Some of them, anyway. He denies it but Weigel and Sanchez have half a dozen sources saying it’s so. That’s good news, actually, since Paul will be finished as a political force once the campaign’s over but Rockwell’s website will crawl on, with this now chained to its ankle.
There’s an inside-baseball element here about the split within libertarianism between the left-libertine types like the Reason crew and the “paleo” types like Rockwell, who apparently once concluded that the key to building a winning electoral coalition was hooking up with David Duke and militia fantasists. Paul has a foot planted in each wing, migrating from the latter to the former over the years so that now the left-libs are stuck holding his baggage. Reason’s trying to hand it back to him (or, more specifically, to the paleos), and while they still appear to allow for the possibility that he didn’t know what was going on at the time with the newsletters, they also pretty clearly think that possibility’s remote. Credit them for unsparing skepticism here:
The publishing operation was lucrative. A tax document from June 1993—wrapping up the year in which the Political Report had published the “welfare checks” comment on the L.A. riots—reported an annual income of $940,000 for Ron Paul & Associates, listing four employees in Texas (Paul’s family and Rockwell) and seven more employees around the country. If Paul didn’t know who was writing his newsletters, he knew they were a crucial source of income and a successful tool for building his fundraising base for a political comeback…
The man who was once the Great Paleolibertarian Hope has built a broad base of enthusiastic supporters without resorting to venomous rhetoric or coded racism. He has stuck stubbornly to the issues of sound money, “humble foreign policy,” and shrinking the state. He wraps up his speeches with a three-part paean to individualism: “I don’t want to run your life,” “I don’t want to run the economy,” and “I don’t want to run the world.” He talks about the disproportionate effect of the drug war on African-Americans, and appeared at a September 2007 Republican debate on black issues that was boycotted by the then-frontrunners. All this and more have brought him $30 million-plus from more than 100,000 donors; thousands of campaign volunteers, and the largest rallies he’s ever spoken to, including a crowd of almost 5,000 in Philadelphia.
Yet those new supporters, many of whom are first encountering libertarian ideas through the Ron Paul Revolution, deserve a far more frank explanation than the campaign has as yet provided of how their candidate’s name ended up atop so many ugly words. Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists—and taking “moral responsibility” for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past—acknowledging who said what, and why. Otherwise he risks damaging not only his own reputation, but that of the philosophy to which he has committed his life.
I don’t think he’s doing any lasting damage to libertarianism. The intelligent libertarian kids in his base will dump the chaff and keep the wheat; the cranks are lost causes anyway. As for his coming clean, though, what can he say? What excuse can he plausibly give that doesn’t involve admitting, however obliquely, “Yes, I once held those views?” When and where did the supposed, er, Pauline conversion come?
Update: Levy and Kerry Howley separate the wheat from the chaff.