Friday, December 30, 2011

Ron Paul's Newsletters

I have recently endorsed Ron Paul for President.

Ron Paul was responsible for publishing a variety of newsletters over a long period of time. Between 1989 and 1995, the newsletters included some hateful, racist remarks. There were also ugly remarks regarding gay people.

Ron Paul has said that he didn't write those remarks.

I believe him.

Ron Paul has said that he wasn't aware of the remarks until they were used to attack him in his 1996 campaign for Congress.

I believe him.

Paul served in Congress from 1976 to 1986, failed to get the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 1986, and then ran for President as the Libertarian Party nominee in 1988. He returned to practicing medicine full time from 1989 to 1996. He returned to Congress again in 1996, and it was during the campaign when he first learned of some of the things that he had supposedly written over the previous several years.

More importantly, Paul disavows the remarks in the newsletters.

Paul's basic political philosophy is libertarian--he believes that all individuals, regardless of ethnic background or sexual preference, have equal individual rights. A racist politics, based upon defending the white race, or focused upon threats to society from African-Americans, Latinos, or Jews, is foreign to his thinking.

Most importantly, Ron Paul is a nice guy who is not comfortable saying or writing rude, ugly, or insulting things.

In my view, his primary political concern has always been inflation, which he believes results from money creation by the Federal Reserve. He believes the result will be economic collapse--a terrible inflationary depression. In his view, the solution is a gold standard. As a practical matter, the emphasis of his politics has been opposing all the activities of the Federal government inconsistent with the very strict limits that follow from his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. That includes most of U.S. foreign policy today. In his view, the U.S. Constitution solely gives the federal government authority to defend the U.S. There is no constitutional authority for projecting military power to promote the economic interests of U.S. business overseas or even the humanitarian values expressed by voters.

Paul's core views tie together, because the U.S. cannot afford all of this unconstitutional activity, which is what leads the Federal Reserve to print money to finance deficits, which will result in economic disaster in the long run. In Paul's view, the long run is just about here.

So, what about the newsletters?

All of the newsletters were written as if they came from the pen of Ron Paul himself. They didn't. They were ghostwritten. How were these ghostwriters selected? Why didn't Ron Paul review their work?

The best evidence that we have today is that Lew Rockwell was in charge of the newsletters. Who is Rockwell? He was Paul's Congressional Chief of Staff in the seventies. He was a vice-President of Ron Paul Enterprises when the newsletters were written. He was President and then CEO of the Mises Institute.

Rockwell has been accused of penning the offensive passages himself, a charge he denies. I believe him. Rockwell has stated that there were seven or eight ghostwriters for the Ron Paul Newsletters. The most likely scenario is that one, or perhaps several, of these unnamed ghostwriters were directly responsible.

However, I don't believe that there is some rogue ghostwriter that can be singled out. Again, the most likely scenario is that this sort of over-the-top propaganda and nasty invective was exactly what the ghostwriters were asked to provide by Rockwell, and mostly probably, by Murray Rothbard.

During this period, Rockwell was working very closely with Rothbard. Rothbard was a radical libertarian economist and a student of Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises. Mises hated inflation and strongly supported the gold standard. It is the connection to Mises, along with Rothbard's own uncompromising support for the gold standard, that tied him to Paul.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Rothbard thought that the right wing could be weaned away from foreign intervention. While Rothbard was never much worried about the communist threat and favored deep cuts in defense spending during the sixties and seventies, he hoped that with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, conservatives could be convinced that a smaller military establishment would be possible.

Second, after the ATF stormed David Koresh's compound in Waco, Texas in 1993, "the militia movement," developed. Conspiracy-minded right wingers were training with assault rifles all over the U.S. Many were concerned that the Clinton administration was going to seize all of their guns. They were devoted to the U.S. Constitution, especially the second amendment.

Third, in Europe, the Progress Party in Norway began to grow by opposing immigration. It received 23% of the vote in 1988 (compared to Paul's .5% for President as a Libertarian.) In 1993, the "libertarian" wing of the party dropped the anti-immigrant focus and political support dropped to 6.3%. The Freedom Party in Austria had been a moderate classical liberal party, like the German Free Democrat party. Under Jorg Haider's leadership, starting in 1989, they began to focus on opposition to immigration. In 1993, they began their anti-immigrant, Austria first, petition drive. They become a major player in Austrian politics. (Haider also created controversy by saying that the Nazi employment policy was better than that of the current government. Haider was regularly accused of having pro-Nazi and anti-semitic views. )

This was the period in which Rothbard and Rockwell developed "paleo-libertarianism." In my view, the newsletters were aimed at appealing to the militia movement, with the goal of turning it into a libertarian movement along the lines of the Progress Party or Freedom Party in Europe, that was strongly anti-foreign intervention, anti-Federal Reserve, and pro-gold.

