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Race, Gender Take Center Stage in '08 Elections

Ron Paul

Republican candidate Ron Paul, pictured recently in South Carolina, has come under fire for a series of old newsletters that appear to be racially and culturally insensitive. Getty Images hide caption

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As I was saying ...

Race and gender. Race and class.

Those are grad school words, or newspaper words. Who goes around saying things like "the intersection of race and gender," except college professors and reporters, like us? But those terms are lived.

As I was mentioning yesterday, the whole thing with the guy asking me to wash his dishes — some guy I never met — do you really think he would have asked NPR's Robert Siegel or Neal Conan, or Steve Inskeep?

A man whom I interviewed a year or so ago, back when I was filling-in frequently for Talk of the Nation, talked about "micro insults" — the little jibs and jabs that remind us of how we are viewed by others, especially as members of groups. I have a friend who is quite tall and robust, a big guy. He's a minister and a seminary president so he wears a suit and tie quite often. No matter what he's wearing, though, he is frequently approached for directions, asked for help, and for his opinions. He calls it the "Moses" effect. He says he's a big white guy with a beard, so he's presumed to know what to do. I've seen it first hand, trust me. We've had coffee or lunch together three times and EVERYTIME someone has asked him for directions.

Is there a "Mommy" effect in the Presidential race? Does Hillary Clinton have to prove she's a "nice mommy" or a "mean mommy," or not a mommy at all? Is there a, who knows, "Jackie Robinson" effect with Barack Obama? Is there a "Jack Kennedy" thing with Mit Romney, or Mike Huckabee, for that matter? Do they have to prove that their religious commitments — Romney is, of course, Mormon and Huckabee is a Baptist minister — won't take over their lives and shut out other people's truths?

These are some of the hard questions I think we should grapple with. You'll note I mentioned the whole question of whether the Tom Bradley effect had been in effect in the New Hampshire primary numbers. Not to pick a fight but, when I raised it, certain people got a little huffy.

But I'm not the only one. Look at Andy Kohut's Op-ed in The New York Times. And, and our occasional contributor Eugene Robinson's piece in The Washington Post.

Speaking of race, our college newspaper editors pointed out that Ron Paul has been a popular candidate among college students. Few seem to think he can win, but some reporters are now starting to dig into his record a bit. It isn't a pretty sight. Check this out and tell us what you think.

Disqualifying? Or not?



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ron paul is awesome and I don't think he is racist because he stands for liberty.

Sent by stuart millson | 6:14 PM | 1-11-2008

Thank You NPR! Where else could a man like Reverend Rodriguez be given a national podium? For a decade I have been disillusioned in church with the virtual hijack of the evangelical movement by the Republican Party. It was refreshing to hear an evangelical with a more tolerant reasoning of the issues. His position on the politics of immigration being fundamentally a moral question resonated forcefully with me. To me the five minutes of compellingly conversation that Michel Martin and Reverend Rodriguez had on Tell Me More did more to helped clear the confusion surrounding the immigration issue than anything I have heard on the subject these past four years. Thank You

Sent by Pat McGinn | 10:12 PM | 1-11-2008

This "racist" newsletter is ALL that can be found that supposedly tarnishes Dr. Paul's record. He has denied writing them, and other authors have been pinned for them. Did you tell your readers that much, or merely throw it out there and ask whether Dr. Paul should be disqualified for something he didn't do? How fair is that?

It's only not a pretty sight for Dr. Paul if people refuse to accept his denials, as you seem to be doing, and stop writing in such a way that makes it sound like he really wrote those.

Actually, there has been a LOT of digging into his record and nothing can be found. He's a promising candidate for all of us who understand that being an American is ALL about the Constitution. Please ask what people think about his sterling record. Please dig into THAT record. Notice how many babies he's brought into the world as an obstetrician. Notice his record of standing for individual liberty, which includes all people of all skin colors and other factors. That would be responsible journalism.

Have a nice day.

