By now, everyone knows that presidential candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul had a rather lively newsletter, which was published under his name and written in the first person, but he didn’t write it and has no idea what it said, even though he made a million dollars from it, and occasionally told curious reporters to read it if they wanted to know more about his ideas.
Writing at Right Wing News, former Paul aide Eric Dondero says the hair-raising racial content of these newsletters is a distraction, because the real Ron Paul is absolutely not a racist, anti-Semite, or homophobe, although he’s culturally “out of touch” and “personally uncomfortable around homosexuals, no different from a lot of older folks of his era.” Also, he doesn’t think the State of Israel should exist at all, and wishes it would go away, although he loves Jews and would not want to see any of them come to harm. How he thinks Israel could vanish without any Jews being harmed, or where he thinks they would all go, is not discussed, although that sounds like an excellent topic for another newsletter article someone else could write in the first person and sign “Ron Paul.”
After relating some of Paul’s socially awkward adventures in tolerance, Dondero tells us “It’s his foreign policy that’s the problem; not so much some stupid and whacky things on race and gays he may have said or written in the past.” He goes on to describe Paul’s foreign policy views as “sheer lunacy,” an isolationism impervious to facts but occasionally responsive to political necessity, as when Paul grudgingly voted in favor of a military response to 9/11 because he was persuaded that opposing it would be career suicide.
It’s bizarre and unrealistic to dismiss the more colorful passages from the Ron Paul newsletters. Of course the media and Obama campaign would make a big deal out of it, and it would resonate with voters. Those who aren’t already on the Paul bandwagon would be unlikely to accept the “I don’t read my own newsletter, I just cash the checks” excuse. And if they did, it would greatly hinder their ability to envision Ron the Oblivious as the nation’s chief executive. It makes him look unserious, and his entire campaign is premised on his intense seriousness, presented to an electorate that is not in a frivolous mood.
Even those who wholeheartedly support Paul’s ideas should have enough awareness of American political culture to avoid whistling past that newsletter graveyard. Campaigns to unseat an incumbent President must be aggressive. A candidate who can look forward to spending every day denouncing the latest groan-inducing first-person excerpt reprinted from his newsletter will never get to play anything but defense. When you’ve got to spend time walking the American people through your logic for refusing to intervene against the Holocaust, you’re a sideshow, not a serious contender against Barack Obama.
Newt Gingrich had a newsletter, too, and ABC News discovered that it had some very complimentary things to say about RomneyCare and the individual mandate, not so very long ago:
“We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100 percent insurance coverage for all Americans,” Gingrich wrote in 2006.
And, Gingrich wrote, the key to achieving that goal was doing what Romney did in Massachusetts: Requiring everybody who could afford it to buy health insurance. In fact, Gingrich makes an impassioned case for the so-called individual mandate — which is also at the center of President Obama’s health plan — on conservative grounds.
“We also believe strongly that personal responsibility is vital to creating a 21st Century Intelligent Health System,” Gingrich wrote in the memo which was found on an old Gingrich website by BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski. ”Individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance and simply choose not to place an unnecessary burden on a system that is on the verge of collapse; these free-riders undermine the entire health system by placing the onus of responsibility on taxpayers.”
Gingrich had some criticisms of the Massachusetts plan — including what he called the state’s over-regulation of health insurers — but overall, he loved it.
Newt: ”Massachusetts leaders are to be commended for this bipartisan proposal to tackle the enormous challenge of finding real solutions for creating a sustainable health system.”
This enthusiasm for the individual mandate is something Gingrich is already taking great pains to disavow, although his previous uncomfortable statements came from considerably further back than 2006. He says he’s changed his mind about all this. Likewise, Mitt Romney himself used to have some thoughts about taking RomneyCare nationwide, but now adamantly insists that individual mandates are not acceptable at the federal level.
Voters are willing to entertain the possibility of a sincere change of heart, but it can be a tough sell. The key requirement is a deep understanding of both the original and modified positions, coupled with an ability to explain the intellectual journey from “individual mandates are awesome” to “individual mandates are an unconstitutional atrocity” to the electorate. The candidate must take voters on the same intellectual journey, to provide assurances of both logic and sincerity.
Gingrich’s 2006 enthusiasm for the individual mandate complicates his task, because his previous dismissal of the concept as something that was just kind of floating in the political atmosphere circa 1994 won’t wash. He’s got to deconstruct what he said in favor of the individual mandate, and convince the GOP base he was both sincere and mistaken five years ago. 2011 Gingrich must produce a detailed and devastating rebuttal to 2006 Gingrich. It won’t be easy. Escaping from a long paper trail never is.