To look at him, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul seems harmless. He's cute and contrarian. He wears poorly fitting suits. He's decidedly un-slick. You almost want to pat him on the head.
So we're not supposed to criticize Dr. Paul as a nutjob who subscribes to some rather wacky ideas. And subscribe is the operative word here, folks: The newsletters Dr. Paul published for nearly two decades during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s are chock full of racist, homophobic and anti-new world order rants.
From Dr. Paul now comes the nuttiest claim of all. He wants us to believe newsletters published with the titles Ron Paul's Freedom Report; Ron Paul Political Report; and, weirdest of all, The Ron Paul Survival Report do not reflect the views of, um, Ron Paul. He says he never wrote them, never even read them, and now disavows them. (Question: Why disavow words you neither wrote nor read?)
Nice try, congressman. There's his name in giant, bold letters at the top of each issue. On some editions his face appears at the top, or his signature at the bottom. The lack of bylines attached to specific articles, his defenders say, means Dr. Paul can't be held accountable for the words they contain. But the newsletters include first-person, biographical mentions like "my wife Carol" and "my youngest son … starting his fourth year of medical school." His wife's name is Carol; his youngest son, Robert, is a physician.
Even if surrogates actually wrote the material for Dr. Paul, so what? When politicians authorize press secretaries and ghostwriters to pen their statements, speeches and books, it is universally understood that the politician whose name appears atop the stationery or on the jacket cover is accountable. Once those newsletters went in the mail, Dr. Paul owned every word they contained — period.
What's in them? Four years ago, during Dr. Paul's first bid for the Republican presidential nomination, The New Republic's James Kirchick dug through state libraries, found old copies and took an inventory. "What [the newsletters] reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays," Mr. Kirchick concluded. "In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing — but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics."
Is Dr. Paul also not responsible for his votes in the House of Representatives, like the one he cast in 2004 on a resolution commemorating the 40th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that guaranteed equal access to the ballot and public facilities for all Americans? The final roll call was 414 ayes, one nay. A free subscription to The Ron Paul Survival Report for anyone who can guess the name of the lone dissenter.
None of Dr. Paul's radical beliefs would really matter if the Texas congressman were slogging around in fifth or sixth place in the Republican primary. But he isn't. His poll numbers are rising. He might win the Iowa caucuses next week.
Dr. Paul projects a mild manner and policy humility. He wants to reign in federal spending. He wants the government, and in particular its military industrial complex, to control its imperialist impulses. He'd like America to protect its core civil liberties. (Unless, of course, you happen to be pregnant.)
But don't let Dr. Paul's impish, avuncular and professorial style fool you. He's arguably the most megalomaniacal candidate in a 2012 Republican field that includes Newt Gingrich. And he's trying to squirm out of taking responsibility for his writings.
I now brace myself for the torrent of emails from Dr. Paul's vigilant supporters. When those emails arrive, I shall adopt the Ron Paul Defense: Despite my name and picture at the top of this column, I'm so busy lately I can't remember for sure whether I wrote all the words in this column, nor did I read them before or after the column went to press. So I can't be held responsible for calling their guy the racist, anti-gay conspiracist he is.
Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter at @schaller67.