Whenever Congressman Ron Paul shuffles off this mortal coil, he'll have no dearth of hagiographers. Indeed, he already has plenty, like the makers of the documentary For Liberty, who have produced a slavish, worshipful portrait of the man and the movement that will be screened at Tempe's Harkins Valley Art this evening in what's being billed as a red carpet premiere.
Actually, the documentary is more a feel-good, back-patting account of the movement, particularly the grass roots Ronulans, whose obsession with Paul and his quixotic 2008 candidacy for the GOP presidential nod is either impressive or somewhat insane depending on where you stand. Indeed, for the Ronulans, Paul is practically the reincarnation of George Washington, Daniel Boone, and Thomas Paine wrapped into one shriveled, gray-mopped package.
So if Paul walks on water, why did he end with only a handful of delegates? Well, hell, even the Son of God got crucified, right? This time, instead of the Romans, it was the evil media and the boneheaded Republican Party driving the nails.
Many of Paul's supporters bemoan the fact that he did not continue on, perhaps even as a third-party contender, in the style of Ross Perot, John Anderson, or George Wallace. At the end of the documentary, Ronulans recount their disappointment, their tears, and even their getting drunk when Paul threw in the towel. Frankly, I'm surprised there were no suicides.
Arizona libertarian Ernie Hancock had a relatively honest assessment of the Ronulan cause, even if it is tinged with a bit of conspiracy.
"The idea that we were under some illusion," says Hancock in the doc, "that he could get elected or a fantasy that they were going to allow him to be president was not even it. We understood he was the vehicle by which we could express our dissent, give a finger to the man, all the way up to the end as far as we could take this."
You have to give Paul credit for being a thorn in the side of pro-war Republicans. His opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his espousal of the blowback theory of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and his refusal to be cowed by the jingoist chest-thumping of Rudy Giuliani and others, was absolutely admirable, even though I think the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not equal in their misguidedness. Personally, I believe you can make a fair case for going into Afghanistan after 9/11, if only to topple the Taliban and disrupt Al-Qaeda. Whether or not we should still be there is another question.
But what you definitely do not get in this uncritical two hours is any information on the controversies concerning Paul's views on race, his flirtation with the "9/11 truth" conspiratards, or the simple fact that so many white supremacists supported him.
One need only consult the white nationalist site Stormfront.org and do a search for Paul's name to find the depth of his support amongst this swill. Paul even accepted a $500 campaign contribution from former Klansman, convicted felon and Stormfront founder Don Black, which Paul refused to give back once it was exposed. He also posed for photos with Black and his son.
Paul's views on race, his homophobia, and his conspiratorial mindset were carefully documented in a lengthy 2008 New Republic piece by James Kirchick titled "Angry White Man," which recounted the racist filth spewed by Paul (or his functionaries) in his various newsletters.
Kirchick writes of the newsletters' content:
"In June 1991, an entry on racial disturbances in Washington, D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood was titled, 'Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo.' `This is only the first skirmish in the race war of the 1990s,' the newsletter predicted. In an October 1992 item about urban crime, the newsletter's author -- presumably Paul -- wrote, 'I've urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self-defense. For the animals are coming.'"
This was not a matter of one or two off-color comments, but a persistent, disturbing pattern. Such opinions were voiced over and over in Paul's newsletters, often without a byline, and often written in the first person, to give the obvious impression that Paul himself authored them. Paul and his campaign staff attempted to distance themselves from the content of these newsletters, claiming they were written by others. But Kirchick doesn't buy it, and neither do I.
"In other words," wrote Kirchick, "Paul's campaign wants to depict its candidate as a naïve, absentee overseer, with minimal knowledge of what his underlings were doing on his behalf. This portrayal might be more believable if extremist views had cropped up in the newsletters only sporadically -- or if the newsletters had just been published for a short time. But it is difficult to imagine how Paul could allow material consistently saturated in racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy-mongering to be printed under his name for so long if he did not share these views. In that respect, whether or not Paul personally wrote the most offensive passages is almost beside the point. If he disagreed with what was being written under his name, you would think that at some point--over the course of decades--he would have done something about it."
Moreover, as Kirchick pointed out then, and as is plain to anyone with knowledge of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, and the segregationist philosophy of states' rights, the views expressed in Paul's newsletters are in fact consistent with Paul's core, anti-government philosophy. Paul's even stated that he did not believe the American Civil War was necessary, though Southerners were not going to give up slavery without a fight. Such an opinion is either extremely myopic, or quite simply code to be picked up by Paul's neo-Confederate followers.
"The Constitution was written very precisely to restrain the power and force of government," Paul said in one of the speeches the film shows, "and to protect the liberties of each and every one of us."
Okay, so what happens when the rights of some are being trampled by a states' rights majority, as was the case during the South's Jim Crow days? Should the judiciary and the federal government not intervene to protect the rights of the minority? Should black children have been allowed to have been blocked from schools across the South despite the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown decision in 1954?
It's important to recall that African-Americans were being denied their voting rights and had been relegated to a second-class existence by the white majority of this country. More than that, they were brutally terrorized by lynchings and the race-based terrorism of the Klan, which had a partner in local law enforcement at the time. Had the civil rights movement not forced the federal government's hand, the oppression would have continued.
Paul supporters don blinders when such arguments are made, or when their white knight is besmirched with the evidence of his past statements. I'm not suggesting they are all racists, though some -- particularly in the Stormfront community -- certainly are. I understand why Paul's limited government, libertarian-speak appeals to many. But Paul essentially belongs to the old America First, pre-Brown, isolationist, reactionary strain of American politics. His message is not new, it's antediluvian. The man is a dinosaur, and hardly the torchbearer of freedom his followers find him to be.
The congressman will be in town this week at ASU, and appearing at Ernie Hancock's libertarian "Freedom Summit" in Phoenix. For more info on the Hancock event, see the conference's Web site, here.