Sent by Sky | 10:15 PM | 1-11-2008

This is old news and it really is suprising how the media keeps digging it up. I think its disgusting to say the least even though he has defended himself already. Why don't the media report his past voting record ? Why does the media hide the fact that what he has been talking about on TV he has been talking about for 30 years in the public. I think its a disgrace that we have one statesman that won't ever suprise us and will actually do what he is saying. I don't understand or wait I do understand why You people attack him. I am so sick of the bias I have seen in the media. Ron Paul is the only canidate talking about "AND MEANING IT" being against the war and wanting to get rid of the IRS. What is so wrong with those things also whats wrong with balancing the budget. What is wrong with avoiding a draft and world war III. What is wrong peace and prosperity. What is wrong with getting the government out of my life. What is wrong with fixing the medical crisis that was caused by the government by the way. Why does the state restrict the ammount of medical students entering college every year. Why do state medical schools also favor people out of country? Why do we have to goto the doctor to get simple drugs when we should just go to the pharmacy. All the rules have been made to favor keeping the prices high. I don't understand how americans can sit around and watch American Idol when our country is going to crap. I have been following every canidate and watching this campaign because it is the most important election ever. I will support Ron Paul because he speaks the truth about what matters "WAR" & the "ECONOMY". The other clowns don't have a answer other than creating some vague plan that they do not get into btw.

Sent by James Moore | 10:23 PM | 1-11-2008

I remember an interview on F*X news, where the interviewer is grilling Dr. Paul on the rationality of the civil war. He asks RP a question along the lines of, "Well then, when should the slaves have been freed?" to which Dr. Paul responds, without missing a beat, "They should have been free from the very beginning of the Republic". I highly doubt Ron Paul is a racist; he has taken moral responsibility for not paying attention to these newsletters and has denounced the ideas interjected in his name.

With that said, I would like to point out, as a daily listener of NPR, that your coverage of this candidate is lacking and if NPR sincerely seeks to educate the public, they would include insight into Ron Paul's platform, as well as issues intended to defame Dr. Paul. Thank you.

Sent by Paul Wolfe | 10:39 PM | 1-11-2008

Taken in the bigger picture, I'm afraid that Dr. Paul has already proven himself anything but a racist. If Dr. Paul were a Johnny-come-lately, one might assume the words in those letters were his own, but if one reads his writings, and speeches, and if one looks at his voting record, it is clear that he is anything but racist. Recently Dr. Paul stated that there were letters that were circulated that were not authored by him; again, if we had nothing else to go against it would be one thing, but you'll need more than that to declare him a racist.
When one considers that blacks are tried and jailed for drug crimes at a higher percentage than whites despite the fact that more whites are arrested for such crimes, it is clear that there is discrimination built into the system. As the ONLY candidate advocating a return to Constitutional rule of Law, Dr. Paul is the only candidate who can restore justice to minorities - that I think we can all agree is clearly NOT racist - and deeply needed in this country.

Sent by Joe Johnson | 10:50 PM | 1-11-2008

This post explains my opinion perfectly. I agree with it 100%.

Sent by Heather | 10:56 PM | 1-11-2008

OK again NPR.
As of Hillary, it was really a funny thing the media picked up, she chocked in tears in a townj hal meeting (for whatever reason ) & in the begining the media said this will backfire on her, but after she won the media said "oh that moment helped her", lets be a little scientific, Hillary get the most vote from age 50 & over while obama got the most vote from the youngs, so does that mean that the youngs are less emottionally affected than the olds?Of course not, but the real reason ( I believe) is that the old women just wanted to see a female president before they die ( as it was the question in some polls).So I think that Hillary Moment HAD NO EFFECTS on the vote what soever.
Now that example you brought about the tall guys who is frequently asked about directions etc, what the hell you are thinking? are we that stupid? this is (in my openion & to put it mildly)a microinsult to NPR listener (remember as some people like to put it in a funny way :people are devided into NPR listener & others).Now this example you brought removed the article from the shelve of serious thinking.
As for other candidates religion (eg mitt romney: Dr Paul had en excillent comment on that, he said that it hurts him to see Mitt Romney trying hardly to explain his religion because he is not required to do that, look how sincere Dr Paul was to Romney who tried to smile & make fun of Dr Paul every time the latter make a comment in the debate & accusing him of reading Ahmadinajad press release.To me Ron Paul is more like Jesus in his behaviour.
When I see you putting Ron Paul picture in the article & highlighting his name (unlike other names), you make me tend to think that the whole article was writtin to indirectly attack Dr Paul.
At the end of the article you urge readers to "check this out (a link to allegation about Ron Paul ) & tell us what you think?" & this this response is what I think about this article.
I also didnt like you putting links to NY-times whic put on its front page the picture of all the candidates (democratic & republican ) during the ABC-Facebook debate but the picture was lacking Ron Paul?
Also to a lesser degree,the Washington Post which mentioned that Ron Paul had raised 6 million dollar in 1 day on its 6th page?
Why should I believe any article written on those 2 newspapers?
All what I saw from NPR so far is INDIRECT NEGATIVE ATTACKS on Ron PauL.
Now I challange NPR to write some positve things about him just for the sake of change, the man must have some good standing, I believe on cutting taxes,no discrepancy between his declared positions & his voting records,strong military support for him (he got the most donation from military personnel than any other candidate).
Arent those phenomena deserved to be studied & written about?

