I think it’s fair to say that Ron Paul doesn’t like to take questions about the newsletters that bore his name in the 1990s. He walked out of an interview with Gloria Borger when she peppered him with questions about it.

Paul’s argument is that this came up in the 2008 campaign, and therefore it falls under old news. Also, he answered the questions about the newsletters at the time, saying he didn’t write them or read them, and that he disavows them. However, video has been unearthed showing Paul standing by the old newsletters back in 1995.

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the correct argument here. The newsletters come from a time when paleoconservatives sought out and used a racist element to bolster their ranks. Paul doesn’t put forward these beliefs today, using isolationist foreign policy beliefs and libertarian Fed-bashing to solidify his ranks. But at the time, he clearly used the racist element as a means to consolidate power. This excerpt from a Dave Weigel piece makes the point in the career of George Wallace:

In 1952, [George Wallace] became the Circuit Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit in Alabama. Here he became known as “the fighting little judge,” a nod to his past boxing association. He gained a reputation for fairness regardless of the race of the plaintiff, and J. L. Chestnut, a black lawyer, recalled, “Judge George Wallace was the most liberal judge that I had ever practiced law in front of. He was the first judge in Alabama to call me ‘Mister’ in a courtroom.”

On the other hand, “Wallace was the first Southern judge to issue an injunction against removal of segregation signs in railroad terminals.” Wallace blocked federal efforts to review Barbour County voting lists, for which he was cited for criminal contempt of court in 1959. Wallace also granted probation to some blacks, which may have cost him the 1958 gubernatorial election.

He was defeated by John Patterson in Alabama’s Democratic gubernatorial primary election in 1958, which at the time was the decisive election, the general election still almost always being a mere formality. This was a political crossroads for Wallace. Patterson ran with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization Wallace had spoken against, while Wallace was endorsed by the NAACP.

After the election, aide Seymore Trammell recalled Wallace saying, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?… I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.”

Paul wanted to stay in the public eye in his period in between running on the Libertarian line for President and becoming a Congressman. He allowed these newsletters to go out in an appeal to racists and bigots. I remember seeing one of these newsletters in college – they were full of antigay imagery as well.

What’s a bit surprising to me is that the newsletters had to come up again as a way to discredit Paul with Republicans. Certainly his stated beliefs today clash with much of the Republican base. You saw Newt Gingrich trot out those arguments in a radio interview today. “(Paul) is a guy who basically says, if the United States were only nice, it wouldn’t have had 9/11. He doesn’t want to blame the bad guys.… He dismisses the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon and seems to be indifferent to the idea that Israel could be wiped out. And as I said, I think the key to his volunteer base is people who want to legalize drugs.” Now that’s what I expected all along: Paul hates America, Paul loves pot-smoking hippies. To a Republican audience, that would probably be enough. But the newsletters apparently are icing on the cake, and catnip for media types.

One other unrelated thing here. I know a lot of liberals who get angered by progressive support for Paul. Just because he’s anti-war and pro-legalization, the story goes, doesn’t mean that his extreme libertarian economic policies wouldn’t hurt the country. I think the proper answer to that is to find champions on the left who speak with as much clarity about the need for justice and peace and equality. Alan Grayson springs to mind. The dearth of public conversation around these issues drives support to Paul, not anything else. As long as that something gets fought with nothing, nobody should be surprised about the attraction.