I've never thought Ron Paul's presidential candidacy was serious enough to merit much attention. But I have to acknowledge that it has caught fire on the Internet and that he's done surprisingly well in the voting so far. He's raised substantial money and has gotten support from some very serious bloggers and other commentators. Ilya and David have previously pointed out the problematic nature of his campaign in posts, for example, here and here, noting especially his failure to repudiate some of his extremist supporters. It does neither libertarianism nor conservatism any good to be associated with a fringe of hateful conspiracy mongers.
Now Jamie Kirchick, a rising young writer at The New Republic, has connected Paul more directly to a political legacy of conspiracy-mongering, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, which may provide some context for Paul's reluctance to confront these things among some of his supporters. Kirchick's article exposes some nasty stuff published in a newsletter running under Paul's name back in the 1980s and 1990s. The newsletter was variously called Ron Paul's Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Political Report, and The Ron Paul Survival Report. Some of the newsletter material is available here.
Paul's campaign has responded by claiming that Paul wrote some of the material that appeared in the report, that he did not write the more incendiary passages, that he often did not see material published in the newsletter, that he disagrees with at least some of it, and so on. Paul's campaign has issued a perfunctory press release to this effect, adding that the charges against him are "old news." Kirchick concludes that the Paul campaign's excuses don't matter much:
In other words, Paul's campaign wants to depict its candidate as a naïve, absentee overseer, with minimal knowledge of what his underlings were doing on his behalf. This portrayal might be more believable if extremist views had cropped up in the newsletters only sporadically--or if the newsletters had just been published for a short time. But it is difficult to imagine how Paul could allow material consistently saturated in racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy-mongering to be printed under his name for so long if he did not share these views. In that respect, whether or not Paul personally wrote the most offensive passages is almost beside the point. If he disagreed with what was being written under his name, you would think that at some point--over the course of decades--he would have done something about it.
I agree. It's perfectly acceptable to publish a newsletter containing material you disagree with. But it seems reasonable, under those circumstances, at least to disclaim any endorsement of it. The large volume and context of the material published strongly suggests that it represented Paul's views, at least at the time. Whether Ron Paul actually wrote the material, endorsed but did not write it, or was simply negligent in allowing it to appear in a newsletter bearing his name, he bears heavy responsibility for it. Self-serving disclaimers now, in the middle of a presidential campaign, aren't terribly convincing. Even if he has since changed his views about the material in his newsletters, they seriously call into question his judgment. He was, after all, an adult and had even served in Congress when this material appeared. He has at worst endorsed, and at best coddled, some of the most base impulses in American politics.
Paul has fringe supporters who won't be troubled by what's in the newsletters or who will turn cartwheels to excuse it in some way. But many well-meaning people have endorsed Paul as a refreshing alternative to what they see as stale and mealy-mouthed politicians and to big government run amok — whether in Iraq, in taxes, in spending, or in regulation. The moral challenge for these prominent and responsible Paul supporters now is to repudiate his candidacy.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan, perhaps Paul's most prominent supporter in the country, calls the newsletters "ugly" and "repellant" and has shifted his support to McCain.