[Posted by Karl]
Sorry to keep working this story like a dog’s chew toy, but if the final Des Moines Register poll is accurate, Ron Paul’s campaign may be fizzling sooner rather than later. If so, I may be running out of time to thank him for the gift he has given everyone else in American politics.
One of the main themes of my posts on Ron Paul’s long history of publishing racist, anti-gay, conspiracy-mongering newsletters has been to focus on his apologists and supporters in the media. Since I last wrote on the subject, we can now add to that list Reason’s Matt Welch (who ignores the newsletters) and the Cato Institute’s Ed Crane (who glosses over the subject, although he’s the guy who revealed that Paul once claimed his best source of congressional campaign donations was the mailing list for The Spotlight, the conspiracy-mongering, anti-Semitic tabloid run by the Holocaust denier Willis Carto).
What makes professional libertarians apologize and spin for the longtime publisher of a racist, anti-gay, anti-Israel, conspiracy-mongering newsletter, one who still associates with the John Birch Society and neo-Confederates, and panders to 9/11 Truthers and other conspiracy mongers? Jamie Kirchick, who did yeoman’s work researching and bringing the newsletters into public view, suggests the fault lies in libertarianism itself:
Paul’s following is closely linked with the peculiar attractions of the libertarian creed that he promotes. Libertarianism is an ideology rather than a philosophy of government—its main selling point is not its pragmatic usefulness, but its inviolable consistency. In that way, Paul’s indulgence of bigotry—he says he did not write the newsletters but rather allowed others to do so in his name—isn’t an incidental departure from his libertarianism, but a tidy expression of its priorities: First principles of market economics gain credence over all considerations of social empathy and historical acuity. His fans are guilty of donning the same ideological blinders, giving their support to a political candidate on account of the theories he declaims, rather than the judgment he shows in applying those theories, or the character he has evinced in living them. Voters for Ron Paul are privileging logical consistency at the expense of moral fitness.
But it’s not simply that Paul’s supporters are ignoring the manifest evidence of his moral failings. More fundamentally, their very awareness of such failings is crowded out by the atmosphere of outright fervor that pervades Paul’s candidacy. This is not the fervor of a healthy body politic—this is a less savory type of political devotion, one that escapes the bounds of sober reasoning. Indeed, Paul’s absolutist notion of libertarian rigor has always been coupled with an attraction to fantasies of political apocalypse.
Kirchick likely goes too far, even in that excerpt; earlier, he notes that Paul’s media apologists generally don’t support the newsletters, but avoid them entirely. Even unhinged conspiracy theorist Andrew Sullivan tiptoed back from his defense of Paul in the face of a reader backlash.
Rather, we should take the professional libertarians at face value. Welch, Crane and their ilk are spinning for Paul because they see his campaign as their best chance at gaining real-world political influence. They are deluding themselves about this; a protracted Paul campaign would set the image of libertarianism back to what it was in the mid-Sixties, because Paul’s campaign is ultimately funded by and founded on an express political strategy of appealing to the worst aspects of human nature. But they truly seem to believe otherwise.
This is a wonderful discovery. For a very long time, a broad slice of libertarians, including many professional libertarians, have cultivated a particular political image. They looked down on those who engaged in grubby, traditional, two-party American politics. They snarked at people for selling out their principles in the service of clinging to political power. Indeed, they tended to focus on Republicans as hypocritical, fair-weather friends of small government and free markets.
Those days are over. At least, the days of professional libertarians walking around with upturned noses without everyone pointing and laughing is over. Any notion that professional libertarianism is solely interested in its principles instead of the grubby business of winning elections is done. The high-minded professional libertarian class has jumped off their pedestals and now wallow in the muck with everyone else, demonstrating they will overlook the hideous flaws of their standard-bearer in return for even the mere hope of more national political influence. And for that gift, if for nothing else, we can thank Ron Paul.
UPDATE BY PATTERICO: This is an excellent piece by Karl. I would make one observation: I don’t think it’s fair to say Matt Welch has ignored the newsletters. He does not mention them in the piece linked by Karl, but he has discussed them recently and extensively, as you can see here.
UPDATE BY KARL: I appreciate Pat’s update. I urge people to read the Welch piece he linked, because it shows a man in very deep denial of Paul’s continuing association with nutters.