Sent by Cameron | 10:58 PM | 1-11-2008

You have to understand that the extreme parts of his newsletters were printed, I believe between 1990-91, and that they were published under his name but he was not the editor so he hadn't seen them. He has addressed this both in public statements on his website and on CNN's Wolf Blitzer. If you want, interview him on it.

Sent by Nader Hobballah | 11:30 PM | 1-11-2008

Those who know and support Paul know that he not the least bit racist. The American people are usually a forgiving lot (think Bill Clinton folks) - as we know no one is perfect. Many of the other candidates have done things in the past that to some seem wrong or questionable. But whomever the media wants to promote - they will forgive - and move on. They may even parlay a negative into a positive for the media darling candidate of the moment. But, alas, it is not to be with the good Dr. Paul. The media will never promote him - he is not the preferred candidate of the status quo. A sad shame really. He is the best person of the lot.

Sent by Marsha S | 12:25 AM | 1-12-2008

This is a comment by another Ron Paul supporter that sums up the issue about racist newsletters very nicely.

"I'm a black guy. I'm having trouble determining which candidate to support. Should I support one who advocates dismantling the single largest institutionally racist program that has oppressed African Americans (hint: its initials are WOD), but who may have had an employee or two who wrote some stupid things twenty years ago that should have been edited? Or should I support the candidate(s) who pose with the working class black mom, may play a jazz instrument (ooo, how "black" of them), and yet advocates (explicitly or passively) the continued incarceration of hundreds of thousands of non-violent young black men? Hmm, tough call. What do you think I should do, TNR? You seem to have a real deep understanding of modern racial sociopolitical issues."

Ron Paul's has also said on numerous occasions, that Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks was his heros.

I do however find it quite entertaining that the media needs to dig up 20 years of history to find something that Ron Paul has already addressed several times in the past.

Thank you always for your fair reporting and giving us a chance to respond.

Sent by Sheryl | 4:30 AM | 1-12-2008

I'm a Black person who totally supports Ron Paul. I agree with his positions on the issues, except on 9/11. Of course the government was complicit in it! I understand it would have been political suicide to say this in response to Cameron's question in the S.C. Debate though. I ain't mad at Dr. Paul. We don't have to agree on every point. I agree with the previous poster: Dr. Paul's actions, voting record, writings, and speeches over at least the past 30 years are totally at odds with the comments he allegedly made. There isn't a politician (other than perhaps Dennis Kucinich) I know of whose word I believe other than Dr. Paul's. Black folks would do better under a Paul Presidency than any other candidate, because he would do the most important things a President could do: 1. Level the playing field for everyone (same rules for everyone) 2. Reduce the size, and especially the reach, of government 3. Exhibit true faith in the free enterprise system, and not inhibit it's operation 4. Bring morality and integrity to the Executive Office, thus reinforcing a selfless, rather than selfish, ideology for our nation 5. I could go on and on about changing the perception of America in the world's eyes, and his effects on the economy, personal liberty, and states rights . . . but you all know that already!
I have Ron Paul bumper stickers, pins, and have donated to his campaign. I have never in my life done any of these things for any politician. I will vote for Dr. Paul any time I can, whether by poll or Primary or Nationally (hopefully :) If Dr. Paul does not win the nomination, I will write-him-in on my ballot. In an election, you are supposed to vote for who you WANT to win, not for who you THINK will win. Wake up people, you're being lied to! Don't believe it any longer . . . get out of the Matrix!

