The Republican Presidential nominee frontrunner status is a game of musical chairs. Herman Cain played the fool, got the girl(s) and went on his way. Trump placed his bets and lost to his own casino (which means he profits nonetheless). Gingrich has been on the rise despite no real campaign organization, his teetering success largely a reflection of Romney’s anemic grasp for the prize.
Ron Paul has been trying to gain ground for three decades. And in this weak field, his star is rising. But the revelations last week — that Paul had pocketed at least a million dollars from newsletters that promoted racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s — has left people questioning Paul’s integrity.
Paul, a staunch libertarian, has always existed on the outskirts of mainstream conservatism, but the ugly nature and details of these newsletters — mostly written in the first person — reveal a neo-confederate, paleo-libertarian mentality that borders on the sociopathic.
Reason magazine explored the newsletters, and questioned if the racialized content would invalidate Paul’s candidacy. In the analysis, they reveal something far more sinister at work in the American political apparatus; namely, that race-baiting tactics have been used for power and profit since the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and the White Redemption Movement of 1870 took hold.
Paul is a symptom of a greater metastasizing disease. The Republican Party has been skillful to hide the far-right, powerful elements in their ranks that fuel racial hatred, animus and divisive rhetoric, for the sole purpose of winning at the ballot box.
In the past few years, since Barack Obama was elected it has been easy for conservatives to run away from accusations that the Tea Party had a racial agenda, and that coded attacks on the president were simply a manifestation of social unrest tied to the present economic malaise.
A deeper look shows that not only has the GOP, like Ron Paul, benefited from the orchestrated civil divisiveness, but that it is a central component of their campaign strategies.
Much like the efforts to disenfranchise left-leaning minority voters currently underway in state legislatures nationwide, another main GOP strategy has been to manipulate poor whites, stirring latent racist attitudes, and convincing them that black and brown people are the source of the nation’s problems.
Paul’s newsletters — which he disavows as not being sanctioned by him — were an early forerunner of what has become this common tactic.
A central tenet of Paul’s newsletters was promoting an image of uncivilized, urban blacks, who chose crime and welfare over hard work and education. Likewise, the newsletters fueled anti-immigrant sentiment by presenting the standard image of illegals stealing jobs, and using health care services paid for by the American taxpayer.
Beyond the factual inaccuracies of these political fallacies, there was an effective tool at work. You see, this strategy has been working since the rise of Jim Crow — the period during which the KKK rose in the South, and poor whites, armed with guns and the propensity for violence, literally “took back their country.”
A must-read piece in Reason explores who might have authored Paul’s newsletters, and goes into depth on these issues. In the 2008 essay, Julian Sanchez and David Weigel explain that this race-baiting and extremism profited Paul both politically and financially:
Paul’s inner circle learned between his congressional stints that “the wilder they got, the more bombastic they got with it, the more the checks came in. You think the newsletters were bad? The fundraising letters were just insane from that period…” The newsletters’ obsession with blacks and gays was of a piece with a conscious political strategy…
The authors’ research shows Paul’s congressional chief of staff Leo Rockwell went on to form the “paleo-libertarian” movement, which rejected more progressive libertarian ideals (e.g., legalization of marijuana, less militarism, etc), and traded them for socially conservative libertarian concepts (e.g., an anti-black, anti-Civil Rights, anti-immigrant agenda).
In Rockwell’s 1990 Liberty essay entitled “The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism,” he explains the ways in which they could grow the movement. “State-enforced segregation,” Rockwell wrote, “was wrong, but so is State-enforced integration… wishing to associate with members of one’s own race, nationality, religion, class, sex, or even political party is a natural and normal human impulse.”
The most damning outlines of the strategy came in an essay published in the January 1992 Rothbard-Rockwell Report titled “Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement.” In a recent article on Slate.com about the newsletter scandal, David Weigel recounted this element from his 2008 Reason piece:
Rothbard pointed to David Duke and Joseph McCarthy as models for an “Outreach to the Rednecks,” which would fashion a broad libertarian/paleoconservative coalition by targeting the disaffected working and middle classes. (Duke, a former Klansman, was discussed in strikingly similar terms in a 1990 Ron Paul Political Report.) These groups could be mobilized to oppose an expansive state, Rothbard posited, by exposing an “unholy alliance of ‘corporate liberal’ Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America.”
This is where bold racism meets mainstream politics.
And herein lies the new Southern Strategy of today’s Republican Party. With loud mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Fox News pundits and Tea Party activists, the GOP has consistently appealed to working class whites by demonizing minorities, framing all Latino immigrants as illegals, and dressing the black poor as an undeserving “underclass.”
Far right leaders manage to distance themselves from the true culprits of their propaganda by blaming “media elites” and “big government.” They further sell the message by trotting out naïve true believers like Michelle Bachmann, who claims to be a political outsider, despite being a Congresswoman, having been a lawyer for the IRS and having received government subsidies for her family businesses. Gov. Rick Perry, an equal opportunity offender, has officially “retired” from his present job, just to milk the state for more than $7,000 a month in pension benefits — all the while railing against cronyism in debates and blaming the Federal Reserve.
Julian Sanchez and David Weigel noted in their piece that Paul’s team employed a “populist outreach program centered on tax reduction, abolition of welfare, ‘elimination of the entire “civil rights” structure, which tramples on the property rights of every American,’ and a police crackdown on ‘street criminals.’”
