I admit I do not fully understand Ron Paul and his beliefs. But I do understand when a guy gets shafted, and Ron Paul just got shafted.
On Saturday, the Ames Straw Poll was conducted in Iowa amid huge media interest and scrutiny. The results were enough to force one Republican candidate, Tim Pawlenty, out of the race, and catapult another, Michele Bachmann, into the “top tier.”
As The Daily Beast put it: “The new top tier of Bachmann, Perry, and Romney — created by Bachmann’s Iowa straw poll win, Perry’s entry into the race and Romney’s lead so far in many national and state polls — has unleashed torrents of talk about the reshaped race.”
Paul’s name was not mentioned in this piece nor in many others. A Wall Street Journal editorial Monday magnanimously granted Paul’s showing in the straw poll a parenthetical dismissal: “(Libertarian Ron Paul, who has no chance to win the nomination, finished a close second.)”
But “close” does not fully describe Paul’s second-place finish. Paul lost to Bachmann by nine-tenths of one percentage point, or 152 votes out of 16,892 cast.
It’s a sentiment I’ve seen elsewhere, too: that the media treats poor libertarian Ron Paul differently, takes him less seriously, than other candidates, and that, presumably, is “unfair.”
I’m not altogether sure the media is shunning Ron Paul, to be honest with you. He may have done well in the altogether meaningless Ames Straw Poll this year, but he has essentially no track record on the national level. During the 2008 Republican primary elections he mostly polled in the single digits; and, as for the current election cycle, in the latest RealClearPolitics average of major opinion polls Ron Paul garners 9% support among Republicans, fourth behind Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and the as-yet undeclared Sarah Palin. Consequently, I suspect a lot of folks in the media just don’t think his 2012 campaign will amount to much, and so they may not be shunning Ron Paul so much as allocating scarce resources elsewhere.
But even if the media is shunning Paul, it may have less to do with his cranky libertarianism than his troubling past. I’m referring, of course, to his pre-internet era newsletters, first known as The Ron Paul Political Report then later renamed The Ron Paul Survival Report, which often contained disturbingly racist ad hominems for which Paul still hasn’t offered a cogent explanation. In 2007, Daily Kos documented some of the carnage, including a 1992 piece in which the author wrote, in response to the Los Angeles riots, “our country is being destroyed by a group of actual and potential terrorists – and they can be identified by the color of their skin.” In January 2008, James Kirchick at The New Republic waded further into the dreck, writing:
Finding the pre-1999 newsletters was no easy task, but I was able to track many of them down at the libraries of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Of course, with few bylines, it is difficult to know whether any particular article was written by Paul himself. Some of the earlier newsletters are signed by him, though the vast majority of the editions I saw contain no bylines at all. Complicating matters, many of the unbylined newsletters were written in the first person, implying that Paul was the author.
But, whoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.
And as far as I can tell, Ron Paul has never really come clean on those bigoted rants. After the Kirchick piece in The New Republic, Paul told CNN that he “repudiate[s] everything that is written along those lines,” but his explanation for how they got there strains credibility:
Paul told CNN’s “The Situation Room” … that he didn’t write any of the offensive articles and has “no idea” who did.
Yeah, right. It may be true that Ron Paul didn’t write those words, although, as Kirchick pointed out, they went out under his name, without attribution to any other writer, and were often written in the first person so as to imply they were, in fact, his words. But even if he didn’t write them, I find it hard to believe that he has “no idea” who did; and, more to the point, he must have approved that racist garbage at the time the newsletters were published. If his views have changed in the meantime, I think he owes us an explanation as to why he thought those rants were acceptable back then, and what caused his change of heart. Without that, Paul’s statement that he “repudiates” the vicious racism put out under his own name just rings hollow.
So, I can understand why the media might be a little uneasy with Ron Paul. And, frankly, it’s nobody’s fault but Ron Paul’s.