Sent by will | 4:14 PM | 1-12-2008

Wow, this is good stuff! The spirited defense of Dr. Paul by his supporters shows how being stigmatized as a racist can marginalize an individual in this society. The recent Don Imus affair explains why they are rushing to his aid. White guilt over the ravages of America's racist past is the obvious reason for this phenomenon and the "Bradley Effect" is another symptom of this guilt trip.

I posted comments earlier in which I argued that the presence of so many black faces in television commercials was indicative of changes (for the better) in racial attitudes. I believe that seeing Blacks portraying characters in all walks of life as occurs in advertising tend to promote a greater sense of community and diminishes the perceived differences between the races. Certainly these changes in perception are not universal, but I think that their influence is being felt.

While the "Bradley Effect" very likely played a role in the New Hampshire results, I suspect that Mr. Obama's messages of "hope" and "change" were insufficient. There are a multitude of problems facing this country such as a compromised military, a war on two fronts,schools that don't teach, bridges that fall down, and consumers vulnerable to harm from both foreign and domestic products. And that is just part of the litany of challenges facing our country. What is needed from Mr Obama are some concrete ideas as to how his inspirational message will be translated into governance.

Sent by Carl Foster MD | 6:28 AM | 1-13-2008

I think that the point is not that he wrote those newsletters personally; according to him he did not and I think it's safe to assume that he didn't. But they DO bare his name, and did for years, were written for years, and that means something, says something about him.

I think it's been said that he has taken moral responsibility for not paying more attention to them when they were being published, but they were being published under his name, and if he didn't have time to go over them all himself, why didn't he have it delagated to others? At the very least it shows a lack of judgement.

What worries me about Ron Paul, and I really haven't researched him too much mind, is what I see as his attitudes about homosexuality and gay people. I'm gay, and the things written about in those articles is distasteful. But not just that, his ideas about the don't ask/don't tell policy and the We The People act he sponsered in Congress is very is frightening to me. Here's a section copied and pasted from the wikipedia page:

If made law, the Act would forbid federal courts (including the Supreme Court) from hearing cases on subjects such as the display of religious text and imagery on government property, abortion, sexual practices, and same-sex marriage, unless those cases were a challenge to the constitutionality of federal law. It would also make federal court decisions on those subjects non-binding as precedent in state courts, and would prohibit federal courts from spending any money to enforce their judgments.
Because the bill forbids federal courts from hearing "any claim involving the laws, regulations, or policies of any State or unit of local government relating to the free exercise or establishment of religion," a practical effect of this bill might be that atheists could be banned from holding public office in Texas, as its state constitution requires the acknowledgment of a supreme being.[4] However, historically this technicality has not been enforced.

Sent by Daniel | 11:14 AM | 1-13-2008

Michel -- Your show is the best political and social discussion ANYWHERE. This show is a light in a wilderness of self serving BS.

My two cents about what happened in New Hampshire as observed through the very narrow lens of my own view of our choices. Here is what I see:

1. I have been watching Barack Obama since the 2004 election. I have been heartened by so much he has to say. His emotional intelligence as well as his analytical intelligence. He has had much to say to the Democratic Party that has needed to be said. He has a way of getting at the truth. And about creating bridges among people by simply listening to each other.

2. I have been excited by the choices we have among Democrats. I have been enthusiastic about the ALL. We will have to choose only one. I have resented the media making this a horse race before we had a chance to really hear them out. After flip flopping between the "top three" candidates, I finally decided I hoped Joe Biden did well in Iowa. Particularly after I better understood his back story and could put his unfortunate comments about Obama in perspective. He has consistently had the best analysis of what we should do in Iraq which will remain our most intractable problem. I certainly did not want a coronation of Hillary Clinton before her time.

3. After Iowa, all the sexist meanness that had been just under the surface became more open. And there was a media march toward the coronation of Obama. That made me uncomfortable. Still too soon. And I realized that I do have an emotional stake in Clinton doing well. And I recognize all the subtle and not so subtle sexist crap she has endured for so long. So on an emotional level, I was pulling for her. And was thrilled that she won. Because it is too soon the close down the dialogue. Because I want the woman to do well.