They continue with:
To seal the deal with social conservatives, Rothbard urged a federalist compromise in their direction on “pornography, prostitution, or abortion.” And because grassroots organizing is “plodding and boring,” this new paleo coalition would need to be kick-started by “high-level, preferably presidential, political campaigns.”
The presidential campaign Rothbard and Rockwell supported in 1988 was Ron Paul’s run on the Libertarian Party ticket. In 1992, they were again ready to back Paul, until Pat Buchanan convinced the obstetrician to withdraw and back his conservative challenge to then-president Bush.
But the principles of this paleo-conservatism are still very much alive in our politics today. Despite the fact that white Americans are the vast majority of poor people, GOP frontrunners like Newt Gingrich promote an ill-conceived lie that black and brown people are the true face of poverty. His comments that inner-city kids should work as janitors instead of becoming “pimps and prostitutes” received backlash for its incendiary nature, but the media by and large did not challenge its underlying premise.
The truth is that poor rural whites are suffering from systemic poverty as well, but their faces remain unseen. The 2010 Census results reveal that 31 million whites were in poverty, compared to 13 million Hispanics and 10 million African-Americans.
A 2009 study by William O’Hague, a fellow at the University of New Hampshire, showed that 57 percent of all poor rural children were non-Hispanic whites. Whites also represented 44 percent of all urban poor children, compared to the35 percent that are Hispanic, and the 30 percent represented blacks. Hague explains that white, rural poverty is actually deeper and more persistent than urban poverty and calls this group “The Forgotten Fifth.” Rural whites from New York’s Appalachia down to northwest Mississippi and across the Midwest and Northern plains have longer spells of poverty and were the least to benefit from the economic boom of the late ‘90s.
Yet despite their need for progressive policies like healthcare reform, promoted by the Democratic Party in general and President Obama in particular, many poor whites have been persuaded by the GOP to vote against their own economic interests, while Republican leaders and conservative media outlets continue to paint the American poor in blackface.
It’s all a political game.
Even Mitt Romney sought to exploit the plight of black joblessness in an advertisement linking the Congressional Black Caucus job fairs with what he claimed were Obama’s failed economic policies. Gingrich, in an interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, claimed Obama hadn’t done anything for African-Americans, (as if he had a plan beyond insisting they clean toilets). These are tools that hide the real agenda: divide, distort, conquer and win.
The Tea Party movement, as revealed by the 2010 mid-term election results, has been the most effective example of the far right GOP’s paleo-conservative strategy. From it’s early beginnings, after Obama’s election, the Tea Party phenomenon was plagued by charges of racism. Conservative activist at rallies depicted Obama as an African witch doctor, claimed he had plans for “white slavery,” and likened Congress to a slave owner and the taxpayer to a “n——r.”
As Arian Campo-Flores explained in Newsweek last year, in a piece entitled “Are Tea Partiers Racist?,” it was not just a few signs and placards that expressed these sentiments. Empirical research revealed that members of the Tea Party movement and its affiliates had a 25 percent higher probability of being racially resentful.
Campo-Flores relied on a University of Washington study which surveyed Tea Party groups and exposed common beliefs among them such as: “If blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.” In fact, 73 percent of the movement’s supporters agreed. When asked if blacks should work their way up “without special favors,” as the Irish, Italians, and other groups did, 88 percent of supporters agreed. The same survey showed that Tea Party sympathizers were whiter, older, wealthier, and more well-educated than the average American.
It seemed strange, as Campo-Flores points out, that these people would suddenly be up in arms about government spending and excess, after a decade of Bush’s failed economic policies and excessive militarism, during which they said nothing.
Could it be that the race of the current president is an underlying factor in all of today’s political discourse?
A recent New York Times article shows that Ron Paul disowns the similar racist message of the newsletters without disavowing the support it provides. Why? The message works.
The American Free Press, which markets books like “The Invention of the Jewish People” and “March of the Titans: A History of the White Race” are raising funds for Paul ahead of the New Hampshire primaries. The Times has unearthed many examples throughout Paul’s career showing he “either wittingly or unwittingly courted disaffected white voters with extreme views as they sought to forge a movement.” In just May of this year Paul reiterated in an interview on MSNBC with Chris Matthews, that he would not have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It is statements like that which keep the far-right fringe in his corner, and the dollars rolling in.
“I wouldn’t be happy with that,” Mr. Paul said in an interview Friday after being asked about getting help from volunteers with anti-Jewish, white supremacists views. But he also added, “If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say,” which essentially means he is happy to have their support.
Ron Paul’s (disavowed) newsletter mentality met the mainstream last year when Mark Williams, the head of the National Tea Party Federation, published a ‘satirical’ letter on his website from “We Colored People” in which he wrote, “Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences, along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask us Colored People, we demand that it stop!”
The NAACP’s Ben Jealous called for Williams to step down and apologize, which he did. But there are hundreds — thousands — more like him. And now they are in the halls of Congress, obstructing legislation, questioning the president’s leadership and undermining the hope that the election of the nation’s first African-American president inspired.
What a deeper look into Ron Paul’s past reveals is that the ugly sentiments expressed in his newsletters — and the strategy that Lew Rockwell and others employed — has now been re-engineered for the exact purpose for which it was intended: electoral victories by the neo-conservative elite.
Paul may win Iowa, but it is widely assumed he’d have little chance for the GOP nomination. But now even mainstream Republican politics has been imbued with similar race-baiting tactics that go unchecked. Romney and Gingrich will soon show their colors, and even if it isn’t on the surface, rest assured, there’s a Koch and Brother of the Confederate pulling strings somewhere behind the curtains.