Ron Paul: Codger, Crank or Bunco Artist?

December 26th, 2011 at 11:29 am David Frum | 47 Comments |

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In my column for CNN, I discuss what Ron Paul tried to achieve with his infamous newsletters:

Texas congressman Ron Paul now leads among Iowa Republicans and has tied Newt Gingrich for second in New Hampshire. Republican conservatives have cycled through a series of “Not Mitts.” Is it now Paul’s turn?

Paul’s core following has been small but fervid. However, Paul now is gaining a larger following, especially among younger voters attracted by his message of drug legalization and his comprehensive — if utterly wrong-headed — explanation of the country’s economic crisis.

Unexpectedly, young voters seem also to appreciate Paul’s grandfatherly anti-charisma: his self-presentation as a good-natured old codger, charmingly baffled by the modern world. The ill-fitting suits, the quavering voice and the slack-jawed laugh all support the image of an anti-politician, the lone voice of integrity in a sullied word.

There is however a flaw in this benign image of Paul: the now-notorious newsletters published under his name in the early 1990s. Paul collected nearly a million dollars in one year from newsletters suffused with paranoia, racial bigotry and support for the period’s violent militia movements. Four years ago, Jamie Kirchick of the New Republic unearthed partial collections of the newsletters in the libraries of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society. From Kirchick’s subsequent report:

“Take, for instance, a special issue of the Ron Paul Political Report, published in June 1992, dedicated to explaining the Los Angeles riots of that year. ‘Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began,’ read one typical passage.

“According to the newsletter, the looting was a natural byproduct of government indulging the black community with ‘ “civil rights,” quotas, mandated hiring preferences, set-asides for government contracts, gerrymandered voting districts, black bureaucracies, black mayors, black curricula in schools, black tv shows, black tv anchors, hate crime laws, and public humiliation for anyone who dares question the black agenda.’ It also denounced ‘the media’ for believing that ‘America’s number one need is an unlimited white checking account for underclass blacks.’ “

There’s a lot more in this vein.

Paul now claims that he did not write the newsletters, was unaware of their contents at the time and now has no idea who did write them.

It’s fair to say that almost no one who has followed the controversy believes that Paul is telling the truth about any of this. The authorship of the newsletters is an open secret in the libertarian world: they were produced by a community of writers led by Paul aides Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard, who wrote a newsletter of their own at the same time that expressed similar ideas in similar language. The racism of the newsletters — and the elaborate lying subsequently deployed to evade responsibility for the newsletters — say much about the ethics of Paul himself and the circle around him.

Yet Ron Paul is something more (or less) than a racist crank. As Michael Brendan Dougherty aptly observed in the Atlantic last week:

“As crazy as it sounds, Ron Paul’s newsletter writers may not have been sincerely racist at all. They actually thought appearing to be racist was a good political strategy in the 1990s. After that strategy yielded almost nothing — it was abandoned by Paul’s admirers.”

A fellow libertarian offers more detail on Paul’s racism-as-strategy. Paul and his circle aspired “to create a libertarian-conservative fusion … [by] appealing to the worst instincts of working/middle class conservative whites by creating the only anti-left fusion possible with the demise of socialism:  one built on cultural issues. … [The strategy] 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.  The explicit strategy was abandoned by around the turn of the century, but not after a lot of bad stuff had been written in all kinds of places.”

Click here to read the full column.

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47 Comments so far ↓

  • indy

    My, what fun to pile on! This title needs a change too: Ron Paul: Codger, Crank AND Bunco Artist?

    • Holmes

      Question: when will we see Frum’s critical skills brought to bear on Mitt’s character and conduct?

      Answer: either after his defeat or never.

      • Emma

        Frum is a partisan. If you’re expecting him to put truth before party, best to find a comfortable chair. The wait will be a long one.

        • fgtayl01

          A more accurate headline for the story:
          GOP bloggers united: We must stop Ron Paul.

        • nuser

          Emma
          Truer words were never spoken. Where Emma, do posters here get the idea , Frum is really liberal and left? Sheesh!

