Ron Paul’s Racist Backers (and Backstory)

Michael McAuliffe at Huffington Post reports on some sizable donations in Ron Paul’s campaign war chest from the sorts of racist fringe dwellers the notorious Ron Paul newsletters of the early 1990s were designed to appeal to:

Paul’s 2012 campaign has received more than $6,000 from people who have identified themselves as white separatists or supremacists, or who are listed on anti-hate group sites such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Two prominent donors are leaders in what may be the most ambitious white nationalist political movement in the U.S., American Third Position. One is William Johnson, the group’s chairman. Another is Virginia Abernethy, a former Vanderbilt professor who is listed as a director of the party.

Abernethy has given Paul at least $2,451 for this election. Johnson has donated at least $3.349.

Most presidential campaigns reject what they regard as money from tainted sources. Paul has not done that, even though Abernethy and Johnson are well known for their views and Paul has encountered Johnson before.

It doesn’t look as though Paul will be gaining any more traction as a Republican. He’s got his solid fan base in the party, which doesn’t seem able to grow or shrink or bear any sign of sensitivity to the currents of the primary race. So, unless the anti-Romney contingent decides to throw over Santorum and Gingrich finally, this news is likely to have zero impact either way. And the way things are in the GOP, it would likely be more of a reason to move toward Paul than away from him, if only because Republican rank-and-filers love to side with anyone under attack from the “liberal media” for being too outrageously right-wing.

We have a hint as to how Paul intends to handle this, according to McAuliffe. In December, when asked about racists and anti-Semites working for his campaign in New Hampshire, Paul told reporters for the  New York Times, “If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say.” If he feels that way about racists taking physical part in his campaign, he won’t be having any problem with racists’ money filling his coffers. But should he?

In the comments to the HuffPo story, loyal Democrats, who seem to know to be more threatened (philosophically, anyway) by Paul than the buffoons he’s running against in the GOP primaries, point out the number of times their candidates have been “shamed” into returning “tainted money” to sources. And it’s true that if Obama were in Paul’s position, i.e., found to have similar support from persons with views outside the pale of acceptable political discourse (some HuffPo commenters are suggesting “the Black Panthers” as a counterexample),  he could have more and more of a political problem on his hands the longer it took to publicly reject it. Republicans would, for  certain, see to that.

I am fairly sure, based on what I know of him, that Paul would not be among those demanding such strong symbolism, if the shoe were on the other foot. I think he would consistently hold for Obama or any other candidate what he holds for himself. On the face of it, Paul’s rejection of standard political operating procedure here seems to be based on the libertarian principle that even racists should be free to express their political choices through action and money. Is there really any good argument against that principle?  There certainly isn’t one that respects freedom above some kind of authority. (Is there?)

 Of course, citizens should be concerned about the influence of money in politics. The Occupy  movement resonated so quickly in unexpected quarters partly because of the broad recognition that money from the 1% is influencing the nation’s politics to the detriment of the 99%. (For that matter, the Tea Party has also made intermittent noise against the distortion of money on the political system.) If it’s wise to be suspicious of the influence of David Koch’s or Goldman Sach’s thousands on their preferred candidates, isn’t it hypocritical not to worry about the influence of Johnson’ s $3,000 on Paul? Isn’t Paul just as implicitly obligated (whether he acts on it or not) to his top-dollar benefactors as Chuck Schumer or Richard Shelby are to theirs? And isn’t that implicit, asymmetrical obligation the root of all that’s evil in our politics?

What I find fascinating about this story–what I find fascinating about Paul and right-wing libertarianism in general–is what it says about the Paulist concepts of freedom and justice, for instance.  I’ve written about Paul’s relationship with race and racism before. Recently I discovered a blog whose author shares with me a similar fascination with the libertarian right for a lot of the same reasons, I think, particularly that few other affiliations aspire to get so deep into political fundamentals.

I discovered herrnaphta’s Marxist Marginalia via WordPress’s topic search under the “Libertarian” tag. The post listed there, among more right-wing fodder, was, I thought, a brilliant little meditation on the doctrinaire libertarianism of Murray Rothbard (Ron Paul pal Lew Rockwell’s mentor at the Mises Institute) as it relates to abortion politics. It’s a devastating deconstruction of a pivotal argument one of the great heroes of right-wing libertarianism, someone nearly as revered as Hayek and Mises himself in some circles. Rothbard, essentially, argues for a right to terminate a pregnancy based on such libertarian esoterica as potential and actual self-ownership.  Herrnaphta follows Rothbard’s thought through torturous shoals to draw horrifyingly absurd, albeit logically consistent, conclusions like this one:

[Rothbard’s] attempt to render children both salable and subject to the NAP [non-aggression principle, a sacred libertarian tenet] creates even bigger problems.  Consider, for example, a person in Rothbard’s ideal anarcho-capitalist society whose embrace of social Darwinism is such that he buys toddlers by the truck full, and places them all in a room together with only enough food for a small number of them, because he enjoys watching the struggle for survival.  Some of the toddlers die in this process.  For  Rothbard, there is nothing unjust about such a person’s actions (though Rothbard would surely admit that it would be immoral).

To circle back to Ron Paul and racism, herrnaphta has also recently written engagingly on Rothbard’s infatuation with the knuckle-dragging racists of the far right. As I wrote about here, “Rockwell and his colleague/mentor Murray Rothbard attempted to form a coalition between ‘paleoconservatives’ (who at their most non-anti-social were supporting Pat Buchanan in 1992) and ‘paleolibertarians’ (the anti-imperialist ultra pro-free market Libertarians who split from the main party after 1988). ” Herrnaphta explores this episode more deeply and traces Rothbard’s peculiar attitudes about race back to his student days when he attempted a quite different alliance with the New Left. It’s a fascinating story, well told. And it adds much more nuance to the story of Ron Paul’s own unabashed flirtation with the Birchers, Klansmen and anti-immigrant groups of the fringe right.

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