The rhetorical approach in the newsletters, particularly the ugly invective, was Rothbard's way. Rockwell has a similar rhetorical approach. While Rothbard may have been one of the ghost writers cited by Rockwell, perhaps not. The ghostwriters, presumably other "Rothbardians," (libertarian who continued to follow Rothbard wherever he led,) were writing a message in the newsletters consistent with both the strategy and style of Rothbard and Rockwell.

Most libertarians rejected Rothbard and Rockwell's "paleo-turn." Libertarian economist Steve Horwitz gives his view here. To this day, some of the ugliest invective coming from Rockwell and the remaining paleo-Rothbardians is aimed at the libertarians who refused to follow along.

Ron Paul always stayed above these squabbles, but he let Rothbard and Rockwell use his name. Why?

I think the primary reason is that Rothbard and Rockwell share Paul's strong support for the gold standard and opposition to the Federal Reserve. While many libertarians agree, plenty do not. Further, Ron Paul is extremely pro-life. Rockwell agrees. Most libertarians are pro-choice. While Rothbard, last I knew, took an extreme pro-choice position on abortion, he and the other pro-choice paleo-Rothbardians didn't and don't fight Paul on the matter. Finally, there is the shared opposition to an interventionist foreign policy. While many libertarians agree, plenty do not.

In short, Paul trusted Rockwell and Rothbard to develop a strategy that would help promote individual liberty and limited government. Clearly, he knew the general outlines of their strategy. It was hardly a secret plan. Rothbard and Rockwell both wrote public manifestos in their attempts to bring other libertarians on board.

It came to an end in 1996. What happened?

Todd Seavey suggests that the Oklahoma City Bomber might have had something to do with a softening of tone. Suddenly, appealing to the conspiracy-minded militia movement began too look a bit risky. Seavey also points out that it was the year Rothbard died. A bright and articulate advocate of the approach was no longer there. (On the other hand, who knows what strategic coalition Rothbard would be promoting today.)

But I think it is simple. Ron Paul found out that rude and ugly words were being put into his mouth. "He" was trashing figures whom, on the whole, he admired, like Martin Luther King. Worse, he was supposedly making childish insults of people he had worked with personally, like Barbara Jordan. He put a stop to it.

Some have accused Paul of publishing the newsletters for the money. When challenged by a reporter that he made $1,000,000 in a single year, he seemed surprised. He explained that during that time he was practicing medicine full time to make a living. In other words, he wasn't making so much money as a newsletter publisher that he could retire, and he was busy with his "real job" which might be why he didn't pay much attention to what Rockwell was doing with the newsletter. Rothbard had a position at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Rockwell, on the other hand, may have needed to earn an income, and the ghostwriters may well have been writing this stuff "for the money."

Perhaps some of the money ended up endowing the Mises Institute. Still, I think they were writing material that they thought would appeal to rightwingers, trying to turn them away from foreign intervention and towards limited government.

In 1996, when the newsletters were used against him in his campaign for Congress, Paul didn't say that he didn't write the passages nor did he disavow them. Why? He says that his campaign aides argued that his name was on them, and so he was responsible. Trying the explain them would be "too confusing." (His efforts to defend them looked a bit weak to me.)

As far as I know, no one asked him point blank if he really wrote the material and so, he just deflected the questions as best he could. It is also possible that some of those "aides" still thought that those words that were put into his mouth would help with his political career. It could be nothing more than the political contributions they were getting by using the old mailing list, but perhaps they still thought that a U.S. version of the Progress Party was in the cards.

To this day, there are supporters of Ron Paul who will argue that there was nothing wrong with anything in the newsletters. Thankfully, Ron Paul disagrees. Ron Paul is not a racist. He has no use for any kind of racist politics. And, he is a nice guy who doesn't say rude and ugly things about anyone.


  1. Jeez, I have a tough time with someone sending out newsletters under one's name, and then later saying he didn't even read them. That is a tremendous lack of judgement.

    And Paul's genuflection to gold is just nutty. Also, "at Congressional hearings, US Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas casually mentioned, in an exchange with Ben Bernanke, the rumors that the Fed somehow assisted in the Watergate coverup, and when Congress looked into it, they couldn't get the information."

    Ron Paul has many admirable traits, and I also believe people can mature as they get older. Former racists can overcome racism, and should be admired, not condemned for past views. Who hasn't, at some time in their life, disliked some other type of group, be it sectarian, racial, national etc?

    But Paul's peevish fixation on inflation, and his koo-koo genuflection to gold is dangerous, and I think he should have acknowledged his earlier views, but added that he now renounces those views.

    Nothing wrong with becoming a better, if he could just embrace Market Monetarism, then I would vote for him!

  2. I just stumbled onto your blog Mr. Woolsey via an article link from the Economist(which was linked via LRC). I'm really glad to see such a thoughtful writeup and I'm excited to see an economist like yourself endorsing Paul in South Carolina! I own a small business here in SC and love to see professionals like yourself in academia coming out for Paul.


    Nick Badalamenti
    Toolex Inc.

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