Over at Slate, there’s an article about the Ron Paul newsletters and what they have to say about us gay folk. (Yes, another Ron Paul piece around here. Sorry.)
Here’s the subheader:
Why Ron Paul’s anti-gay newsletters don’t bother liberal gays.
Hmmmm. It’s been a while since I manned the liberal booth at the annual Gay Agenda convention, so I don’t know what all of my fellows are thinking. Those newsletters certainly bother the hell out of this liberal(ish) gay. An excerpt:
Square all of that with the author of the newsletters. In 1989 he approvingly quoted a congressman who said gay rights was not a matter of “political philosophy,” but of “sodomy.” In 1994 he argued that “those who don’t commit sodomy, who don’t get blood transfusions, and who don’t swap needles, are virtually assured of not getting AIDS unless they are deliberately infected by a malicious gay.” The same year, he doubted that older gays worried too much if they got AIDS; “sex is the center of their lives,” he explained, and anyway, “they enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.”
My, my, my. I was just entering medical school around 1994, and probably meeting my first AIDS patients. I don’t remember a single one seeming to enjoy it, no matter how much attention was lavished on them.
Now, chances are slim that I would have voted for Ron Paul in any case. I’m far too big a supporter of the social safety net to vote for someone who’d want to make it disappear. But there are parts of his agenda that I’d ostensibly support, particularly with regard to limiting executive power and curtailing the War on Drugs. And yeah, the man voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment and eventually in favor of repealing DADT. But I’d be a pretty safe Obama vote in any case.
Thus, it may not be saying much to declare that I would never in a million, billion years vote for a man who allowed those words to be published under his name. Never.
The calumny about gays deliberately spreading AIDS was something I heard in the fundamentalist church of my youth (in Sunday school, no less). It’s high on my list of reasons for loathing the social conservative faction today. I was taught that poisonous little lie sometime in the 80s, and I find it eye-opening to learn that whoever was writing as “Ron Paul” thought it still fit for print in the decade after.
As for the scads of unbothered liberal gays, I wonder how many of them there really are. The article quotes Dan Savage, who’s apparently the de facto spokesgay these days, and who has decided to take the newsletters in stride. Fine, but what does that tell us about anything? I suspect most liberal gays are like most people around the country, and aren’t actually paying that much attention to politics at all. Insofar as most liberal gays are concerned, I’d imagine they’re somewhat aware of Ron Paul’s political fortunes, vaguely familiar with some kind of controversy surrounding racist comments in his old newsletters, and barely aware if at all about their homophobic content. This is just a guess, but I imagine most of them would be very bothered if they knew more details.
If Dan Savage is a poor stand-in for Gays Everywhere, the other person they quoted directly is even worse:
Paul says he didn’t write any of this, but another politician couldn’t say that and expect gay writers to back off. Paul gets a pass. James Kirchick, the gay reporter who broke the newsletter story in 2008, didn’t get the sense that Paul cared as much about this as “say, the need to root out the Trilateralist-Bilderberg conspiracy.”
“I do think it’s possible that he views gays personally with disgust while maintaining a belief that the government should not regulate their lives,” said Kirchick. “I actually think that’s the case with a lot of straight people, even ostensibly ‘liberal’ ones who know better not to say what they really think about homosexuality and homosexuals.”
It is relevant to some degree to talk to Kirchick — he’s the one who broke the story in The New Republic, for which he deserves proper credit. But as anyone who read his TNR writings regularly can tell you, the man has nothing but disdain for liberals. I am certainly not a big fan of his, and think it’s a little bit absurd that he would be featured so prominently as a representative of people I’m pretty sure he openly despises.
The article wraps up with this:
Nichols [of The Nation] doesn’t think he’s describing a potential president. None of Paul’s liberal defenders do. Savage doesn’t. The Republican primary is a running conversation, and it expands or contracts the definition of “conservatism.” As long as Paul is in the race, it doesn’t matter what he might have thought about gay sex once. He wants politicos—people like himself, really—to stay out of the bedroom. One reason he talks like this is that gay rights, culturally, has won out.
Gay rights has won out. But that happened in spite of the horrible libel that we were, among other things, out to spread AIDS. It happened in spite of voices like the one Ron Paul was apparently willing to call his own. As far as I am concerned, it sure as hell matters what he thought about gay sex once. He was part of the problem, and there’s no way I would ever support him.
Update: Andrew Sullivan writes this:
I’m no longer endorsing Ron Paul, because he has failed to take responsibility for the newsletters and because his libertarianism really is too extreme for me. But I think the attacks on his writing over two decades ago – when attitudes toward gays and HIV were extremely different than today – is less important than his commitment to limiting government, at home and abroad, now. And I do not believe that he is a bigot. In fact, I think he is remarkably free of such prejudice for a man of his background and generation. Which may be why opponents have to trawl through material two decades old to get him.
That is some bullshit right there. Two decades ago the words Ron Paul (or whoever it was writing under his name) were even more powerful and damaging than they would be today. Whatever the shift in attitudes toward gays and HIV since then, that shift happened in opposition to what Paul wrote. And a willingness to disseminate the hateful lie that AIDS was deliberately spread by gays was no “attitude.” It was evil, poisonous bigotry, from which Paul profited personally.
Another swing and a miss from Sullivan, whose writings in favor of Ron Paul now contain all the intellectual rigor of his older posts frothing about Sarah Palin.