How Ron Paul Should Address The Newsletter Controversy

Ron Paul could make an Obama-style "race speech" to address the controversy.

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Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast helpfully suggested that Rep. Ron Paul could quiet the furor over the newsletters that bore his name by giving an Obama-style "race speech."

It's not a bad idea.

In particular, Paul should adopt the following passage from Obama's speech and make it his own:

[blockquote]The profound mistake of Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country ... is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.[endquote]

Libertarianism in America is bound to that same tragic past.

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Dr. Samuel Johnson famously asked, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

To read the racialist screeds found in Paul's newsletters of the late '80s and early '90s is to be reminded that, in the darkest corners of the libertarian right, that yelping has never really stopped.

It's a deeply rooted, Virginian-English yelp that grates on the ears of modern liberals and Burkean Yankee conservatives alike.

In Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, historian David Hackett Fischer wrote:

The libertarian ideas that took root in Virginia were very far removed from those that went to Massachusetts. In place of New England's distinctive idea of ordered liberty, the Virginians thought of liberty as a hegemonic condition of dominion over others and—equally important—dominion over oneself. ... It never occurred to most Virginia gentlemen that liberty belonged to everyone. It was thought to be the special birthright of free-born Englishmen—a property which set this "happy breed" apart from less fortunate people in the world.

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In his hypothetical race speech, Ron Paul could acknowledge this "tragic past"—but insist that 21st-century American libertarianism need not be bound to it. Paul could say that the black community is being harmed by the sort of paternalistic government that, 50 years ago, secured their political liberty.

Granted, since he remains adamantly opposed to the letter of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, this would be an awkward straddle for Paul. But he has made a version of this argument in the context of the war on drugs.

Paul could remind us, too, that the Virginia conception of liberty was only half-hierarchical. Re-read the above citation and Fischer's phrase "dominion over oneself." This points to the libertarian ethos of self-reliance and independence that doesn't require historical de-odorizing.

I doubt Paul would seriously consider giving such a speech. Yet even though I trace my conservatism to New England rather than Virginia, I'd still like to see him deliver something like it.

All conservatives have a dog in this fight.