I’ve been reading news stories about Ron Paul’s newsletter scandal—in the Huffington Post, The New Republic, and the Christian Science Monitor, to name just a few. And I feel like they’re all overlooking something important.
These analyses all seem to focus strongly on his offensive attitudes on race, sexual preference, and, frankly, the usual litany of Right Wing hot button phobias. “Was he a racist?” these stories seem to ask. “If so, is he still? Or did he ‘just’ employ others who were racists or wrote racist material? Was it just the climate of the time and of course has he since evolved?” Some of the stories ask tentative questions, others boldly conclude. It’s very attention-getting, so the debate rages.
In the past, before Internet scrutiny was ubiquitous, it might have been possible to get away with statements like those in the newsletters. But they don’t look pretty with harsh sunlight pouring in on them. And it’s pretty clear that Paul himself knows better than to assert otherwise, so he’s backing away from the matter like a hot potato. He’s never been shy about defending things he thinks are worth defending, even unpopular things. So if he’s not defending this, he must know it’s indefensible.
But still, it doesn’t seem likely that he’s poised to volunteer a confession. So discussing this matter is likely to go in circles forever even when there’s little controversy. We can debate forever about what he felt in his heart back then or whether he’s changed. Some Republicans seemed to believe Gingrich when he said he’d asked God for forgiveness and was a changed man. Maybe Paul could do the same. And then what of this criticism? It’s highly emotionally charged, but politicians have a way of wriggling free of these issues, I think because they come down to opinion, and there are tried and true ways to deny having an opinion.
So here’s what’s bugging me...
The guy is running for “Responsible Person in Chief.”
By this I mean that the Republicans have, after all, asked Obama to be responsible for all military actions, for all job losses, for all rises and falls in the stock market, for action that follows earthquakes and hurricanes, and even for every detail of what the Presidential Christmas card looks like. Some of us might disagree about which of these are properly responsibilities of the President, but what I think we all agree with is that the President is the chief executive of our nation, the nation with the largest economy on Earth, the most powerful military on Earth, and so on. It’s an awesome responsibility.
So what amazes me, and seems objectively damning, is that Paul seems perfectly comfortable casually disclaiming responsibility for newsletters bearing his name (the Ron Paul Investment Letter, the Ron Paul Political Report, and the Ron Paul Survival Letter). This seems like the kind of enterprise where you’d expect him to care about what was going on inside it, yet he talks about it like it wasn’t really his responsibility.
If we were attacked, would President Paul shrug and say he has generals who should have handled it? Would he tell us sorry about some new economic collapse, but he wasn’t even paying attention so why are we blaming it on him? If the CIA or FBI went rogue, would he just laugh it off and say that’s what we get for having such a big government?
In my view, it is the job of a chief executive to know what’s going on, to care about what’s going on, and to take responsibility when something goes wrong.
So yes, I worry he doesn’t have a very modern set of attitudes on a lot of social issues. But even if, just for argument’s sake, I give him a pass on all that, I still can’t get past this other matter of his managerial qualifications. Sure, it was a long time ago, but why should I think he’s gotten better? I didn’t hear him say “Wow, I really just didn’t know how to be a manager back then. I should never have let things get so out of control. But I’ve gone back to school and learned how to do that right.” I don’t even hear him say the first part—that he recognizes what he did was bad management, whether he’s improved since then or not. And it’s that lack of recognition—now, today—that is bugging me. He sounds today like he thinks what happened back then was fine and defensible.
Perhaps he even likes the idea that no one was running the show back then—maybe that’s a metaphor for his small government ideal. Well, regardless of motive, his recently observed lack of concern about lax management as he looks back at those past events tells me what I think I’d want to know about how and whether he could govern today.
I can just see the sign that would sit on his desk, and it’s sadly not as pithy as the one on President Truman’s desk:
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The uncut interview with Ron Paul was posted on YouTube. It shows quite a different interview than the one that most people saw. I don't think it changes my basic point here, and to some extent it reinforces it, because many have said the full interview makes him look more reasonable on the “issues.” My concern here is not the issues but the management competence, which in my view is unaffected by the differences of the two interviews. But certainly feel free to watch the longer, uncut interview yourself and make up your own mind. Anyone who thinks it should make a difference to my point here should feel free to make the case.