I am unwilling to take any guff from Ron Paul supporters who accuse me (see the comboxes) of being some sort of coward or careerist for objecting to the man’s dodgy and cynical past involvement with racists and white supremacists. For one, I have taken my lumps for standing up to racist agitators like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who denounced me in a speech and radio broadcast.I spent the week before 9/11 hiding out in my Brooklyn apartment after multiple Sharpton-inspired death threats. Al Sharpton is a buffoon and an evil man. But look: if I object to blacks playing the race card for political advantage, I damn sure have an obligation to stand up to whites doing so. Ron Paul is very far from Al Sharpton, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he was happy to play among the white supremacists and race-baiters for political advantage some years ago.

This is not an abstract thing for me. Most of my readers know that I come from, and now live once again in, a small Southern town. You hear stories from the bad old days. The other night, I was at an event in which a man told a story from what must have been the 1940s or 1950s. It involved a wealthy white landowner, N., who was a hard, cruel man. N. made a habit of basically stealing the land of poor black people. The storyteller, who knew N., said that there was once a black man who owed N. money, and who was begging to pay him off so that he could keep his land. The black man saw N. walking down the main street of a town near our own, and accosted him there, trying to get him to take his money so he could pay his mortgage off.

The rich white man took out a pistol and shot him dead, right there on the street, in broad daylight.

Of course the rich white man never had to answer for this murder. Nor did he have to answer for the many other cruel and illegal things he did to poor black people. He died peacefully in his bed many years later.

This is not something that happened in the 1800s. This happened within living memory. This happened right here, in the next town over. And there are other things like this that happened too here. These aren’t rumors. People who live here know the history.

I hate black racist rhetoric and bullying. I hate white racist rhetoric and bullying. It is all evil. If Ron Paul played around with this poison, he should be held accountable for it. This is not some game. This is not some historical abstraction. I knew people from my town — I am related to people from my town — all dead now, who participated in an extrajudicial lynching of a black man who, it came out later, had been falsely accused of a crime. This happened in the 1930s. All “respectable” white men.

Murderers. Men who believed that race was righteousness.

I’m not trying to get all righteous on you here. It’s just that I can’t stop thinking what it must have been like to have been black in this town in those days, and to have known that you or your brother, or your husband, or you child, could have been murdered by a white man, and nobody would have done a thing about it.

UPDATE: Some readers — see the combox thread — are bound and determined to say that I equate Ron Paul with the white man who shot the black man dead on the street. Nonsense. My point is fairly obvious, except for those who won’t see it: that racism is a demon that is very difficult to tame, and nearly impossible to corral once give free reign. I despise black politicians like Dallas’s John Wiley Price because they so freely and unashamedly play racial politics, and traffick in racist rhetoric, and in so doing call up the very thing that has been used in the past, and may be used again, to oppress their own people. You legitimize it for yourself and your own race, you have no grounds to deny it to people of other races.

I don’t personally believe that Ron Paul is a racist, nor do I dislike Ron Paul; any reading of my blogging here will find repeated praise of Paul, but also some criticism. The former outweighs the latter by far. I think that Ron Paul has not been as thoughtful or as morally sensitive as he ought to have been to the question of race and racial bigotry. He’s preoccupied with economics and foreign policy; it seems to me that he thought it was worth associating himself with some nasty pieces of racist work for the sake of recruiting followers to his views. If Ed Crane at CATO is correct, and Paul appealed to the mailing list of Willis Carto’s crackpot outfit, then Paul ought to explain just what he hoped to accomplish by reaching out to the followers of a raving pro-Nazi lunatic. To put it a different way, I don’t believe Paul is personally a racist, but I believe his demonstrable insensitivity to the evils of racism and, if the Carto allegation is true, anti-Semitism, reflects very poorly on his character and judgment. Megan McArdle:

I think the arguments and counter-arguments about what he knew and when he knew it will be rather beside the point.  It is simply not credible that Ron Paul never saw any of the newsletters published under his name, and so the minimum working thesis has to be that whether or not Ron Paul believed that the biggest problem America faced was all those black folks getting one over on the white man, he was perfectly willing to encourage such sentiments if doing so would advance his political goals.  This alone should disqualify him from office, so we shouldn’t need to waste time litigating other charges on the indictment.
Now, if Ron Paul were to sorrowfully admit that he had once harbored such beliefs–or failed to understand what it really meant to encourage such thoughts in others–then I would probably agree that we should forgive and forget.  But that is not what he has done.  What he has done is to cravenly attempt to avoid responsibility by blaming his subordinates.

It is a mystery to me why some of you Paul supporters refuse to see why any of this is problematic. Unfortunately for you, I have a record of writing against affirmative action, against unrestricted immigration, against political correctness, and against black racism, especially racist hucksters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. If I’m wrong on this issue, criticize my reasoning, but keep the ad hominem blather to yourself.