Reports the Washington Post:

Ron Paul, well known as a physician, congressman and libertarian , has also been a businessman who pursued a marketing strategy that included publishing provocative, racially charged newsletters to make money and spread his ideas, according to three people with direct knowledge of Paul’s businesses.

The Republican presidential candidate has denied writing inflammatory passages in the pamphlets from the 1990s and said recently that he did not read them at the time or for years afterward. Numerous colleagues said he does not hold racist views.

But people close to Paul’s operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day.

“It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it,’’ said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul’s company and a supporter of the Texas congressman.

If this is true, then Ron Paul is a liar. If this is true, the best thing that can be said about him is that he’s a terrible cynic, because he profited off of the propagation of rancid views that he didn’t personally share.

Andrew Sullivan’s reaction includes this:

I cannot and will not defend the newsletters. And Paul’s apparent lies about his involvement make the matter worse. And I don’t think Paul is the “best vehicle” for advancing the ideas TNC cites. He’s a very flawed vehicle, like most politicians and human beings. And I corrected immediately the record on the MLK holiday.

But when Paul has said what he has said in these debates, when he has walked into the lion’s den of a GOP primary and attacked the criminal justice system for racial bias, lacerated the war on drugs, and cut to the core of the delusions behind American global aggression, he deserves to be judged on his recent history as well as his increasingly distant past. His message that more liberty makes diversity more possible is a vital one.

I would ask readers to think before rushing to comment about how this or that group is trying to destroy Ron Paul by publicizing this. Attacking the messenger, or argumentum ad hominem, constitutes evading the truth, not dealing honestly with it, and its implications.

UPDATE: Well, that was pointless, at least for some readers, to judge by the comments section. The Paultard instinct, it would seem, is to denounce any criticism of Paul as either a) generated from disreputable motives, or b) minor, given the context. You will note that I did not express a view about the Paul newsletters, other than to describe their content as “rancid.” Simply to have brought them up here is, for many readers, a sign that I am a Dalek (= mortal enemy of the Doctor). This is what living in a political bubble will do to you: make it impossible to imagine that any reasonable person could have views contrary to your own.

Personally, my view on the Paul stuff corresponds somewhat with Andrew Sullivan’s, though I have always been less enthusiastic than he (and some of my TAC colleagues) about Paul’s candidacy. I disagree with Paul philosophically on several points; I am not a libertarian, but he is. But I continue to be pleased by his candidacy because he serves as a much-needed dissenting voice among Republicans on foreign and defense policy. Any enthusiasm I have for Paul is for him as a protest candidate who is giving voice to a more rational foreign policy on the Right, and who is therefore building a constituency for a more realist foreign policy among American conservatives. I have no enthusiasm for him as a potential president of the United States. I think he would be a disastrous chief executive.

The point is, I don’t automatically dismiss a candidate because he has taken an immoral, or at least profoundly mistaken, position in the past. I know from personal experience that good and capable men and women can have moral blind spots, and that they deserve to be judged in a broader context. If the moral blind spot indicates something pervasive about their character — as I think Gingrich’s various episodes of grandiose self-absorption most definitely do — then that may determine our judgment. It could also be that the circumstances of the times compel a prudent voter to support a particular candidate in spite of their moral flaws, because that candidate holds the positions or has the skills that the polity needs. If we dismiss politicians, essayists, and other public voices because of their heretical views on particular issues, we may deprive ourselves of much-needed wisdom, and allies in causes that are, or may be, important to us. As contemptible as the late Christopher Hitchens’s views on Mother Teresa (for example) were, I kept reading him because he was intelligent and at times insightful. In public life, we rarely have the opportunity to caucus with saints. Not even in the Church!

I am most sympathetic to arguments from Paul supporters who say that whatever Ron Paul’s sins with these newsletters, they are mere peccadilloes compared to the great and unrepented-of sins of his opponents in supporting overseas wars. This makes sense to me: defending Paul’s disreputable actions within a particular context.