  • Graychin

    “Ron Paul: Codger, Crank or Bunco Artist?”

    Easy – all of the above.

  • TJ Parker

    “… newsletters suffused with paranoia, racial bigotry and support for the period’s violent militia movements.”

    Yeah, let’s stick to the candidates who are defined by vicious verbal assaults against gays and their families, demonization of Muslims and denunciation of liberals, or anyone who might support or even defend the President, as un-American. ‘

    There are more gays and lesbians in this country than Jews. The GOP attacks against LGBT inidividuals and couples and their families is explicit and unequivocal. And yet its only when there’s a whiff of anti-Semitism in a candidate’s history that you wet your panties.

    • Nanotek

      “And yet its only when there’s a whiff of anti-Semitism in a candidate’s history that you wet your panties.”

      as Romney’s sexual bigotry goes unchallenged…

      gays seem the canary in the coal mine… the real lesson of the Holocaust too often flickers like a candle in the night wind

      “After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps.”

      http://www.holocaust-trc.org/homosx.htm

  • Deep South Populist

    Why does David Frum attack Ron Paul? Simple.

    David Frum has an agenda that Ron Paul threatens.

    The agenda is 1) protecting Israel’s interests, and 2) fighting to ensure that neither party ever entertains serious cuts to America’s defense budget, and 3) a new war on Iran.

    Regarding items #1 and #2, it is important to note that the neoconserative agenda has always been about Israel first.

    If you don’t believe me, consider the views of the leading neocons themselves.

    Here it is straight from the horse’s mouth.

    In 1973, Irving Kristol, the patriarch of American neoconservatism and ex-student of the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, wrote the following:

    Senator McGovern is very sincere when he says that he will try to cut the military budget by 30%. And this is to drive a knife in the heart of Israel… Jews don’t like big military budgets. But it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States…American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don’t want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel.

    In 1979, Norman Podhoretz, the other patriarch of American neoconservatism, had this to say about American foreign policy:

    There was, to be sure, one thing that many of even the most passionately committed American Zionists were reluctant to do, and that was to face up to the fact that continued American support for Israel depended upon continued American involvement in international affairs– from which it followed that an American withdrawal into the kind of isolationist mood that prevailed most recently between the two world wars, and that now looked as though it might soon prevail again, represented a direct threat to the security of Israel.

    If Barack Obama or Mitt Romney launch a war on Iran that will likely bring with it a global economic cataclysm or possibly even WW3, a lot of people are going to decide in retrospect the newsletters really weren’t that important in the scheme of things.

    mondoweiss.net/2007/04/norman_podhoret.html

    mondoweiss.net/2007/05/30_years_ago_ne.html

  • nyczhugo

    Frum, you are hilarious.

    Did you know your article was in CNN? Guess what else was on CNN?

    http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/12/20/rel20c.pdf

    This is a link from a CNN Republican Poll. This poll was taken from minorities. Guess who won the poll? Ron Paul.

    Although you and your buddies continue to smear on Ron Paul, people (minorities such as myself or not) see right through your plans.

    Carry on.

  • Rossg

    If Obama had been president in 2001, who thinks he would have attacked Iraq, and why?

  • Rossg

    The problem for Ron Paul is that, 20 years ago, he was a fully formed individual. What has occurred in his life since then to force upon him a reassessment of his views and convictions? He has shown no such tendencies in any of the debates.

  • gooffthegrid

    Dear Sir,

    Your forum rules require the users to refrain from personal attacks, including ad hominem attacks or racist and sexist slurs. I guess you don’t have to follow your own rules, because this entire article is an ad hominem attack against Ron Paul and includes derogatory ageist slurs which are truly disgusting.

    By definition an ad hominem argument is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.

    Your attack on Ron Paul is of course even worse than this definition because there is no direct evidence that Ron Paul is in the lease bit racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic. It’s difficult to effectively criticize the policy positions of Ron Paul who has taken every vote in Congress based on the principle of following the constitution and the principles laid out by America’s founders. So I guess you decided to resort to vicious and untruthful attacks. Unequivocally calling a person a bigot and a racist, especially with only circumstantial evidence is bad enough. To take it a step further and utilize ageist epithets such as “Codger”, Daffy Old Coot”, and “Crank” is completely unethical and disgusting, and of course is illegal if done in the work place.

