Ron Paul, Bill Ayers, and ‘implausible deniability’

David Cohen Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of the Interior
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I’ve received quite a response to my most recent column on these pages, entitled “Ron Paul is a bigot.” I’ve learned that Ron Paul supporters don’t take kindly to having their candidate criticized. Here’s a sampling of some of my fan mail:

“Cohen fits the template of those who are using the race card against Dr. Paul,” opined one Paul supporter. “It’s generally neocon, socialist-leaning Jews. It’s a shame Hitler didn’t gas all of you vermin.” As I told guest host Mark Isler on Dennis Prager’s radio show on Monday: It’s all well and good to call me vermin that should have been sent to the gas chamber. Reasonable people can debate that. But to accuse me of being “socialist-leaning”? That’s outside the bounds of civil discourse. How dare he!

Another gentleman named “Filthyjews” (and I suspect that’s not his real name) offered: “The author is yet another filthy scumbag parasite who should have been incinerated along with the rest of his scumbag parasitic family. [Paul] has stated countless times he had NOTHING to do with those comments. I on the other hand fully embrace the fact that all of you scumbag filthy ashkenazi parasites need to be eradicated from this earth! I hope I have been clear.” Indeed you have, Mr. Filthyjews. Indeed you have.

These are just a couple of examples. The comments (440 and counting at this writing) included scores of references to my religion — none of them complimentary, many of them not printable. Apparently, any American Jew who criticizes Paul must necessarily be a “zioturd” agent who would gladly commit treason against his own country out of loyalty to Israel. There were also many disparaging remarks about African-Americans. It makes one wonder why these commenters would be so upset that their candidate was accused of bigotry. After all, they don’t seem to think that bigotry is a bad thing. My advice to anyone with a Jewish name who is contemplating writing a column critical of Ron Paul: use a pseudonym. On second thought, it wouldn’t matter: It wouldn’t prevent them from accusing you of the crime of being Jewish.

I of course stand by my contention that the recent newsletter controversy demonstrates Ron Paul’s bigotry. Paul claims that he knew nothing about the racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay nonsense that was published in his newsletters in the 1980s and 1990s. I’m reminded of the term “plausible deniability,” coined by Eisenhower-era CIA Director Allen Dulles. The term applies when a public figure’s handlers concoct a strategy to ensure that the public figure can plausibly deny previous knowledge of some incriminating fact (as in “I didn’t know about that and you can’t prove that I did”). Paul’s handling of the newsletter scandal suggests a new concept: implausible deniability. Is it really plausible that Paul would have no knowledge of the garbage that was going out in his name for over two decades in newsletters that earned Paul millions of dollars? For some, like Mr. Filthyjews, the fact that Paul “has stated countless times he had NOTHING to do with those comments” conclusively settles the matter once and for all. Any further inquiry can only be attributed to a conspiracy between neocons and liberals (who otherwise can’t agree on anything) to smear Paul. Others, like the Reason Foundation’s Nick Gillespie — who is generally supportive of Paul’s libertarian views — acknowledge that Paul needs to come up with a better explanation than the shoulder shrug that he has offered thus far. (“Shoulder shrug” is my term, not Gillespie’s.)

Even if we were to take Paul at his word that he had no idea what was going on, that still doesn’t absolve him of the bigotry charge. As I argued in my column, Paul has shown a disturbing willingness to associate with bigots, accept their support, and — if we are to believe that he really did not approve the newsletters — cover for them. For example, The New York Times reported that a major white supremacist group is supplying large numbers of volunteers for Paul’s campaign, and The Weekly Standard reported that Paul’s best source of congressional campaign contributions was the mailing list for a “conspiracy-mongering, anti-Semitic tabloid” published by a Holocaust denier. I argued in my column that anyone who has this much tolerance of bigots has got to be a bigot himself. If nothing else, Paul’s popularity among racists and anti-Semites explains many of the comments drawn by my last column. (And I in no way wish to impugn the many decent people, including some of my friends, who support Paul.)

Some have accused me of using “guilt by association” tactics to smear Paul. They point out that the mainstream media gave President Obama a pass on his long-time association with the unrepentant terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, the race-baiting preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other radicals. Indeed they did. But we conservatives are not the ones who gave Obama a pass. We rightly argued that it wasn’t enough for Obama to say that he did not share the views of his radical friends. We were rightly skeptical of Obama’s claim that he was unaware of Rev. Wright’s many incendiary comments over the years, despite having attended his church for two decades. And we now have every right, and indeed the obligation, to apply to Paul the same scrutiny we applied to Obama.

Obama’s friendships with terrorists and other radicals would of course not convict him of anything in a court of law. The same goes for Paul. But a presidential race is not a court of law. We, the voting public, have a right to make common-sense inferences about presidential candidates and the company they keep. The burden is not on the voting public to prove that birds of a feather flock together. The burden is on each presidential candidate to convince us that he or she is fit to lead our nation.

Many of us have a hard time believing that Paul could surround himself with such filth yet remain pure as the driven snow. Paul’s supporters are indignant that we would doubt their hero. I have to assume, however, that many of these same people joined us in attacking Obama for his unsavory associations, and scoffed at Obama’s protestations of ignorance of his friends’ pronouncements and activities. If liberals and the mainstream media are hypocritical for going after Paul but not Obama, then many of Paul’s supporters are equally hypocritical for going after Obama but not Paul.

I made light of some of the hateful comments that I drew for my last column, but there’s really nothing funny about them. Most of Paul’s supporters are good, idealistic people, but there is an odious element within his flock. Some of Paul’s followers behave as members of a cult, experiencing narcissistic injury whenever their leader is challenged. The extremist underbelly of Paul’s following has managed to unite the worst elements of right-wing and left-wing anti-Semitism — a difficult feat indeed.

A decent man would be mortified to have the support of the hatemongers who back Paul. Paul was only able to muster weakly to The New York Times that he “wouldn’t be happy” to have the support of racists and bigots. He has shown no inclination, though, to display his supposed displeasure to the racists and bigots who actually do support him. And while he claims to not share their views, Paul indeed seems “happy” to continue to accept their support. He wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Paul’s blithe indifference to the ugliness within his movement is not only morally reprehensible; it is also reckless, given the hateful passions to which some of his followers are prone. Whenever Paul encounters a setback, his more deranged followers will direct their rage at their usual litany of scapegoats: the Jews, the neocons (i.e. the Jews), the Zionists (i.e. the Jews), Israel-firsters (i.e. the Jews), the African-Americans, the gays. And Paul, while not publicly endorsing their bigotry, will do nothing to confront it — notwithstanding the tremendous influence that he has over his devotees. For that alone, Ron Paul is morally unfit to be president.

David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He hosted the debate show “Beer Summit” for PBS Guam.