In Defense of Ron Paul
There's been rather a lot of Ron Paul bashing here and in nearby environs recently. I have to demur, both on the substantive case against Paul, and the way that case has been framed. Daniel Sieradski inveighs against Ron Paul's … Read More
Daniel Sieradski inveighs against Ron Paul's "willingness to accept money from neo-Nazis," and concludes that this willingness should disqualify Paul from the presidential race. The antecedent is a grossly unfair characterization, as even a whiff of collegiality with neo-Nazis can be sufficient warrant to exile someone from polite society, and Daniel's phrasing makes it sound as if Paul either deliberately courted contributions from neo-Nazis, or at the very least is specifically disposed to accepting their dollars. In fact, Paul's blanket policy is to accept donations from any source, and let donors whose views Paul does not support swallow the economic cost of their wasted contributions (a rudimentary lesson in personal fiduciary responsibility, no?).
So, the agreed-upon fact is that white nationalists did indeed contribute money to Ron Paul. Perhaps a candidate who receives money from such unsavory figures has a moral obligation to return it, and perhaps not — I think not, more on that in a bit — but scrutinizing Paul's views on such a purported obligation is an extraordinarily oblique and unhelpful way of assessing whether or not he personally harbors sympathy of any kind for neo-Nazi views. Which is, after all, precisely what this kerfuffle is all about, and since the direct evidence that Ron Paul is objectively pro-neo-Nazi (if you will) is somewhere between scant and nonexistent, those wishing to level such an indictment are left to proceed via innuendo.
Thus, Daniel writes of Paul's refusal to return contributions from white nationalist groups that it "echoes…Europe's re-embracement [pardon?—DK] of right-wing extremism, the attendant resurrection of ethnic nationalism, and the growing success of far-right parties, many of which have taken over large swaths of European parliaments." And while dark intonations about the truly frightening revival of quasi-fascist nationalist movements in Europe at the end of the 90s (which seems to have quieted down somewhat in the last few years) make for incriminating rhetoric, the trouble with this analogy is that the situations are not in any relevant sense analogous.
For example, Jorg Haider* is a son and pupil of fervent Nazis, publicly associated himself with the Waffen SS, and transformed the vaguely pan-Germanicist Austrian Freedom Party into an expressly xenophobic, racist bloc. Ron Paul, on the other hand, adhered to a policy of accepting contributions from anyone. Jean-Marie Le Pen cut his teeth in the monarchist and clerico-fascist movement Accion Francaise, became a nationally-recognized figure in France during his 1960s campaigning for the rehabilitation of Vichy leaders, founded his Front National party with neo-Nazis as part of the coalition, and is a recidivist Holocaust revisionist. Ron Paul, on the other hand, adhered to a policy of accepting contributions from anyone. The Hungarian Justice and Life Party merged with the Movement for a Better Hungary to form the MIEP-Jobbik alliance (‘Jobbik' is an acronym, coming from the Magyar words for ‘right-wing youth community'), which stood as Hungary's semi-official anti-Semitic greenshirt party until the most recent legislative elections. Ron Paul, on the other hand, adhered to a policy of accepting contributions from anyone. The Flemish Bloc of Belgium, whose raison d'etre (after Flanders secessionism) seems to be to promote Flemish supremacism, has included Holocaust revisionists and deniers in its leadership positions. Ron Paul, on the other hand, adhered to a policy of accepting c ontributions from anyone. And on and on. But for a record of never having espoused a racialist or neo-Nazi ideology, Ron Paul is just like racialists and neo-Nazis in the European far right.
