Ron Paul, Racism, and Federalism:

As co-blogger David Bernstein discusses here, Ron Paul's statement on racism claims that "it is the federal government that most divides us by race, class, religion, and gender." As I have argued in great detail here, the federal government's record on racism is not as good and that of the states not as bad as is often supposed. For much of American history, the federal government facilitated rather than combatted slavery and (later) Jim Crow. For example by imposing southern-style segregation in the District of Columbia, the one part of the US where the federal government enjoyed virtually unlimited lawmaking authority even before the New Deal. Prior to the modern civil rights movement, blacks probably benefitted from federalism in so far as it permitted northern and western states to pursue more liberal racial policies than Congress would likely have imposed had it enjoyed the same degree of control nationwide as it did in DC. As I have discussed in various articles (e.g. - here and here), federalism enabled many southern blacks to "vote with their feet" and move to relatively less hostile jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, Paul's claim that the feds are principally responsible for racism and racial division cannot possibly be sustained. It was, after all, state governments that took the lead in defending slavery, segregation, and other forms of discrimination against blacks and (in the Western states) Asian-Americans.

As David notes, Paul's statement on racism mostly targets modern affirmative action and racial preferences, while ignoring traditional racism against minorities. Even these policies, however, are much more common at the state and local than the federal level. Most government-created affirmative action preferences involve state and local government contracting or admissions policies at state universities. I don't agree with Paul's implication that these programs are as bad or worse than traditional Jim Crow-style discrimination against minority groups. But to the extent that they do cause racial division and other harms, state governments are primarily to blame.

The inescapable truth here is that combatting government-imposed racial discrimination often requires federal intrusion on the autonomy of state and local governments. Recognizing this is in no way inconsistent with libertarianism, a political philosophy in which the allocation of power between different levels of government is a purely instrumental value. It does, however, seem to be a blind spot for Ron Paul and his campaign.

UPDATE: It is only fair to note that, to my knowledge, Ron Paul is the sole candidate in either party to denounce the harm done to inner city African-Americans by the War on Drugs, the federal government policy that has probably done more damage to minority communities than any other over the last several decades. I don't think that the War on Drugs is inherently racist, but it certainly has been prosecuted with almost criminal indifference to the welfare of low-income minorities.