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Why the new Ron Paul Institute is terrible news for Rand Paul
The nascent libertarian think tank has brought on some colorful characters that could complicate Rand Paul's attempts to mainstream Paulism
 
Sen. Rand Paul talks to his father, then-Rep. Ron Paul, during a news conference in 2011 in Washington.
Sen. Rand Paul talks to his father, then-Rep. Ron Paul, during a news conference in 2011 in Washington. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last week, while most of the U.S. was focusing on the bombings in Boston and fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, recently retired Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) launched his own think tank, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. The stated goal of the the institute is to continue and expand "Paul's lifetime of public advocacy for a peaceful foreign policy and the protection of civil liberties at home."

On Thursday, columnist James Kirchick trashed the new institute at The Daily Beast. (The institute first came to national attention thanks to a Daily Caller article earlier this week.) "There is nothing inherently wrong with noninterventionism," the cornerstone of Paul's foreign policy, says Kirchick. But when you look at who's on the institute's advisory board and academic board, he points out, it becomes clear that Paul has "decisively thrown in his lot with a bevy of conspiracy theorists, cranks, and apologists for some of the worst regimes on the planet."

The advisory board, Kirchick says, includes Lew Rockwell, Paul's former chief of staff and the man most probably responsible for the "toxic stew of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sympathy for right-wing militia movements, and support for a litany of conspiracy theories" in Ron Paul's branded newsletters in the 1990s; and Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, a 9/11 skeptic.

The Paul Institute's academic board is even kookier, says Kirchick. The "nuttiest" member is probably John Laughland, "a British writer who has never met a Central or Eastern European autocrat he didn't like" and is a noted apologist for the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Then there are the full-out 9/11 conspiracy theorists like Eric Magolis and Butler Shaffer. "And what would an enterprise featuring Ron Paul be without a little Civil War revisionism?" Kirchick asks. For that, Paul tapped the "neo-Confederate" Loyola University professor Walter Block, who "blames most of America's current problems on 'the monster Lincoln.'"

Paul disavowed the fringe views of Rockwell and his other supporters when he was running for president, Kirchick adds, but now that he has formally associated these cranks with his institute, it is "impossible to extricate Paul from the extremist views of his hangers-on."

Affiliating himself with some "unsavory whack jobs on the fringes of American politics" won't really hurt Paul, says Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest. "Having retired from Congress and never gotten far in Republican presidential politics, the elder Mr. Paul can safely hang out with all the Confederate apologists, truthers, and Putin sympathizers he wants." But this is disastrous for the political ambitions of his son.

Sen. Rand Paul has wanted to reach out to the sensible middle without losing the tinfoil hatters; his father's choice of board members makes that line much harder to walk. Senator Paul wants to be the future of the GOP, but to get there now he's going to have to say in public that his father's nutty friends have no place in his politics or his life. The son's interests required that the father play nice, but Ron Paul has never been one to play by the rules. [American Interest]

Paul supporters might note that many of the critics of the Paul Institute's advisory boards are at least sympathetic to neoconservative ideals — Kirchick, for example, has written for Commentary, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Examiner, and Mead's own The American Interest, along with a host of less ideological publications — and Paul's new institute prominently features a program called "Neo-Con Watch."

Also, as The Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins notes, Paul's advisory board doesn't just include "notable names on the libertarian right" — it also features former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), "the former leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a major advocate for unions, universal health care, tobacco regulation, expanding entitlements," and other policies "diametrically opposed to libertarianism."

If the "radical right and radical left" can coexist on the Paul Institute's board, maybe there is a sizable constituency for Paul's views — a well that Rand Paul might be able to draw from as well.

The American Interest's Mead isn't buying it. It's no coincidence that "the young Paul was conspicuously absent from the press conference announcing the institute's launch," Mead says. But that's not enough to save him from this fiasco, he adds. "Ron Paul has come close to wrecking his son's presidential hopes, and there is no telling just how much more trouble he and his friends will be making."

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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