What I am unsympathetic to are those who say that Paul’s involvement in this affair, and his shifty defense of it, isn’t a problem in the first place. This represents a failure of moral imagination. Ta-Nehisi Coates has taken a highly critical view of Ron Paul in light of the newsletter mess. He writes, sarcastically:

All parties agree that Ron Paul is not, personally, racist and that he didn’t write the passages. This is comforting. I am not an anti-Semite. But give me a check to tell Harlem the Jews invented AIDS, and I’ll do it.

As I’ve said before, we all must make our calculus in supporting a candidate or even claiming he is “good” for the debate. But it must be an honest calculus.

If you believe that a character who would conspire to profit off of white supremacy, anti-gay bigotry, and anti-Semitism is the best vehicle for convincing the country to end the drug war, to end our romance with interventionism, to encourage serious scrutiny of state violence, at every level, then you should be honest enough to defend that proposition.

What you should not do is claim that Ron Paul “legislated” for Martin Luther King Day, or claim to have intricate knowledge of Ron Paul’s heart, and thus by the harsh accumulation of  evidence, be made to look ridiculous.

If you read the original WaPo story, you’ll see that Ed Crane, head of the CATO Institute, and hardly a wild-eyed bomb thrower, recalled a meeting with Paul that, if true, shows a grave flaw in Paul’s character:

Ed Crane, the longtime president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said he met Paul for lunch during this period and the two discussed direct-mail solicitations, which Paul was sending out to interest people in his newsletters. They agreed that “people who have extreme views” were more likely than others to respond.

Crane said Paul reported getting his best response when he used a mailing list from the now-defunct newspaper Spotlight, which was widely considered anti-Semitic and racist.

Benton, Paul’s spokesman, said that Crane’s account “sounds odd” and that Paul did not recall the conversation.

At the time, Paul’s investment letter was languishing. According to the person involved with his businesses, Paul and others hit upon a solution: to “morph” the content to capi­tal­ize on a growing fear among some on the political right about the nation’s changing demographics and threats to economic liberty.

The investment letter became the Ron Paul Survival Report — a name designed to intrigue readers, the company secretary said. It cost subscribers about $100 a year. The tone of that and other Paul publications changed, becoming increasingly controversial. In 1992, for example, the Ron Paul Political Report defended chess champion Bobby Fischer, who had become known as an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier, for his stance on “Jewish questions.’’

This is a very serious charge made on the record by a man of substance and moral standing — indeed, as head of the leading libertarian think tank, a man who is deeply sympathetic to the causes Ron Paul loves. It deserves to be taken seriously.
Have you ever seen The Spotlight? I have. I don’t think it’s still publishing, but I came across some copies back in the 1980s, and it was about as crazy a Jew-hating, race-baiting rag as you can imagine. Willis Carto, who ran The Spotlight, once wrote (and I got this from a far-right website that quotes this sympathetically; I’m not linking to it):
Hitler’s defeat was the defeat of Europe. And of America. How could we have been so blind? The blame, it seems, must be laid at the door of the international Jews. It was their propaganda, lies and demands which blinded the West to what Germany was doing. . . . If Satan himself, with all of the superhuman genius and diabolical ingenuity at his command, had tried to create a permanent disintegration and force for the destruction of the nations, he could have done no better than to invent the Jews.
If Ron Paul really did mine the mailing list of that evil publication for his own fundraising purposes, then that is flat-out contemptible, and it’s barely mitigated by the possibility that Paul didn’t share their ideology. You don’t have to believe that Paul is personally racist or anti-Semitic to be appalled by the cynicism in this strategy. Even if — even if! — none of this particularly bothers you, can you at least understand why it would disgust others, and disgust them to the point that they would consider it a deal-breaker regarding Paul’s candidacy? Willis Carto was objectively pro-Nazi. Do you really think that an American politician running for the presidency can stand accused of having involved himself tactically with a pro-Nazi figure and his organization for fundraising purposes, and expect most people to just get over it, because that was a long time ago, and besides, the candidate isn’t really a racist, and besides, he’s better than his opponents?