December 23, 2008

Ron Paul and the Left-Libertarians

I?d rather not revisit the whole ?affair of the newsletters?; however, I?m very glad that Marcus has spoken up on this issue, and, I must say, I find Dan McCarthy?s defense of Reason magazine, and David Weigel and Julian Sanchez in particular, completely off base and rather pathetic.

According to Dan, Weigel, Sanchez, and Reason magazine were guided solely by the light of, well, reason, and in their unbiased and public-spirited search for the truth began reporting at length on the newsletters and the politically incorrect opinions therein. 

First off, the idea that Reason writers are all ?journalists first? strikes me as a bit off: This is the magazine that hosted functions and mixers for Bob Barr throughout the fall, and covered his campaign with obvious sympathy. Not that there?s anything wrong with that.

Second off, as Sean Scallon points out, the newsletters were hardly news?the Houston Chronicle reported on them years ago and I first learned about them while reading Paul?s wikipedia page in the spring of ?07. Weigel and Reason dug up nothing. 

More importantly, Dan seems to have missed the fact that Reason and the Beltway libertarians were some of the few people at all interested in the newsletters and the pseudo-controversy instigated by the neocon and hysteric Gay activist Jamie Kirchick. The little pudgeball got booked on MSNBC?s ?Tucker? just before his ?Angry White Man? piece went online at TNR, and his article got chatted up for a couple of days. But the story had no legs. I remember watching Paul on Wolf Blitzer?s show a few days after the ?controversy?: Blitzer (who, I suspect, voted for someone other than Ron Paul) asked the congressman a couple of perfunctory questions about his alleged racists and fascist sympathies, Paul gave his standard apology and defense, and the matter was dropped. Blitzer, and no one else in their right mind, thought that the mild-mannered Texan was a closet maniac.

With the financial meltdown, Paul has had a revival of credibility and has done a lot of cablenews. And yet, even when he goes on the most PC of shows, no one asks him about the newsletters. No one outside Reason and the left-libertarian circles even cares! 

The newsletters author, whoever he might be, certainly used some harsh language I would never defend; however, as Justin and John Derbyshire have pointed out, he also made some provocative statements that were most definitely getting at something true and real. And here I?m thinking about the claim that in the ?92 Rodney King riots, it was the brave Korean-American shop owners, who were defending their families and property against black rioters, who were the only ones acting like ?real Americans.” I?d also speak up for the notion that the right of secession is an indispensable aspect of political liberty. (This is a commitment which, ironically, Reason has endorsed.)

I was also rather appalled that Dan would say, ?Positive or negative, Weigel and Reason devoted more attention to Paul than any other outlet that wasn?t self-consciously in Dr. Paul?s camp, and even snarky or critical coverage is better for a candidate than to be ignored, which is the treatment Paul received from most of the press.? It?s as if Dan were saying, ?Thanks for beating up on us! We?re so glad you noticed! Please keep it up!? It reminds me of all those poor women who think that a little ?one-night stand? attention is better than no attention at all.

The sad truth is that while there were certainly some efforts in the media to black-out Paul (and without question, many journalists were simply ignorant of his candidacy because they?re, well, stupid journalists), much of Paul?s lackluster media presence was self-inflicted, having to do with the candidate?s own reluctance to campaign full throttle (which Weigel has written about) and the embarrassing incompetence of his staff, led by Lew Moore. I?ve heard horror stories of media-request emails piling up in the campaign?s inbox. And whether this is true or not, it?s irrefutable that the campaign was never able to ?make news,? direct the media (which are much more malleable than many believe), and pitch journalist stories. The Paul TV and radio advertising was lame, and the campaign never took a chance on creative, risky spots, like, say, the Hucksters amusing ads with Chuck Norris, which got attention. There are tons of creative libertarian types who would have been delighted to serve the campaign?why weren?t they utilized?

It?s also no coincidence that the ?money bomb? fundraising efforts originated outside the campaign, among Paul’s ?netroots,? which predated his ?08 run and which was far more innovative and daring than the campaign braintrust. Chairman Kent Snyder?s decision to make fundraising transparent and live in real time was brilliant, to be sure. But it?s independent political entrepreneur Trevor Lyman who’s become synonymous with outside-box fundraising and the use of new media. The campaign didn?t even have a real blog until Dan was hired?in January of ?08! 

Sean Scallon is right on the mark when he mentions, ?The whole fight over the newsletter issues was really about the struggles between the Cosmopolitan Libertarians of Reason and CATO Institute against Provincials of the Von Mises Institute and the Randolph Bourne Institute ( sponsor).? Weigel and Sanchez even made this explicit, writing that those wicked newsletters arose from the dark heart of ?paleo-libertarianism??a persuasion with which I know Dan has great sympathies. On one side, you have the tradition of the Austrian school, with its great exemplars, Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, as well as Rothbard’s laudable later efforts to confront the welfare state and interventionist foreign policy by capturing the spirit of American populism. On the other, you have aging hipsters and wannabe cool kids who think that James Dobson or anyone who opposes Gay Marriage represent the greatest threat to liberty. Dan seems to want to straddle, or even bridge, these two camps. Such an effort is neither possible nor desirable.     

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