    In the future would you please keep your hatred contained within your heart and not allow it to spew out in the public domain like a broken sewer main?

  • heap

    the election year game of ‘is that guy racist, crazy, or scamming us?’ is so much fun, even republicans are playing now.

    the fact that i can’t think of a candidate currently (or recently) in the running who couldn’t answer yes to 1 of those just makes the game more fun. that paul pulls the trifecta will probably end up being a benefit to his political aspirations… that’s gotta be a bitter pill.

  • Geprodis

    David Frum: Warmonger, smear merchant, or blowhard?

  • abc123

    What’s up with the full court press against Ron Paul? He has no chance of winning.. actually, his true purpose in all this will be to prevent Newt from winning. I would think that makes the Frum folks happy. He will keep Newt from gaining real traction in Iowa allowing Mitt to slowly ease his way into the position of nominee.

    Newt has no chance of winning the general election, Frum and Co should be glad Paul is around.

    • Deep South Populist

      If Ron Paul wins a few primaries, it increases his credibility and keeps his ideas in the national conversation. They want to stop that from happening if they can. It probably won’t work. It’s the middle of the holiday season, so no one is paying attention to these anti-Paul attacks but hardcore news and politics hobbyists.

    • Geprodis

      abc123 – Ron Paul is not chipping away at Gingrich, he is expanding the base.

      Frum and company are worried about Paul because they want the Republican Party to be a wall street imperialist party.

      Ron Paul is attempting to transform the party into something much better than it is presently.

      Frum is delusional if he thinks Romney can beat Obama. Romney IS Obama.

      Frum is not a deep thinker by any means, he just plays politics like it’s football.

      • abc123

        Paul is not expanding the base; the people who like him were the base already. Paul’s ideas are simplistic and naive and don’t contemplate real consequences one bit. That’s why he gets tripped up so fast on simple questions like letting sick people die. You guys need to go read your history books again and remember that we implemented those programs for a reason. Bad things were happening to people who could not help themselves and it was having a negative impact on society. It’s convenient to dislike all those programs until you are the one who needs them.

        I have one for you. Paul spoke out against federal laws pertaining to texting while driving. Did you know that people texting while they drive have worse reflexes than a drunk driver? Then that means Ron Paul should be in favor of making drunk driving legal. He either has to look like a hypocrite or a heartless jerk, the same road many of his positions lead.

        • Geprodis

          Paul just speaks out against federal laws, not state laws. Paul is against concentrated government power.

          You are naive if you think the Democrats are going to improve the nation. America can’t afford all the social security and medicare, etc.

          You think people are too stupid and mean to help themselves. Libertarians think people will help others and do the right thing. If people want to text while driving that’s fine…some people can do it with no problem.

          I don’t agree with having countless federal laws to treat Americans like we are children.

        • SerenityNow

          I used to live in Paul’s Texas congressional district and so I was curious/interested in his policy positions. I am fine with his stance vis-a-vis soft drug consumption, lower defense spending and devoting fewer resources to an expansive foreign policy. But when I got around to his take on the Federal Reserve I had to back off and look the other way. I’m not sure if the good doctor is aware of it but this country had an awful time with its finances in the pre-Fed era which goes back to the nation’s founding. The 18th and 19th century fights over a national bank played right into the agrarian/industrial rift as well as that between slave-holding and free states. Beyond that I have to wonder how well Paul might understand the consequences of a return to the gold standard.

        • Geprodis

          Serenity, why do you take a position on economics when you don’t know what you’re talking about?

          We had a Great DEPRESSION 15 years after the Fed was created. The panics of the 19th century were nothing compared to our economic problems in the 30′s and our current problems.

  • Deep South Populist

    The great Murray Rothbard called them the Smear Bund.

