Another Paul, Another Secessionist Smear?

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Yesterday, Alana Goodman performed a classic Washington take-down – of Jack Hunter, a Rand Paul staffer:

From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag. Prior to his radio career, while in his 20s, Hunter was a chairman in the League of the South, which “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic.”

Are you shocked that such a profile – even when cherry-picked for drama – could be found on the libertarian right? Me neither. Weigel explains Rand Paul’s perspective:

[L]ike many conservatives, he finds the charge of “racism” to be terribly watered down by overuse. Why do white supremacists or Southern avengers like him so much? Well, they’re misled—lucky enough, they’ve found Paul-style libertarianism, and they will discover that color-blind politics is a far better use of their time. This probably sounds crazy to Paulite outsiders, but it doesn’t to them. They don’t think the left, or neoconservatives, are in any position to tell them about racism.

Well, yes … but. Chait gets it:

Now, obviously, you can like Ron and Rand Paul without being the slightest bit racist. Very, very few Rand Paul fans are glad Abraham Lincoln was shot. At the same time, the logic of southern white supremacy and the logic of libertarianism run along very similar lines. They both express themselves in terms of opposition to federal power and support for states’ rights.

Segregation was in large part a policy of government, not the free market. But it took intrusive federal power to destroy segregation. Barry Goldwater expressed his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act in classically race-neutral, anti-big-government terms. The deep connection between the Pauls and the neo-Confederate movement doesn’t discredit their ideas, but it’s also not just an indiscretion. It’s a reflection of the fact that white supremacy is a much more important historical constituency for anti-government ideas than libertarians like to admit.

In this country, that last point is indisputable, it seems to me. It’s both a function of history and an accident of history. But it seems to me that when someone has a body of written work you can easily examine, why not read what he actually says rather than infer views from his more colorful past? Daniel McCarthy cites the most inflammatory nugget that Goodman found – that “during public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.” Not quite as it sounds:

Free Beacon’s attack on Hunter involves cherry-picking quotes, many over a decade old, and referencing his career as the “Southern Avenger,” a pro-wrestling persona, complete with luchador mask, that Hunter adopted as an on-air radio personality and as a columnist for the Charleston City Paper.

Did a left-leaning alternative newspaper think they were employing a hate-fueled neo-Confederate? Not hardly: Hunter’s columns were provocative and conservative, but anyone who reads them, while finding plenty to disagree with—he’s an independent thinker—will not find hate. Naivete, yes, and a certain obtuseness about minorities that’s long been characteristic of the right. Over the five years that I’ve known him, however, Jack has re-examined his thinking and confronted questions of fairness that the right has too often avoided. He’s done this while remaining devoted to the canons of Russell Kirk’s conservatism.

Want proof? Read The American Conservative‘s Jack Hunter archive. Read this piece, in which Jack, who supports same-sex marriage, respectfully disagrees with its comparison to the Civil Rights struggle, whose magnitude and sacrifices exceed anything else in the past century. As ever with a good columnist, not everyone is going to agree with the argument, but the respect and good-faith that characterize it will be obvious.

Jason Kuznicki, on the other hand, washes his hands of Paul:

The association here seems a good deal stronger, if anything, than the one between the elder Paul and his neo-Confederate associates … I do not have to tolerate this stuff, and I won’t. Rand Paul has always insisted that he was a conservative, not a libertarian, and I’d sometimes tried to say, “Well, yeah, but he kind of really is a libertarian. Sort of.” From now on, the conservatives can have him, and they will hear no objections from me. Take him, he’s yours.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)