There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether Ron Paul is your crazy old libertarian great-uncle, or an actual contender for the GOP presidential nomination. I say the latter. Why? Because of the racism.
Now, I’m not saying Ron Paul is a racist. I’m just saying he’s clearly benefited—and clearly sought to benefit—from the racist attitudes of his supporters. That was true in the 1990s, when newsletters went out under his name that, for example, decried the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a “Hate Whitey day” with “racial hatred makes a KKK rally look tame.” (Paul denies authorship or knowledge of the newsletter content; that is his name in the title, however.)
And it’s true now, too. On Monday, the New York Times carried a story saying that, no, Paul doesn’t really seek the support of white supremacist groups. But he’s not going to reject it either. “If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say,” Paul told the Times.
All of which makes Paul the perfect Republican candidate, a man who distills the GOP’s trends, practices and rhetoric of the last 45 years down to their purest essence.
See: The Republican Party hasn’t been overtly racist during that time. America is advanced enough that to do so would be electoral suicide. But GOP strategy has been to appeal to the grievances of whites threatened by the progress of African-Americans and other minorities, and the party has clearly benefited—and clearly sought to benefit—from the racist attitudes of its supporters.
That’s the strategy that gave us “welfare queens.” And Willie Horton. And even some of the rhetoric of states‘ rights. If that seems like ancient history to you, then consider the inability of some Republican leaders like John Boehner to plainly state to their constituents that President Obama is an American citizen. Or Newt Gingrich’s defense of the Confederate flag in South Carolina.
How do we know that these political sign posts were designed to appeal to racism, and not the product of sincerely held, race-neutral attitudes against crime and for limited government? Because the Republicans told us so, that’s why.
Take Lee Atwater, who managed the campaign of the first President Bush: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
Or take Ken Mehlman, who was the Republican National Committee chairman under the second President Bush, and who apologized for the party’s “Southern strategy” of appealing to racism.
“Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization,” Mehlman told the NAACP in 2005. “I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”
They were wrong. And now that Ron Paul is a real threat to win the Iowa caucuses, the GOP establishment is panicking—and finally, freshly embracing the political virtues of anti-racism, making hay out of Paul’s old newsletters. If such efforts happen to take his more out-there foreign policy and economic views off the table, well, surely that’s a coincidence.
It’s kind of funny. So often during the last 45 years, African Americans who would complain about racial offenses by whites would be branded by leading conservatives—particularly Rush Limbaugh—as “race hustlers.” The implication being that there was no real racial grievance, that the complainers were trying to benefit from victimization that all right-thinking people should eschew. Actual racism, it seemed, had disappeared from American life.
So it might be fair to wonder about the motives of GOP elites who are now shocked, shocked! at Ron Paul’s old stances. Are they race hustling?
One couldn’t possibly blame Ron Paul for being confused by all the anger, though. He’s just following the political roadmap that’s guided Republicans for decades. You don’t have to use the “n-word” to be a racist—and you don’t have to whistle “Dixie” to appeal to racist voters. The real race hustlers are too smart for that.