    As a veteran observer of neocon smear techniques, I’d say these ten terms and phrases are their go to smears:

    10. crackpot

    09. fringe

    08. crank

    07. crazy

    06. obsessed

    05. extremist

    04. paranoid

    03. …believes in conspiracy theories…

    02. racist

    01. antisemite

  • Oldskool

    Dick Morris is also trashing RP. That’s a respectable list of enemies. Isn’t it time the gop nominates someone who represents the party they’ve built, or ruined depending on your pov, say someone to the right of Genghis Khan? I think so.

  • Baron Siegfried

    If you’re going to run a losing candidate, run one that a) shows you have some cojones, and b) puts the blame on the people you don’t want around for the ’16 election. If they can blame the trouncing they’re going to get next year on the radicals, that may be what it takes for a schism. All the republicans have done with this spectacle they’ve laid out before us is pretty much guarantee Obama’s re-election. They may have irreparably damaged the brand, and the heavy handed tactics that Rove and his Merrie Crewe are using in their ads aren’t going over well at all. The American people are getting pretty fed up with the negativity of the SuperPacs, and if the dems have any sense at all, they’ll run a Jon Stewart kind of theme in their ads.

    I honestly think, though, that the TP crowd needs to go off and create their own party and see how much support they can get in the mainstream. There used to be a rational and intelligent republican party, and there are shell-shocked survivors of the culture war who can rebuild it if the loonies go off on their own. Otherwise, I fear the GOP will go the way of the Whigs. They’re already pretty Know-Nothing . . .

  • anniemargret

    A crank? Don’t know about that, but he certainly has given a public voice to many of us who harbored facts that we supposedly are not to whisper about on the national stage.

    As if….9/11 happened because they ‘hate our freedoms.’ I totally agree with Ron Paul. They attacked us because we have had a huge footprint in the MIddle East for some time, have taken Israel’s side over Palestine’s almost entirely, and because the military-industrial complex and the empire-builders do not want these truisms to enter the public discussion too deeply.

    But he speaks the truth on these issues, and unless we want to incur more of the wrath of the Middle East upon us, it would be wiser, and less costlier to lives and treasure, if we stop before we act, debate the issue, air out the grievances against, and allow the truth to shine under a light, and be very, very careful to stir up another hornet’s nest, unnecessarily, in Iran.

    If that means Ron Paul is a crank, then we need more of them.

    I will not vote for Ron Paul or any other libertarian, because I believe in social justice, and that the government has a role to play in the lives of Americans…for the good, if we want it.

    But for this stance, and his warning the the same rhetoric is heating up about Iran from the same people who gave us Iraq, we would be wise to heed his advice, and I give Paul high fives for it.

    • Nanotek

      “… it would be wiser, and less costlier to lives and treasure, if we stop before we act, debate the issue, air out the grievances against, and allow the truth to shine under a light, and be very, very careful to stir up another hornet’s nest, unnecessarily, in Iran.”

      + 1

    • Geprodis

      America has to attack Iran. According to our current foreign policy, we must. Iran has greater influence in Iraq now, and they are clearly our enemy.

      We have let them know by surrounding their nation with military bases.

      Romney, Huntsman, Obama, Gingrich, Santorum, etc. basically every candidate except for Ron Paul will be invading Iran.

      I think the only reason we are pulling out of Iraq is so we can pretend like we have had a victory and now a little break for peace…and then war again.

      • Nanotek

        “America has to attack Iran. According to our current foreign policy, we must. Iran has greater influence in Iraq now, and they are clearly our enemy.”

        Geprodis —

        (1) how is it our own national interest to launch a third war in the Middle East?

        (2) aren’t we too bankrupt? the Republicans insist we’re too poor even to provide college loans to the young, to provide health care to the poor and old or even maintain our badly needed infrastructure?

        (3) what will happen if we attack Iran?

        (4) who’s taxes will be raised or who’s earned entitlements will be cut?

        (5) will you join the military to help?

        • Geprodis

          You misunderstand me. I don’t agree with the policy, I’m just telling you what it is.

        • bill_mcgonigle

          I understood your first message. A vote for a non-Ron Paul candidate is a vote for a war with Iran.

