Paul (Somewhat) Responds To Critics on Racism

Via Q and O I find that Ron Paul’s campaign has found it necessary to make an “I am not a racist” statement. The need for him to do so is a sign that that there have been problems. Q and O makes several good points, and this statement will certainly not satisfy those of us who have had qualms about Paul’s campaign.

One problem is that Paul’s statement misses the point. The issue isn’t primarily whether Paul is a racist but that he uses too man code words of the extremist right and winks too much in their direction for the comfort of many observers of the campaign. Serious candidates for political office would make sure that they are not associated with the groups which Paul is associated with. The nearest example we have had to this was Pat Buchanan’s campaign. As I’ve noted in the past, friends of Buchanan swear that Pat Buchanan is not an anti-Semite. Not knowing Buchanan personally I cannot say what he thinks. However I often heard Buchanan use language which appealed to anti-Semites and therefore his campaign was unacceptable regardless of his personal beliefs.

Paul’s response both is unsatisfactory in response to his racist supporters and also reinforces the view that he is a simplistic thinker. Paul’s philosophy rests on the ideas of freedom (as he defines freedom) and transferring authority from the federal to the state level. Even if one agrees with his ideas here one hundred percent, these principles are not the answer for ever question. Too many libertarians fall into the similar trap of blaming government for absolutely everything bad and have no thoughts beyond that. Q and O argues that liberty, for all its virtues, is not the cure for racism as Paul argues:

I don’t think think liberty is an antidote to anything other than oppression. In a truly free society, in fact, each individual is free to think whatever he wishes about other racial groups, and decline to associate with them, do business with them, or serve them as customers.

What a person cannot do in a free society, is to coerce another person, or violate that person’s rights. That is an entirely different thing from eliminating racism.

Liberty, in fact, is utterly silent on racism, except to the extent that the government of a free society may not in any way engage in it. Individual citizens are as free as they like to do so. Liberty is a mechanism that provides the elimination of coercion, not the inculcation of virtue…

But one cannot ignore the fact that government action has, by and large, reduced overt discrimination in the last two generations. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 essentially destroyed—completely and permanently—the Jim Crow laws of the South. Yet, any acknowledgment of this is sadly lacking in Mr. Paul’s statement. Yes, government at the state level created Jim Crow. But government at the federal level eliminated it.

Mr. Paul seems to be making the old argument that “government is the problem”. And all to often that argument is true. But, again, all to often, the problem is people themselves. And government, whatever its virtues or vices, does not solve the problems that arise from human nature. Neither, for that matter, does liberty. To argue otherwise is to argue for the perfection of man through political means. And that, my friends, is the very basis of collectivism.

David Bernstein presents a similar argument:

In short, at best this statement reveals a naive faith in the idea that government is the root of all problems, as in the old joke, “How many libertarians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, the market will take care of it!” Don’t like racism? Reduce the federal government and it will go away!

At worst, by completely ignoring the historical role of racism in American society, and the diminished but not insubstantial role racism by whites continues to play in our society, and focusing criticism only on advocates of “diversity,” (even, apparently, when they advocate only voluntary, non-governmental action to achieve diversity), the Paul campaign is appealing to the Pat Buchanan (and beyond) wing of the “Old Right”, while trying to preserve some plausible deniability on race to its more tolerant libertarian constituency.

That’s not to say that personally Paul isn’t really against racism; in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that he is. Rather, the point is that his campaign seems to be taking the same unfortunate position that Goldwater did in 1964; condemning racism in general on principled libertarian grounds, but providing winks and nods that support from racists for racist reasons would be welcome.

Damozel at Buck Naked Politics provides both an example of the libertarian influences on many liberals as well as making an argument for the role of government in opposing the institutionalized racism of the states:

I am 50 years old and back in my teens I read Ayn Rand and even went through a little Libertarian phase of my own; but then, you see, I grew up. More to the purpose I grew up in South Carolina during the days of Jim Crow. There is nothing, nothing, nothing that either you or Ron Paul is ever going to say to change what I remember or what I saw. I remember the free and glorious days before court-ordered busing and the Voting Rights Act and I was raised by African American women. I know exactly what institutionalized racism looks like both from the point of view of its victims (as a witness and through the empathy that children have for people they love) and from that of the (against my will and through no fault of my own) oppressors. I know for a fact that the only way you can get rid of it is through institutional—i.e., governmental—action.

While strict libertarians will object, action at the federal level has sometimes been necessary to prevent violations of rights at the state level. Paul’s view of having virtually all decisions be at the state level, as well as his view ignoring the extension of Constitutional liberties to the states under the 14th Amendment, sets up an idea situation for those who wish to return to the days of Jim Crow. As I’ve argued previously, Paul’s views would not necessarily bring about more freedom and there is considerable risk that the result would be less freedom.

The major failing of Paul’s statement is that not only does it fail to reassure those who have doubts about him but that it also gives no reason for organizations such as Stormfront to alter their support of Paul. Some of Paul’s supporters argue that Paul should not discourage such organizations or attempt to distance himself from them as any votes are beneficial. This fails to consider the two reasons to seek votes. If Paul’s campaign is truly a protest campaign based upon principles as most observers believe, then this goal is sabotaged when the principles are obscured by connections to racism. If the goal is to get every vote possible in the hopes of actually winning, connections to racist and extremist groups places a low ceiling on the potential vote. Playing the race card has helped the Republicans since the 1960’s and might also bring in some votes for Paul. However, there aren’t even enough such voters to guarantee even mainstream Republicans victory any more. There certainly are not enough right wing extremist voters who will vote for an opponent of both the war in Iraq and the war on drugs such as Paul.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    N. Pannbacker says:

    If Ron Paul is really “limited” by “connections” with racist groups, why is he the most popular Republican candidate among black voters? This evidence contradicts your assertion in a dramatic way.

    The accusations of racism are flying from the WASP crowd, not actual minorities. I substantiate my claim with the following:
    Link

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    That’s not very meaningful as the polls which showed this were small and as many knew very little about Paul when answering. If Paul were to become a major factor in the race there would be more coverage of these issues, greatly limiting Paul’s potential support.

    It is interesting that Paul supporters will ignore polls which show he has minimal support as meaningless but also cite equivocal results in polls as being signs of Paul’s support when it suits their purposes.

  3. 3
    rhys says:

    It was not the government that allowed black men to play professional sports and sell music albums – it was money. Calling racism is a crutch. Prove you are worth money, and there are no limits to your ability to prosper. The Federal government doesn’t protect us from racism today, it institutionalizes it through Affimative Action and equal housing laws.

    How come it is illegal to fire someone for being black, but not for being white? And the fact that some might not think that happens has little to do with the fact that it could. Aren’t we all supposed to be equal under the law?

    The Civil Rights Act relied on the Commerce Clause to make an end run around the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Why? So white northerners could protect their State from disenfranchised blacks fleeing the South. That is the same reason that the black vote was pushed for after the Civil War. Norther whites wanted to impose equality in the south so that blacks would’t feel a need to move to less oppresive States. If not, then why did the Emancipation Proclamation free slaves in Southern States, but not northern States.

    Ron Paul is right. Racism is not a governmental problem, it is a people problem. Our politicians aren’t any more or less racist than the rest of us, so why would they work any more efficiently to eradicate racism than the rest of us? If you believe that the government is intrinsically better than the people of ths nation, then you should be in favor of expanding its power and taxing authority. I think the government is the worst form of monopoly with the power to jail you for not paying their democratically determined product at their unilaterally determined price.

  4. 4
    Mark says:

    Paul is on Alex Jones’ Show again tonight.
    I’m completely demoralized. My take is here.

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