Will the Pauls ever successfully distance themselves from allegations of racism? Since they first came to light in 2008, the controversies surrounding the publication of racist newsletters bearing Ron Paul’s name has been well-analyzed and well-documented. Senator Rand Paul experienced similar scrutiny a couple of months ago when it was revealed that one of his aides was a talk radio host named “the Southern Avenger” who once belonged to a group advocating Southern secession. Even though the aide resigned last month, Senator Paul has repeatedly tried to defend himself from the controversy in the past couple of weeks.
Now, the anti-Christian Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the elder Paul will provide the keynote address at a week-long conference in Canada sponsored by the Fatima Center, described as “part of the radical traditionalist Catholic movement [and] perhaps the single largest group of hard-core anti-Semites in North America.” Smeared again.
Ignoring the philosophical question of why a civil libertarian would speak at a conference vehemently denying the separation of church and state, it may remain difficult to see why this revelation qualifies as news for U.S. politics. Ron Paul as an individual is hardly of significance at this point, given that he is no longer a Ccongressman and the spotlight continues to shine on his son. The event is not even in the United States. And there is nothing in the report that actually proves Ron Paul to be an anti-Semite, although Jonathan Chait accurately notes that at least two other speakers at the conference certainly are.
Yet, the story is still significant, primarily because both men have become intrinsically connected with the philosophy of libertarianism. In the wake of Republican soul-searching and the NSA surveillance revelations, the growing libertarian movement is on the verge of transforming the American landscape, in large part due to the efforts of both the older and younger Paul.
The story, then, raises the fundamental question of whether or not the allegations of racism will eventually undermine the political movement that both Ron and Rand have come to lead and symbolize.
The Economist recently noted the historical association between libertarian movements and white identity politics in the United States. On the surface, this may sound strange since the philosophical core of libertarianism, the triumph of individual liberty, implicitly condemns the limitations imposed upon the individual by racial discrimination.
Yet in a country as triumphant of individual freedoms as it is scarred by the history of race, it may not actually be that surprising. The libertarian emphasis on limited government often echoes the state’s rights rhetoric used to justify the neo-Confederate movements long associated with the last openly racist elements of American society.
As they have in the past, the conservative media will probably reject the story as a smear campaign by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which they will accomplish by orchestrating their owna smear campaign that will only satisfy their own base. But this tactic would be foolish and short-sighted. Given the contours of the current restructuring debate, civil libertarianism may represent the future of the Republican Party, one untethered to the current racial politics that have separated the GOP from minorities and undermined its electoral viability.
However, this is only possible if civil libertarianism can dissociate itself from its own racial origins. If libertarianism is to remain credible within American politics, these racial connections must be brought to light and condemned. If not, then the movements towards libertarianism, though well-intentioned, may only accelerate the separation from minority voters that has undermined the Republican Party in recent years.
So will the complicated association between the Pauls and race eventually influence the politics of libertarianism? It may very well depend on the responses to these latest developments, as well as any future developments that may come to light. If it does not, it may just propel the younger Paul into the Oval Office. If it does, it may prevent him from ever getting there.
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