By DeWayne Wickham
Ron Paul must have known the question was coming. For weeks, he had been dogged by charges that newsletters published in his name in the 1980s and 1990s contained racist content.
So he probably wasn't surprised when ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked him during a televised debate three days before the New Hampshire primary how that could have happened without his knowledge. But no one on the stage with the Texas congressman — not the other contenders for the Republican Party's presidential nomination who bristle with contempt for their libertarian colleague or the panel of journalists wielding the questions — was ready for Paul's answer.
Dwelling on something he didn't write but has assumed responsibility for and apologized, Paul said, diverts attention away from the "true racism" in this nation's judicial system that disproportionately imprisons blacks for their involvement in drug crimes.
And when Paul finished what the Associated Press later called "a positively leftist rant," there were no follow-up questions, no clamoring from the other candidates to have their say on the issue. There was just a moment of uneasy silence — and then a commercial break. When the debate resumed, there was no return to Paul's charge of unequal justice, an indifference that is a haunting metaphor for the nation's failure to address an issue that is even worse than Paul suggests.
In 2010, 69 percent of all people arrested in this country for committing crimes were white. Blacks were just 28 percent, according to the FBI. These percentages have remained steady every year of the past decade. During this same period, roughly twice as many whites as blacks were arrested each year for drug crimes, according to the FBI annual Crime in the United States report.
Despite this, nearly half of all persons incarcerated throughout the first decade of this century were black. More than a liberal rant, that's the ugly reality of a criminal justice system that, as Paul correctly noted, prosecutes and imprisons blacks in disproportionate numbers.
That none of the other Republicans — who are champing at the bit for the right to challenge President Obama's re-election — would align themselves with Paul on this issue doesn't surprise me. The GOP's strategy for winning back the White House is devoid of any serious appeal to black voters and lacks any real concern about the lingering vestiges of racism inflicted upon blacks, who are overwhelmingly Democrats.
Forget all their pious talk about being Americans first. Paul's unanswered "rant" exposed them all —Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry— as crass partisans who won't risk upending the conventional wisdom about crime and punishment in this country when their political butts are on the line. They don't want to derail their campaigns by giving any credence to an issue that many right-wing voters they are courting would likely discount.
“If we truly want to be concerned about racism, you ought to look at a few of those issues and look at the drug laws, which are being so unfairly enforced,” Paul said as the network cut to commercials, and all the presidential wannabes on stage with him undoubtedly heaved a big sigh of relief.