4. Now what? It is good that the discussion of the different obstacles that women and people of color have faced is front and center. It is really bad if now we are marching toward having to prove whose obstacles are tougher. Who can know? Every person will have a different answer every day. We are all right. And what does that tell us about who will make the better president? It does influence our emotions, though, and our emotions will inform our decision.

5. I am a white woman over 50 who has still not decided, but I will have to make a choice at the Feb 5 caucus in Minnesota. I like many of Clinton's policy positions. Particularly around Health Care. She is right, there is a difference between her and Obama. On the other hand, Obama has made better choices around the war. I did not appreciate her vote on Iran. Edwards does not have any more experience than Obama, so I am now between Clinton and Obama for emotional reasons. We do need to send a message to our children and the rest of the world. I don't know whom I will choose, but my choice will be FOR someone and not against the other. Let's keep this in perspective. We have an embarrassment of riches.

P. S. Thank you for the podcast. Your show is not on our local public radio station. Our loss. As I said this is the best talk show out there. Keep up the good work. Whenever I hear your voice, I feel like I am listening to a trusted friend. It comforts me.

Alice Johnson
Minneapolis Minnesota

Sent by Alice Johnson | 12:42 PM | 1-13-2008

Wow. Interesting to see some Ron Paul coverage on NPR. He is so absent from your stories, that it would almost seem that you either have a company culture opposed to his ideas, or a directive from the top to avoid him like the plague.

It is disappointing that you chose to put forth this one negative story, in view of the tremendous avoidance of Paul's positive, news-worthy successes and ideas.

I'm hardly a knee-jerk supporter of Ron Paul, but based on his speeches and gentleness towards people, I knew the racism story sounded very uncharacteristic. His explanatory defense statement rang authentic to me.

Ease up off the good Dr. Paul. Take a few minutes and talk about a few of the fantastic governmental and economic ideas he has.


Sent by Eric Forsberg, Providence UT | 3:40 AM | 1-14-2008

Re: Race & Gender.

One of the mantras for those who work on the issues of oppressed people is that 'oppressions are similar, but not the same.' Analogies, say, between the oppression of black people and that of women may be drawn, and they contain some of the same elements, but in the end, there are important differences.

One thing that is unique to the oppression of women is the way the patriarchy tries to remove women's public lives and, it extreme examples, make them invisible.

Some examples: Check a mainstream magazine -- many ads show women will have their mouths covered, and incredibly often, (for white women at least) their skin, hair, and makeup is pale colors that are about to fade into nothing. Don't believe me? Then check out Jean Kilbourne's work.
The thinness thing -- thinner and thinner till women will disappear.
Strict religious laws and social rules past and present on covering bodies and not leaving the house.
Ever walked down the street as a woman? It's an unpleasant gamut that asks how dare you go out in public while female?
The earnest belief that there were public and private spheres of life, and that women were only suited to the private. (Still held by the likes of Phylis Schlafly and Anne Coulter, though, strangely, it somehow doesn't apply to them.)

This is a particular facet of oppression that women face, and I can't think of any more public and visible position than President of the USA, or being a candidate for that office. Senator Clinton is getting it left and right as she contradicts a central pillar of sexism.

Sent by Jaime Taylor | 9:28 AM | 1-14-2008

I marvel at the intensity Ron Paul supporters bombard sites to defend their candidate. I wouldn't call Ron Paul a racist based on the newsletters but isn't it ironic a few weeks ago, Paul's campaign accepted and kept a $500 donation from a white supremist? These are just things that make you go hmmmm.

Sent by Moji | 9:28 AM | 1-14-2008

At some point you have to wonder - which one is worse? Is it Ron Paul for allowing his name to be affiliated w/the views he claims he does not hold? Or, is it the Clinton Campaign Camp - who repeatedly refers to Obama as a kid, his presidential pursuit and record "a fairy tale", where their staff and token billionaire supporter allude to drug use, and all is made well by hitting the Black media circuit. Seems like foul comes in many a clothing, and the racial politics that have changed the debate from the core issues - have been at the hands of those who believe do whatever it takes to win, and we'll seek forgiveness later. One my note, its already too late for many of us, who have already determined that the political antics can indeed insure our next Republican president.

Sent by Aimee A | 10:22 AM | 1-14-2008