In other words, once we clear away the hyperbole inflating the argument against Paul, the leftover detritus consists almost entirely in a transparently circular logic. To wit, Ron Paul is a Nazi symp, as demonstrated by his campaign contributions from white nationalists, who gave to him because he is a Nazi symp. There remains, to be sure, an interesting question of why some white nationalists find Paul's views congenial, though the answer is so banal and unmysterious that those determined to find some sinister machinations undergirding the Paul movement might be forgiven for overlooking it. Namely, a strict logical entailment of Paul's position against federal government foreign aid programs is that he be against foreign aid to Israel. And since supporting foreign aid to Israel is a sine qua non for any candidate looking for recognition as a Washington Establishment Approved mainstream candidate, Ron Paul, being the only candidate to combine small-government conservatism with a lack of concern for what a buffoon like Tim Russert thinks of him, emerges as the only candidate to oppose foreign aid to Israel. Well, naturally, some elements within the anti-Semitic far right have glommed onto Paul for that reason, but the salient point is that the neo-Nazis who support Paul do so simply because of an accidental intersection of views stemming from wildly disparate ideologies with wildly disparate motivations.
The final ground for criticism of Paul is the notion that, even if he does not share their ideology, Paul should not have accepted donations from white supremacists and is obligated to return their contributions. And here, I'll admit that Paul's policy of taking donations from anyone has led to a situation that is genuinely unsettling. But if we strip away the raw emotionality and consider the general moral imperative regarding monetary donations and their refusal, I don't see any reason to think there is an obligation to refuse a donation from any given source, no matter how unsavory, outside of specific exceptionalcases.
My initial premise, which I'll regard as uncontroversial unless someone shows me otherwise, is that anyone collecting money for a charity, political campaign, etc., operates on the presumption that he can accept contributions from any source, and that a positive case has to be made against a specific source to rule it out. And I see no reason to believe that ideology alone can be a disqualifying factor. After all, if neo-Nazis had donated en masse to, say, a mainstream breast cancer charity, there is no coherent sense in which such donations would have a corrosive effect on the work of the charity purely in virtue of the beliefs of the donors. And to refuse that money would be to incur a quantifiable cost in medical research and treatment to the beneficiaries of the charity's work that is hardly worth whatever moral aggrandizement one could derive from refusing a donation. Likewise, I think, with political campaigns, although the case is a bit more tricky because of the vague conceptual divide between campaign donations and bribes. In Paul's case, there is no intrinsic connection between Paul's views and those of his most repugnant donors, so there is similarly no sense in which such dollars will bend Paul toward a neo-Nazi platform. The exceptional cases are those of outright bribes, as well as cases in which donated funds are derived from an illegitimate infringement on the rights of a third party (the paradigm instance, clearly, is theft, although any number of criminal enterprises would fit the bill), which, again, is not true of Paul's donations.
Furthermore, to do a bit of empirical ethics for a moment, the history of donation refusal is not a history of principled stands, but a history of cynical posturing in order to signal one's sympathies by winks and nods. It is behavior roughly akin to Bill Clinton's 1992 vintage Sistah-Souljah and Ricky Ray Rector episodes ("outdo[ing] Willie Horton by every definition of racist grandstanding" as Christopher Hitchens described the latter case), an act not intended to cause any distress to the individuals whose donation is refused (though it can have that effect accidentally), but rather to pander to select interest groups. Do you think Bob Dole refused money from the Log Cabin Republicans in order to set back their cause, or to ingratiate himself among gay-haters on the right?
The upshot is that the whole business of trying to descry from campaign contributions where a particular candidate stands on issues is an effort of sisyphian futility, especially when candidates are actually on the record stating their views. (So, pace Jamie, one need not resort to leafing through the financial records of the Giuliani campaign in order to impugn it. The evidence that Rudy Giuliani is a fascist is Rudy Giuliani's fascist ideology.)
One last point. Although I doubt many anti-Semitic right wingers would listen to my advice even if I weren't writing for a website called Jewcy, if their ultimate goal is to do harm to Jews and to Israel, and if they are disposed to giving to Paul on the grounds that cutting off support for Israel will weaken the Jewish state, they are making a tactical mistake. There is another candidate in the race whose policy preferences are a sure bet to cause widespread violence, death and suffering in Israel, and he has a better shot to win than Ron Paul.
*A bleg to Jewcy's readers: Can someone set me straight on how to get umlauts and other diacritical marks either in html or in Word for Mac?