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Paul’s Race-Baiting Has Deep Roots

The benefit of this Rand Paul escapade is that his sincerely held views are on full display, and thus the ideology of the “liberty” movement gets a serious airing for the first time. But it’s not like anyone should be surprised by these views. Paul’s father said almost verbatim the same thing on Meet the Press in 2007. He wasn’t considered “serious” by the traditional media at the time. But now that there are tea party beat writers and they’re the newest rage in Washington, this gets exposure.

Joe Conason’s been onto them for a while:

To understand Rand Paul’s agonized contortions over America’s civil rights consensus, let’s review the tainted pedigree of the movement that reared him. Specifically, both the Kentucky Republican Senate nominee and his father, Ron Paul, have been closely associated over the past two decades with a faction that described itself as “paleolibertarian,” led by former Ron Paul aide Lew Rockwell and the late writer Murray Rothbard. They eagerly forged an alliance with the “paleoconservatives” behind Patrick Buchanan, the columnist and former presidential candidate whose trademarks are nativism, racism and anti-Semitism.

Repeatedly during Ron Paul’s political career, his associates used the same kinds of inflammatory rhetoric used by Buchanan in order to attract support and raise money, all while Paul himself pretended not to know what they were doing and saying in his name. Paul could always cover himself by saying, just as Rand Paul says now, that his opposition to civil rights statutes is purely constitutional and has nothing to do with bigotry.

I remember back in college at some point in the early 90s, our house got one of those old “Congressman Ron Paul” newsletters. I don’t know, I guess some nutcase was living there before us. It was a 20-page screed that mostly focused on Hillary Clinton’s sexuality and her “close female friends” Janet Reno and Donna Shalala. I saved the newsletter for a while because I thought it was hilarious, but I don’t know where it is now. The New Republic published some of those newsletters back in 2008. The letters basically represent the seeds of right-wing populism.

Both Rothbard and Rockwell wrote of their strategy for a “right-wing populism” that would bring “the rednecks” into the libertarian movement. In an essay that appeared in their own joint newsletter in January 1992, Rothbard cited Joe McCarthy and David Duke, the openly racist former Klan leader, as “models” for this approach. (According to Sanchez and Weigel, a 1990 issue of the Ron Paul Political Report discussed Duke and his movement “in strikingly similar terms.”) This new movement would seek to mobilize an alienated white middle class against wealthy East Coast elitists and the “parasitic Underclass” spawned by liberal policy — identified clearly enough in a regular newsletter feature called “PC Watch,” which featured news items about “interracial sex” and “thuggish black men terrifying petite white and Asian women.”

As for policy, the paleolibertarians advocated lower taxes, abolishing welfare, and “elimination of the entire ‘civil rights’ structure, which tramples on the property rights of every American” — a sentiment that Rand Paul echoes in alluding to the right of private businesses to practice racial discrimination […]

No wonder Sanchez and Weigel concluded with a forthright condemnation of Ron Paul’s dishonesty on race. “Ron Paul may not be a racist,” they wrote, “but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists.”

Paul has tried to apply his particular notion of libertarianism to other policies, like the Americans With Disabilities Act, which betrays his lack of understanding about the law. But the goal here was never a coherent, “Constitutional” ideology – it was to dog whistle on a particular resentment.

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David Dayen

David Dayen