Ron Paul is not just a rare politician. The Texas Republican's combination of principle and plainspokenness, which has helped his presidential campaign break fund-raising records while attracting a strikingly diverse and enthusiastic crowd of supporters, makes him unique in recent U.S. history.
Since 1997, as during his terms in the 1970s and '80s, Paul has been the only member of Congress who has consistently taken seriously his oath to "support and defend the Constitution," earning the sobriquet Dr. No by voting against unconstitutional bills his colleagues were eager to support. More than any politician I can recall, Paul seems to say what he believes and believe what he says. That's why it's so disappointing to see his defensive, evasive responses to questions about racially inflammatory articles in newsletters that were published under his name in the '80s and '90s.
Not everything you may have heard about the newsletters is true. Contrary to what James Kirchick claims in The New Republic, the newsletters did not offer "kind words for the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke." And although various media outlets have described parts of the newsletters as "anti-Semitic," there's little evidence to back up that description in the passages Kirchick cites.
But the truth is bad enough. In addition to anti-gay comments that pine for the days of the closet, the newsletters include gratuitous swipes at Martin Luther King, discussions of crime that emphasize the perpetrators' skin color, and dark warnings of coming "race riots." None of it is explicitly racist, and some of it could be written off as deliberately provocative political commentary. Taken together, however, these passages clearly cater to the prejudices of angry white guys who hate gay people and fear blacks.
When Paul's opponent in his 1996 congressional campaign pointed to some of this ugly stuff, Paul accused him of taking the quotes "out of context." It was not until a 2001 interview with the Texas Monthly that Paul said his campaign advisers had discouraged him from telling the complete, "confusing" truth about the newsletters: that the most outrageous material had been written by someone else.
That is Paul's defense today, and I'm inclined to believe him. The race-baiting newsletter passages do not sound like anything else Paul has said or written in his public life. People who were familiar with the newsletters' production confirm that they were largely ghostwritten and that Paul often did not review them prior to publication.