Last week I linked to an old Houston Chroncile report about a newsletter sent out by Ron Paul's Texas senatorial campaign in 1996 that made not-so-flattering remarks about blacks ("If you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be") and suggested — rather tepidly by today's standards — that Israel exerts an alarmingly high influence in setting the foreign policy agenda of the United States ("By far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government").
Paul's supporters, jumping on the wide circulation of this archived article, were quick to point out that the newsletter was not written by the candidate himself but by an anonymous staffer. This hardly exonerated Paul, however, as he must have either seen the document and approved it before it got mailed out or, what is perhaps worse, simply chose not to review public statements attached to his own candidacy yet formulated by his subordinates. Further, he took his sweet time in repudiating the content of the newsletter — it was only when he was asked about it by a reporter with a long memory at the Texas Monthly that Paul chose to offer a weak mea culpa and explain the provenance of his noxious comments. You can follow the whole affair at this site.
Well, Ryan Sager at the New York Sun (most of the blogosphere got the Houston Chroncile tip from Sager and Wonkette) has since examined Paul's comments on his decade-old solecism based on what the wildcard presidential candidate has since burbled to Reason's David Weigl. Here's Paul now:
I'd have to have you show to me that I wrote it because that doesn't sound like my language, and in campaigns, some things get into newspapers that aren't actually correct. But I wouldn't back away from saying that AIPAC is very influential in our political process. That's a little bit different than saying the Israeli government, but I think that the Israeli position is very influential, which is very interesting because some of you may have seen this—just recently, there was an article out that studied which groups of people were most opposed to the Iraq War. And the assumption is that AIPAC is in control of things, and they control the votes, and they get everybody to vote against anything that would diminish the war. Yet the group that is most opposed to the Iraq War are the American Jews. Seventy-seven percent are now opposed to the war, which is a powerful message.
I consider the statement recounted from the newsletter above objectively anti-Semitic — whether he wrote it or stood by his staffer's words. Again, it was: "By far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government." Mr. Paul didn't address that statement directly in his response to the question from Mr. Weigel, though he doesn't seem to be backing away from it.
Why is this anti-Semitic? Because any criticism of Israel or America's alliance with Israel is anti-Semitic? Hardly. It's an anti-Semitic statement because it plays directly into classic anti-Semitic tropes, as regards Jews controlling the world and controlling nations through a Jewish conspiracy. Even in his response to Mr. Weigel, Mr. Paul seems to be reiterating this notion of AIPAC controlling Congress, saying, "the assumption is that AIPAC is in control of things, and they control the votes, and they get everybody to vote against anything that would diminish the war."
What's more, while Mr. Paul is quite consistent and criticizes lobbies of all kinds, the statement ascribed to him singles out the Israeli government (not AIPAC) as "by far the most powerful lobby" of the "bad sort." This sort of exaggeration (what about the Saudi government? AARP? the farm lobby? the public-employees unions?), again, plays into anti-Semitic tropes.
First of all, there's a quaint silliness in the expression "objectively anti-Semitic," which, if I were being as radar-sensitive as Sager, I might add bears an adverbial resemblance to the kind of charge Stalinists used to level against radical opponents: Trotskyists or social democrats were "objectively fascist," and so on. Now, it is true that one can be "objectively anti-war" by believing strongly in the need for military confrontation but opposing what one finds to be the illegal or immoral means for having it. But anti-Semitism is, by definition, an unmistakably subjective disposition whether it's further qualified by terms like "mild" or "casual." In any case, it represents an irrational antipathy to Jews. Can Paul, on the evidence of his statement, be accused of harboring such an antipathy?
No. If there is some cause for concern or suspicion in Paul's worldview it's that it hardly encompasses the world at all — he, like plenty of libertarian ultras, suffers from a hoary but not-altogether-dishonorable brand of American isolationism that deplores keeps store by Washington's warning against "foreign entanglements" but conveniently elides the fact that the U.S. has had them since the 18th century.
Given Paul's fatuous but telling remark during the last Republican debate that the U.S. may have precipitated 9/11 by "bombing Iraq" (notice how even the antiwar right can conflate al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein), it's obvious that the only sand he hasn't got his head in is the Middle Eastern variety. Unlike, say, Jewcy's latest dialogician Justin Raimondo, he simpy hasn't got the attention span or feverish interest in Israeli affairs to believe in a grand Jewish conspiracy.
So Sager's raised eyebrow can come down an inch or two. Paul's use of "Israeli government" in lieu of AIPAC simply makes him another misguided or semi-informed pol who sees the two entities as perfectly interchangeable. (He should read this magazine sometime.) Either term would have led to the current Mearsheimer/Walt knock-off controversy surrounding his non-starter campaign for president.
Also, it's disingenuous for Sager to write: Even in his response to Mr. Weigel, Mr. Paul seems to be reiterating this notion of AIPAC controlling Congress, saying, "the assumption is that AIPAC is in control of things, and they control the votes, and they get everybody to vote against anything that would diminish the war." It's clear from Paul's next sentence, which begins with the word "yet" and proceeds to show that the majority of American Jews are against the war that AIPAC favors, that he's juxtaposing his own current position against the conventional wisdom. Paul still suffers from the same category problem of equating some monolithic American Jewish opinion with the dread "Lobby," but again, he could have got that from reading the New York Review of Books, which can hardly be described as an anti-Semitic journal.
More worrisome, in my opinion, is what Paul — or his camp, anyway — once said about blacks: young criminals of a rich, dark hue sure do run fast. He'd have needed to mention the omnipresence of long noses or horns in the land of milk and honey to make his remark about Israel even remotely as scandalous as that.