I'm going to take a break from sipping coffee and watching the sun rise on the snow-covered San Pedros looming outside my window to talk a little more about Ron Paul and actually this time highlight some good responses from libertarians, particularly Steve Horwitz and Nick Gillespie. Both do what I really think are the most important things to do here: (1.) recognize that Ron Paul has a history, particularly associated with race politics, that is deeply disturbing - even if we all agree he's likely not a "racist" himself (to repeat - I doubt he's a full blown racist very much. I think he's an opportunist and he probably has a few mid-century insensitivities that he hasn't matured out of, but he's not a racist), but that he's been the sort of enabler that justifiably appalls people, and (2.) that libertarians can consider the question of abandoning him electorally. Steve Horwitz does an incredible job recounting the political history of libertarianism and the various problems created by Rothbard, Rockwell, and others. Gillespie gives a good take on everything that's been happening recently.
I'm a little bothered (but like some parts) of this post by Jonathan Catalan too. What I'm bothered by is his anger at Brad DeLong for not "focusing on the issues" and for making too much of this racist newsletter thing. I don't know if it's because Jonathan's from Spain and doesn't have a deeper American identity or what (nothing wrong with that, of course), but my view is this is really serious stuff. The relations between black and white Americans, the brutalization of black Americans, and the relatively recent progress on these issues is one of the defining facts of American life. And it wasn't just "history" - and you know that if you live in the South or in any city with an appreciable black population. If someone maintains or even tacitly approves of that sort of thinking in the 1990s, that's a big deal. Various sideshow political discussions can be rightly brushed aside with a "we should focus on the issues" dismissal, but I don't think this is one of them. Race in America is a hard thing to discuss too. Not nearly all of the problems associated with it are caused by "racism" per se, so some sort of paean to "colorblindness" isn't going to do anything. The legacy of the Civil War is complex as well - much more complex than people who tend to agree with me politically often like to admit. It's hard. But it's not just another election sideshow that can be dismissed. This is the sort of thing that rightly makes or breaks a campaign.
What I do like about Jonathan's post about this line: "Brad DeLong has spent a lot of energy blogging about Ron Paul. I understand why: Paul’s beliefs are nearly diametrically opposed to those of DeLong. Their means of establishing a greater degree of freedom are different. I think the simplest way to describe it is to call DeLong a Rawlsian and Paul a Nozickian (roughly)."
The bolded sentence is very perceptive on Jonathan's part. Very perceptive, and something a lot of libertarians don't even seem to understand - much less are willing to say. I'm no philosopher so I won't jump into categorizing things as Rawlsian or Nozickian, but I think Jonathan's point is clear. And this is another reason why Ron Paul bothers me a lot and I could never vote for him. He's one of those libertarians that uses terms like "statist" and "authoritarian" and "socialist" to describe people who disagree with him. I don't know why this is so hard for some people to digest, but that's a really uncomfortable thing for people like me to listen to on a daily basis. To be treated as outside the liberal tradition, to be branded a statist by a large group of libertarians who are clearly devoted to this one politician, and then to have that politician say the same sorts of things is not something you can just brush off. Imagine if a political leader and his devoted followers regularly singled out libertarians and libertarian ideas as "radical anarchist threats to the freedom of the country" or something like that. Imagine if it was argued in every discussion with these people that you were a threat to freedom. Would a political leader like that make you a little uncomfortable coming to power? Of course he would. Ron Paul has been a minor player for a while now, but this is why people are pushing back hard after his recent successes. This is not pleasant stuff to hear from a bit player. It's even less pleasant stuff to hear from a man that might win Iowa.
I could never vote for Ron Paul for four major reasons. I talked about the first two in this post:
1. His associations with a lot of racist material and statements
2. The fact that he is neck-deep in a community that labels me a statist and considers me a threat, and then also
3. He has a very weak grasp of economics and supports economic policies that could be disastrous for the country - and through sheer obstructionism could put a lot of them into practice, and finally
4. I don't feel that he takes the threat of fascist Islamism to world peace seriously enough. I like his opposition to the Iraq war. I like his general opposition to war. But he seems too rigid on war and foreign policy in general. Bush erred on the other side, of course. Obama is starting to bring us back to a balanced position - Paul probably wouldn't be too bad on this point in practice - but it's still an issue for me.
The point is, libertarians could probably assuage me on a lot of these points. But the best way to do that is drop Ron Paul. That's a risk, I know - he's the one that's surging. But if you don't want to take that risk, don't blame me for being disgusted at the option you're presenting.
18 minutes ago