          It’s extremely sad that this is the case, but you are correct, unfortunately.

          Google ‘Ron Paul Peace Signs’ if you’d like to help convince your neighbors to shake off the neocon destruction of America.

  • Jonathan Bernstein: The happy hour roundup – World Wide Magazine, your internet eyes …

    [...] 3. I wonder: Have a lot of Republican party actors pivoted too quickly from Newt-bashing to Paul-attacks? I don’t really think either has a plausible shot at the nomination, but I have to believe that Gingrich is more of a threat than the anti-war, anti-Israel, anti-torture libertarian. Example: David Frum takes apart Paul. [...]

  • Bombsnuffer

    David Frum has clearly earned his Neocon Douchebag stripes. Man, what a piece of trash. It’s too bad that a large majority of Americans read his pathetic attempt at propaganda…and BELIEVE it. It’s so sad to think so many of my fellow countrymen are utterly ignorant, misinformed, or just plain stupid.

    • TJ Parker

      It’s so sad to think so many of my fellow countrymen are utterly ignorant, misinformed, or just plain stupid.

      “utterly ignorant” = social conservatives and evangelicals
      “misinformed” = neocons and viewers of Fox News
      “just plain stupid” = Libertarians, Objectivists and Randroids

      Put it all together, it spells Gee! Oh! Pee!

      • Geprodis

        TJ are you saying you prefer the Democratic Party? Just curious.

        • TJ Parker

          Would you vote for a candidate who didn’t think that your kids deserved the same rights and privileges as other children? I think not.

          My family always comes first, which is why I can not and never will vote for any candidate who stands against the rights of gay and lesbian people and their spouses and their children.

          This pretty much means that I will never vote for a Republican.

        • Geprodis

          The Democrats don’t care about Gay people – they just want their votes. Why do you think Obama has not legalized Gay Marriage?

          Republicans also could care less about fighting the Gay agenda – they just want the anti-Gay votes!

          I have Gay friends, and I like some Gay authors and artists too, but I refuse to be a pawn of the 2-party system on this non-issue.

        • TJ Parker

          The Democrats don’t care about Gay people – they just want their votes. Why do you think Obama has not legalized Gay Marriage?

          How would “Obama legalize gay marriage”?? His stance against DOMA is a first, and necessary, step. He has done a lot for gay and lesbian individuals and couples.

          Republicans also could care less about fighting the Gay agenda – they just want the anti-Gay votes!

          Cool. They may have the anti-gay votes, but they won’t have mine. When my kids are old enough to be permitted to watch their filth on TV, I’ll teach them what “Republican” means. “Pro-family” my @ss.

          I have Gay friends, and I like some Gay authors and artists too

          How ’bout that! I have some Catholic friends, though I wouldn’t leave them alone with my kids. One of my best friends is a Jew!

          but I refuse to be a pawn of the 2-party system on this non-issue.

          I’m sure your gay friends appreciate the sentiment. Me, I cordially invite you to eat sh!t and die.

  • LFC

    According to the newsletter, the looting was a natural byproduct of government indulging the black community with ‘ “civil rights,” quotas, mandated hiring preferences, set-asides for government contracts, gerrymandered voting districts, black bureaucracies, black mayors, black curricula in schools, black tv shows, black tv anchors, hate crime laws, and public humiliation for anyone who dares question the black agenda.’ It also denounced ‘the media’ for believing that ‘America’s number one need is an unlimited white checking account for underclass blacks.’

    David, if you meant this to be shocking, maybe you should read some of the posts and comments on your own web site. Although the language is considerable more veiled, this doesn’t seem that far off of what passes for the mainstream Republican view on poor blacks today.

  • Cato

    Please keep up the desperate slander Frum…you are driving uncommitted voters to Paul because they figure if you hate him so much, he must be the right man for the job!!

  • Candy83

    Ron Paul is for the 2012 Republicans what Howard Dean was for the 2012 Democrats — anti-establishment.

    No anti-Ron Paul expressions — from anyone — should be trusted. Especially not from partisan Republican Party members.