Tuesday, January 08, 2008

TNR on Ron Paul

As you may know there have been rumors about racism associated with Ron Paul's political activities; TNR has the substance behind them here -- the "outrageous statements," as it calls them. Or, rather, I should say, it tries to present the substance, because it is a very poorly thought-out article; it manages to raise some things that need to be taken very seriously in the midst of a considerable amount of bungling. I take the racism charge, and some of the evidence for it in the article, very seriously indeed, and think everyone should; but I am not at all impressed by the article itself. The corresponding article admits that while the association is clear, the actual connection to Ron Paul's own views is in some cases ambiguous. Some of the statements are serious cause for concern, but some of them are grasping at straws. These three, for instance, are proposed as outrageous statements with regard to race:

This newsletter describes Martin Luther King Jr. as "a world-class adulterer" who "seduced underage girls and boys" and "replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration."

The January 1991 edition of the Political Report refers to King as a "world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours" and a "flagrant plagiarist with a phony doctorate."

A February 1991 newsletter attacks "The X-Rated Martin Luther King."

But none of these are obviously outrageous, whatever one's view about their accuracy or restraint; nor are they obviously signs of racism. And there's quite a bit of this stretching. I count some (very) worrisome instances on the issue of racism (although fewer than Kirchick tries to claim) and a few tasteless comments on homosexuality. On the other side, there is more than one case where it's implied that the passage in question endorses a position it only describes, taking a different position in the larger context. Contrary to what Kirchick several times tries to imply, there is nothing particularly wrong or horrible about sympathy for secession in general; nor about criticism of Martin Luther (The sort of narrow and poorly informed stereotypes Kirchick is trying to appeal to with the first and the third are particularly problematic.) And what is Kirchick's evidence that Paul is anti-Semitic? That he criticizes the government of Israel!

What bothers me most about the article is that it trivializes the real issues by relegating them to supplementary evidence in a long chain of allegations, most of which are clearly trumped up or based on vague associations Kirchick has formed in his head rather than on anything clear-cut. This is absurdly stupid and counterproductive for everyone. The noble work of purging racism, for instance, deserves much better treatment than it has in Kirchick's hands here; his clumsy handling is worrisome in itself, for different reasons.

(I don't think Paul's campaign has addressed the racism issue in a way that is at all adequate. Here is the campaign's official statement on racism, though, for those who are interested; it's drawn from Paul's prior statements here and here. For a serious criticism of Paul on this issue, and one that I tend to find persuasive, see here.)

UPDATE: Ron Paul responds to the TNR article.

Also, Kenny has a thoughtful post up.