Jonah Goldberg

Both controversies stem from the same sinful strategy adopted by so-called paleolibertarians in the 1980s. The idea was that libertarians needed to attract followers from outside the ranks of both the mainstream GOP and the libertarian movement -- by trying to fuse the struggle for individual liberty with nostalgia for white supremacy. Thinkers such as Murray Rothbard hated the cultural liberalism of libertarians like the Koch brothers (yes, you read that right) and sought to build a movement fueled by white resentment. This sect of libertarianism played into the left-wing view of conservatism as racist. The newsletters, probably ghostwritten by Rothbard and former Ron Paul Chief of Staff Lew Rockwell, were the main organ for this effort.

"The paleo strategy was a horrific mistake ...," libertarian economist Steve Horwitz wrote in 2011, "though it apparently made some folks (such as Rockwell and Paul) pretty rich selling newsletters predicting the collapse of Western civilization at the hands of the blacks, gays and multiculturalists."

By no means do all Ron Paul supporters subscribe to this dreck. Some are ignorant about this history, while others dismiss the controversies as a distraction from Paul's real message. Most take great offense at any suggestion that Paul or Paulism has anything to do with racism.

Rand Paul literally and figuratively grew up in the shadow of all this, but while he's always circumspect when talking about his dad, in private and in public he has given no hint of subscribing to the Rockwell-Rothbard thesis. Indeed, he is sincerely eager to reach out to African-American voters on issues like the drug war.

Rand Paul shares his father's ambition to be president. Color me skeptical. Even though he's a vastly better politician -- morally and strategically -- than his father, in a climate where politicians like Mitt Romney and John McCain can be demonized as bigots, should Rand Paul ever be nominated, one can only imagine what his opponents, in and out of the media, would do. Unfairly or not, his task of clearing the air would be Augean.

Hence another irony. Defenders like Napolitano think Paul's critics subscribe to a "dying ideology," but Paul's only shot at the White House hinges on thoroughly interring an ideology far more deserving of death. He's got a lot more work ahead of him.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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