Re-Thinking The Paul Endorsement

Dec 24 2011 @ 12:16pm

I sat down and re-read some of the Ron Paul newsletters last night. I don't think he wrote them; I don't think they represent who he is; I do not believe the man is a racist, although seeing into men's souls is not something any of us is very good at. But you have railed and railed and railed at me these past few days – and it's my duty to sit down and re-think. It's happened before and will happen again. I write and think in real time.

In my view, my friend Joe Klein goes too far:

The newsletters went out under his name. They are replete with hateful filth. They disqualify him from the presidency. The idea that someone else wrote them and Paul didn’t read them is utter nonsense–even if true, it would be a devastating commentary on Paul’s executive abilities. How could he hire whomever wrote this crap? And so, when I called Ron Paul honorable yesterday, I was wrong. He is not.

This is too much (I think it's perfectly possible, rather than 'nonsense', that Paul used these newsletters as fundraising tools without full oversight). But it is not nothing. A fringe protest candidate need not fully address issues two decades ago that do not in any way reflect the campaign he has run or the issues on which he has made an appeal. But a man who could win the Iowa caucuses and is now third in national polls has to have a plausible answer for this. It's what happens when you hit the big leagues. Obama did it with Jeremiah Wright, openly grappling with the past toxic association, owning it, explaining it. Paul has not had the wherewithal or presence of mind to do that. Indeed, he has not even named the association, the first step to disowning it. And unlike Obama with Wright, Paul got money from these newsletters.

It seems to me that even though I don't believe these old screeds reflect Paul's own beliefs, his new level of prominence demands a new level of accountablity, even on issues this old. If Paul did not write these newsletters, then he has an obligation to say if he knew who did, or conduct an investigation. He has had years to do this, and hasn't. And here's what you've persuaded me of in the last few days: a person who has that kind of bigotry directly printed under his name without a clear empirical explanation of why he is innocent cannot be an honorable president of the United States. The hatred of groups of people in those letters – however gussied up by shards of legitimate arguments – is too deep and vile to be attached to a leader of the entire country. It is far too divisive. The appearance of things matters; and until Paul explains why this appears so horrible, he cannot shrug off the burden of proof.

My endorsement was complicated and I'd like to ask hostile readers to do me the favor of re-reading it before they get all worked up again. It's a very delicate maneuver between Huntsman and Paul. But there was an illogic in it that I now understand:

There are times when [Paul] is rightly described as a crank. He has had associations in the past that are creepy when not downright ugly. But all this is why a conservative like me is for Obama. What we are talking about here is who to support in a primary dominated by extremes, resentment, absence of ideas and Obama-hatred.

This works as an argument if you endorse Paul, as I did, as the best medicine for the GOP, not the best president. But I'm not sure, in retrospect, that I can have that cake and eat it too. An endorsement should not be entirely instrumental. I'm not trying to spoil the GOP race; I am trying to support the one guy who has resisted both perpetual offensive warfare and out-of-control spending in the years Republicans embraced both. And so I have to accept that I am endorsing him as a candidate for the presidency, not just as a protest vote against the last decade, and think that through fully.

And I just cannot see how he can be such a president without explaining away the newsletters convincingly. Until he does, I have to say that the balance of the endorsement must now go to Huntsman. Oddly, I think that Paul's courage in challenging the neocon establishment has made a Huntsman candidacy possible. And I tend to prefer the brave to the lucky. And I stand by all the things I wrote about Paul's views, his refreshing candor, his happy temperament, his support for minorities, and his vital work to undo the war on drugs and the military-industrial complex. I don't think he's a racist; in fact, I think he's one of the least racially aware politicians I've come across in a long while.

But the words and sentiments in those newsletters cannot attach themselves – even by mere appearance – to a potential president of this country. I see that now. Maybe my admiration for Paul's courage and his extraordinary resistance to the authoritarianism and intolerance in his own party blinded me to this. But you can't be both the solution and the problem. And so, until Paul fully explains this incident, in the kind of way Michael Tomasky recommends, I have to say there is an alternative, as I described at length in the endorsement: Jon Huntsman. He's what my super-ego tells me is the right choice. My id remains with Ron. But I write with the rational part of my brain, or at least I try to.