“We can thank (Ronald Reagan) for our annual ‘Hate Whitey Day.'” — 1990 Ron Paul newsletter on MLK holiday
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It’s tempting to simply forget Ron Paul’s unfortunate history on racial issues, especially since he seems to be trying to forget it himself. He won’t be the Republican nominee, and his years in Congress have done little to popularize his out-of-the mainstream views. The nation won’t be returning to the gold standard any time soon.
So why bother to re-examine his resistance to a national holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.? Why remind voters that he still opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Why not turn the page on Paul, whose campaign will end soon enough as his prickly brand of libertarianism runs out of buyers?
Here’s why: The rise of the tea party, with its virulent anti-government rhetoric, has reanimated a libertarian strain in the Republican Party. And Paul’s consistent criticism of the so-called War on Drugs — along with his unabashed isolationism — has won the hearts of many independent-minded young voters, who see in him a tireless warrior who won’t be cowed by establishment Washington.
I’ll admit that I, too, have sometimes enjoyed watching him debating his rivals, especially when he forthrightly pointed out the hypocrisies of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. And I was relieved to hear that his opposition to “big government” extends to such infringements on liberty as the Patriot Act.
But Paul’s libertarianism, like Barry Goldwater’s, has an ugly underbelly of racial insensitivity, if not outright bigotry. His young supporters need to know that they would live in a very different country — a meaner, less just and more racist country — if Paul had had his way.
The Texas congressman has tried to distance himself from a cache of incendiary for-profit newsletters from the 1980s and ’90s that were published in his name, including “Ron Paul’s Political Report” and “Ron Paul’s Survival Report.” When they resurfaced in December as his campaign was gaining traction, he told CNN: “I didn’t write them. I didn’t read them at the time, and I disavow them.”
It’s no surprise he’d say that. The newsletters are brimming with racism, anti-Semitism, and the nutty paranoia that takes on the aura of biblical truth among hard-core right-wing extremists and white supremacists. One newsletter from the 1990s, for example, warned of a “coming race war” and a “federal-homosexual cover-up” to play down the impact of AIDS. Others smeared Dr. King, mocked the late Barbara Jordan and praised former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept Paul’s claim of ignorance. What does his dereliction of duty say about his fitness for the highest office in the land? The commander in chief would be expected to know what’s being done in his name.
Moreover, that incredible explanation won’t save Paul from his record in Congress. He opposed a national holiday honoring King’s life and legacy. More tellingly, he railed against the Civil Rights Act as recently as seven years ago.
On the 40th anniversary of the passage of that historic legislation — which struck down Jim Crow laws that kept black patrons out of restaurants, hotels and amusement parks — Paul was the only member of Congress to refuse to hail its passage. “The forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty …” he claimed.
That extreme brand of libertarianism is consistent in its refusal to allow government to interfere with an individual’s decisions. But it offers no remedy for the millions of black Americans who could not take road trips because they couldn’t find food or accommodations or even a place to go to the toilet. It shows no concern for the black children who wondered why they couldn’t play at big amusement parks. It shows no empathy for the hardworking and patriotic black men and women who were refused service at gas stations — as my father was.
King’s leadership of the civil rights movement made America not just a nobler and more just nation, but also a stronger and more cohesive one. (Even Paul now calls King “one of my heroes.”) It’s hard to imagine the country that Paul’s views would have willed to his young voters.
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)