cred and Reagan’s charm — who will build upon that impressive tenth or so of the GOP vote that Paul has shown is ready for a libertarian message.

If someone as tongue-tied as Bush could become president and someone with as many fringey inclinations as Paul could get this far, I think a rational, clever, articulate, mainstream-sounding person adhering to the best aspects of their (admittedly very different) worldviews could win a landslide of American support. America apparently has principled conservatives as well as open-minded libertarian-leaning voters aplenty, and now it’s a question of getting someone to run who’s fully worthy of their support and their intellectual respect — not that electoral politics is the only way to make a difference (nor militias the only alternative).

The Weirdest Part

Incidentally, the most entertaining — though not necessarily most politically relevant — paragraph of the New Republic article about Paul is probably this one:

What’s more, Paul’s connections to extremism go beyond the newsletters. He has given extensive interviews to the magazine of the John Birch Society, and has frequently been a guest of Alex Jones, a radio host and perhaps the most famous conspiracy theorist in America. Jones — whose recent documentary, Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement, details the plans of George Pataki, David Rockefeller, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, among others, to exterminate most of humanity and develop themselves into “superhuman” computer hybrids able to “travel throughout the cosmos” — estimates that Paul has appeared on his radio program about 40 times over the past twelve years.

If Jones is against us becoming superhuman computer hybrids who can travel the cosmos, I am indeed appalled.

In other strange, transformative news, my friend Ali Kokmen, himself somewhat libertarian-leaning (and not in a remotely militia-like way, for any of his co-workers or neighbors reading this) reports that while the rest of the nation is excited about Obama, McCain, Paul, and such, he had a dream about lackluster Democratic candidate Chris Dodd. I don’t know what to make of that any more than he does, though I think I recall hearing it said that people sometimes hear the voice of Dodd in the middle of the night.

Book Selection of Last Month, Book Selection of Next Month

And speaking of blasphemous jokes, Ali recently gave me a copy of the book Atheist Manifesto, which I’ll review next month along with the opposing book Irrational Atheist — and an overview of the godless and eugenics-influenced early-twentieth-century horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft while I’m at it. In short, February will belong to St. Valentine and Black History for most Americans, but it’ll be atheism and eugenics here at ToddSeavey.com — what else would you expect from one of those libertarian fringe types?

To understand just how popular eugenics and political extremism were back in Lovecraft’s day — and to start the long, slow process of setting America free from that authoritarian legacy, a process of which the Ron Paul campaign is but one small, faltering step — don’t forget to read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, reviewed by me a couple weeks ago and officially on sale today. (Then come see Jonah’s fellow NR editor Derb talk at Lolita on Feb. 6, and you can give us an earful about every heretical idea alluded to in this blog entry.)


Dylan said...

I’ve been visiting Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute sites a lot more lately. I kind of like their fringiness.

Regardless, this kind of stuff does piss me off. I was becoming more and more enamored with the idea of Paul as at least a symbol for a movement that might continue to grow in the future, even though I knew how unlikely it was that he’d ever go all the way in this election or in any other. But these quotes — as Balko, Gillespie, et al have been saying at Hit & Run — really do put a stain not only on Paul, but on libertarians in general. I know that a lot of liberal friends of mine who might be inclined to see something in Paul’s anti-war, anti-imperialist, pro-freedom agenda will be extremely put off once they read some of that stuff and very well might be inclined to think that this is what most libertarians believe — that their support for things like states rights really is just a cover for returning to the Jim Crow era or something. I realize Paul probably didn’t write those articles, but he should offer better explanations. I’m sorry, the 1980s-1990s doesn’t qualify as “ancient history.”

You’re right about some of the quotes — pointing out that crime rates are higher in minority ghettos does not make one a racist. But the language of a lot of the pieces quoted really is pretty nasty and intolerant sounding.

I’m depressed. Must get back to work.

Todd Seavey said...

It’s always interesting to see how broad the conclusions extrapolated from something like this will be. I may have a tendency to underestimate fallout (perhaps a side effect of wanting to analytically compartmentalize things) — as in 1995, when (as I recall) I said via e-mail to a worried few friends that “no one” would leap from the Oklahoma City bombing to accusing the bland congressional Republicans of stoking dangerous anti-government radicalism, which of course some of their critics (including Bill Clinton) proceeded to do.

Matthew Yglesias takes the prize so far for despicable effort to maximize the damage-zone radius, saying this should be no surprise since, he claims, Barry Goldwater’s appeal was primarily to “white supremacists.” And if you believe that — or rather, if enough people believed that — the entire right may as well close up shop. But it’s not true. Nor is it true of Paul — nor even of the Mises Institute, lest we be too quick to turn them into the sole punching bag, isolable infection, and root of all evil here. I learned valuable things about economics from one of their seminars, as recounted in my Retro-Journal entry before last:


They’ve been mailing me issues of their _Free Market_ newsletter and book review pamphlet for years, and none of it contained racially inflammatory stuff, though co-founder Murray Rothbard had spent years reaching out to radicals across the political spectrum — some of them offensive, some of them crazy, but some of them far saner than anyone in “mainstream” politics. Sort of an any-coalition-in-a-storm strategy, with the occasional over-the-line result. Sigh. Onward and upward. Evolutionary learning process, etc., etc.