Friday, November 30, 2007

Maybe the Uproar over "That" Donation Was a Good Thing

Last week, I jumped off the Ron Paul ship because of my concerns that his continuing association with Alex Jones would wind up pushing libertarianism further to the fringe in this country. In addition, Paul's concern about issues closely affiliated with Jones started to become a problem at the debate the other night. I initially thought that his response to that issue at the debate was woefully inadequate but looking back it may have been the only response he could have given (although his paranoia about the NAU is pretty genuine). After all, by the looks of things he gets a substantial amount of his campaign donations from that group and he probably can't afford to go too far in condemning them before such a large audience. This leaves him in something of a bind: he may not be able to completely denounce these supporters if he wants to keep his fundraising totals high, but his association with these people makes inroads to mainstream voters exceedingly difficult.

But he may, ironically enough, have a saving grace: "that" donation from Stormfront. As you're probably aware, most recent attacks on Ron Paul's character have been that he's a racist because he accepts the support of such groups. While I continue to have problems with Paul's continuing relationship with Jones, I fail to see the problem with his refusal to return this particular small donation. It was unsolicited, and I refuse to accept the premise that candidates should ever return unsolicited donations. The donor wanted to speak by donating- so let them speak. If the candidate actually agrees with the donor on the donor's more disturbing positions, then obviously he has no reason to return the donation. But if the candidate doesn't agree with the donor on those positions, and the donation is unsolicited and small (which these days means almost every non-bundled donation), then there is simply no reason to think that the donation is somehow going to buy the candidate's support on those extremist positions.

Back to my main point: I don't think "that" donation is a story that will ever gain much traction amongst mainstream voters or libertarians; were the issue ever brought up in a debate, I'd say that Paul will have an excellent response, essentially amounting to: that's $500 less that Stormfront has to spend on advancing its agenda. I also think most people understand that there are a lot of bad people out there, and some of them donate to political campaigns. There is little doubt that if you looked hard enough you could probably find donations to the other campaigns from nearly as bad sources.

Despite this, it is the issue that won't go away. In the process, though, it has managed to push out almost any widespread inquiry into Paul's relationship with Jones, which I think is actually the issue more likely to turn off potential voters, especially of the libertarian bent. Were there widespread inquiry into Jones, I suspect people in the mainstream would stop viewing him merely as an idiotic 9/11 Truther, but as a vicious anti-Semite as well.

This is not to say that the Alex Jones relationship is a nonissue to everybody- it remains the biggest reason I have not returned to the Paul camp. But the lack of emphasis on that issue has prevented it thus far from becoming widely disseminated. If the lack of wide dissemination continues, Paul may be able to continue advancing in the polls to the point where he would be good for libertarianism even if the Jones thing becomes a big issue.

Paul's continued emphasis on states' rights and anti-immigration policies, not to mention his support of legislation to effectively overrule Lawrence v. Texas remain major problems for libertarians from a policy standpoint. So he starts out with some distinct flaws for libertarians like me who view him as potentially worth supporting. Moreover, he remains such a niche candidate that it's impossible to see him finishing better than 4th in the primaries, which means that supporting him is not likely to help get him the nomination. Thus, libertarians are faced with a rather flawed candidate with no chance to gain power. He would still be a worthwhile protest vote, of course....but the Alex Jones thing becomes a big problem because of the risk of damaging libertarian values for the sake of supporting a candidate with no chance of winning. That is why I probably won't jump back on the official bus, even if I do still vote for Paul. But the dilution risk becomes less each day that goes by with the focus being on "that" donation.