Ron Paul’s philosophy: A libertarian can’t be a racist

Crossposted at the Michigan Messenger

[COMMENTARY] In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul responded to charges of being a racist because of his association with a racist newsletter. Since this incident and other allegations, including a Michigan Messenger report that Paul’s campaign was receiving support from neo-Nazis and white supremacists, his campaign has tried to distance itself from racist accusations.

However, Paul, a self-described libertarian, says that his philosophy precludes his being a racist. Indeed, Paul appears to have unusual support for a Republican, or even for some Democrats, among black voters. In the interview Paul told Blitzer,”I am getting the most number of black votes and black supporters because I attack the two wars that blacks are suffering from: the war overseas and the war on drugs.”

In fact a Ramussen poll from October 2007 had Paul receiving 31 percent and 33 percent of the black vote in a general election against Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, respectively. It is unclear if or how this support has changed, but it is unusually high for a Republican to poll that well among blacks. President Bush won just 11 percent of the black vote in 2004.

Paul’s opposition to the war in Iraq is widely known, but his position regarding the war on drugs less so. In the interview Paul told Blitzer:

“And what about the war on drugs? What other candidate will stand up in front of the camera and say, ‘I would pardon all blacks, all whites, everybody who is convicted for non-violent drug acts and drug crimes.’ This is where the real discrimination is…. Real discrimination is in the judicial system. Fourteen percent of inner city blacks commit drug crimes and 67 percent of blacks are in prison. That is discrimination that is the judicial code I am attacking and that is not racism.”

Paul’s position on pardoning anyone convicted of nonviolent drug crimes is truly groundbreaking and goes further than any presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican.

The war on drugs has crippled the African-American community, as a December 2007 report by the Justice Policy Institute found: “African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned for a drug offense, despite the fact that whites and African-Americans use and sell drugs at comparable rates.”

The ripple effects of these laws impact the black community because families are torn apart, and those who are incarcerated have difficulty obtaining gainful employment when released.

However, in the same interview, Paul — a conservative congressman from Texas who advocates cutting the size of government — went on to say that “libertarians are incapable of being racist because racism is a collectivist idea, you see people in groups. A civil libertarian like myself sees people as important individuals.”

Paul may not be a racist, but to claim that one’s political philosophy makes you immune to racism is fallacious. Paul’s argument is tantamount to a white person saying, “I can’t be racist because I have black friends.”

When talking about the war on drugs, Paul cited the figure of 67 percent of blacks in prison, but the only way he was able to know that is because the data was sorted by racial groups. Seeing people as part of groups, however, is not in itself a slippery slope toward racism or any other -ism that breeds distrust and hate.


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7 responses to “Ron Paul’s philosophy: A libertarian can’t be a racist”

  1. Independent Progressive says :

    You wrote: “Paul may not be a racist, but to claim that one’s political philosophy makes you immune to racism is fallacious. Paul’s argument is tantamount to a white person saying, ‘I can’t be racist because I have black friends.’”

    I agree with this, but it would have been equally helpful to include the example of a black person saying, “I can’t be racist because I’m black.” This is something I’ve actually heard spoken several times and it leaves me with my jaw hanging open. Substitute any ethnic group, religion, political philosophy, nationality, etc. into this and the statement is equally fallacious. It’s like saying, “I can’t be a liar, because I’m right handed.” Neither requires the other to be true or false.

    What is even more amusingly self-contradictory about Ron Paul’s wording is that he claims racism is “collectivist” while those belonging to a self-identified *group* (libertarians) would therefore be immune. He’s using a collectivist grouping to reject what he is calling a collectivist concept. We are not to examine their individual character because of their projected group identity. To paraphrase Steven Colbert’s quip in a similar situation, that would appear to be “interpreting Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech in a very special way.”

  2. Russ says :

    But, if you are racist or sexist or any other “ist”, this precludes you from being a true libertarian, as libertarianism supports only an individualist ideology without respect to those discriminations that are present today. Citing some race or sex based statistic does not equate to that citing person making a judgement against or for a particular “group”.

  3. Brandon Q. says :

    What’s up fam,

    Thanks for the comments fellas. I agree with you Independent, esp when you said, “He’s using a collectivist grouping to reject what he is calling a collectivist concept.” Often times, these sound bytes are never challenged or examined so I appreciate your analysis.

    Russ, I see where you are coming from but let’s be clear, my analysis is not some backhanded way to call Paul a racist. What I am saying is that ANYONE who would claim they cannot be a racist due to their political ideology is not living in the real world. And Russ, using statistics in and of themselves is not bad but when one uses “collectivist” data to prove that one has the support of one “group” and then say you don’t see people in groups is fallacious. Do you not agree?

    Thanks again for the comments.

  4. The Urban Scientist says :

    Not being racist….I’m gonna let him make it. But you all are right, your philosophy doesn’t exclude every subscriber from certain prejudices, but I get where he is going. Subscribing to certain egalatarian-esque philosophies DOES carry with it the likelihood to disavow activities, behaviors, etc that tend to be discriminatory.

    I like Ron Paul. I don’t tend to vote Republican (I am SO Green party), but I like Libertarians, always have. Rise up independent parties! I’ve always disliked the dominate 2 party systems – It disenfranchising smart people like Paul or Nader. He’s running on the Republican ticket cause it’s his best option. When independent parties have more voice, media coverage, and clean money to support publicity, then the larger American public will have an opportunity to engage in some serious smart (diverse) political dialogue.

  5. Connelly Barnes says :

    Saying that one doesn’t use collectivist ideas because one views people as valuable individuals isn’t a fallacious statement if it’s true. Dr. Paul appears to believe this, so there’s no reason to claim it’s false. It’s analogous to the difference between set and class in mathematics, there’s some linguistic difficulty in saying that one is part of a group that values individuals, but this difficulty just amounts to verbal games, the intent is clear.

    A more nuanced and thoughtful interpretation of libertarianism and rascism is given by Tim Wise here:

    Tim’s strongest argument is: “In a society where racism and white privilege have been so important to the way in which the world of work is organized, and have come to define what constitutes a “good neighborhood,” a “good job,” or a “good school,” it is no exaggeration to say that whiteness has become a form of property itself.”

    And of course, Seth’s criticism of libertarianism is a classic:

  6. Connelly Barnes says :

    And finally, to make the direct counterpoint, of course there are libertarians who are racist, the white supremacists being a prime example.

    Paul’s position to pardon all non-violent drug prisoners is commendable.

  7. Rob says :

    One’s ideology does not prevent one from being racist; there are racists of all of ideologies and there are some who think they aren’t racist but have very low expectations.

    White supremacists aren’t libertarians as true libertarians do not want to set up a nation of one race. True libertarians want open borders and open trade. Terrorists use Islam as a cloak for their deeds, some paleo-conservatives and socialist-facists use libertarian to claim that they are not racist.

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