When I read that a California pastor had declared "God wants Ron Paul to be President," I wasn't particularly surprised. For all of the thoughtful and intellectually engaging Paul supporters out there, batches can always be found who believe that the Texas Congressman's presidential ambitions have been sanctified by an infallible higher doctrine. While the unquestionable authority may be the Bible for some and the works of Austrian economists for others, the underlying sentiment is essentially the same - i.e., that Paul supporters are the select, an enlightened and liberty-loving few. The prevalence of that notion isn't astonishing anymore.
More jarring, though, was the bigoted comment that accompanied this pastor's opening remark:
"The right isn’t following God with Mitt Romney. Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Godhead but, as a Mormon, Romney thinks: Jesus is a created being, the spirit brother of Lucifer; that men become Gods and that Christians are inferior people. Christians know Mormonism is Satanic."
As I wrote in an editorial several months ago, anti-Mormon prejudice against Romney is a powerful undercurrent in this election, one that needs to be opposed even by those who want to thwart his presidential ambitions (a group that definitely includes myself). The comments made by Pastor Steven Andrew, the president of USA Christian Ministries, are a prime example of what I was discussing in that piece. Indeed, given the inflammatory content with which Steven packed his jeremiad – it included the usual denuncations of abortion and secularism, as well as a passing stab at revisionist history through a reference to "our Founding Fathers’ Christian laws" – the inclusion of this statement comes across as not merely distasteful, but also as so hateful as to border on downright incendiary.
The question now is whether Paul will denounce Andrew's statements.
Obviously this issue has echoes of the racist newsletter controversy that has plagued Paul in the past. As those familiar with his career already know, Paul began publishing a series of libertarian newsletters in the mid-1980s, through his company Ron Paul & Associates, with such titles as Ron Paul's Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Political Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, and the Ron Paul Investment Letter. By 1993, these publications were netting more than $900,000 each year for Paul, his family, right-wing commentator and contributor Lew Rockwell, and seven other employees around the country. Unfortunately, they also contained virulently bigoted statements against African-Americans and homosexuals, from claiming that "95 percent of the black males in that city [Washington DC] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal" to asserting that "homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities" (for examples of similar statements in Paul's newsletters, check out the two links provided above).
Inevitably, Paul's detractors have dug up old newspaper articles and television interviews suggesting that he knew about the contents of his newsletters, even as Paul himself has emphatically disavowed them. While there is no point in speculating here as to which side is right (especially since that issue has been explored to death elsewhere), the incident is worth bringing up because it illustrates the importance of keeping an eye on the people who have a platform and claim to speak for your cause. Obviously it would be irrational to blame Paul for the fact that Andrew made those statements in the first place – Paul has no more control over the language of his supporters than anyone else – but once an intolerant comment has been made public, it is entirely reasonable to expect any politician with a moral compass to denounce it. This is especially so when the group being targeted just so happens to have one of its own serving as the presumptive presidential nominee for a major political party for the first time in American history.
Since Paul's critics are a bit unseemly in the glee with which they try to knock him down a peg, it is important that they be fair and give him enough time to do the right thing here. At the same time, if in the end he fails to unequivocally condemn Andrew's views, no excuses should be made for him by his followers. There can be no talk of Paul's needing to accept all kinds of supporters because he happens to lead a fledgling movement, or claims that Steven can be ignored because he is just some kook, or attempts to deflect attention away from Paul and toward other politicians who have been guilty of similar lapses, or arguments that the reasons for supporting Paul outweigh the implications of his willingness to silently accept religious intolerance. If libertarians truly believe in their professed ideals, and are not merely mindless hero worshippers at the altar of one charismatic politician, they should have no qualms about abandoning a candidate when he proves himself unwilling to live up to his own values. Appropriately enough, the person who best explained why this is the case was Paul himself:
"Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals."
While Paul may have been discussing race in that quote, I doubt he would disagree that the same logic applies to religious discrimination. And make no mistake about it: When Pastor Steven Andrew disseminated those lies against Mormons, he was guilty not only of poor research, but of defining Romney primarily by his religious background. This is collectivist thinking at its worst, and the man Ron Paul's supporters believe him to be should have no difficulty distancing himself from those views.