Ron Paul’s chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination are about as small as Mitt Romney’s chances of taking a position and sticking to it.
Yet, like some soldier still fighting long after armistice, Paul seems not to have heard the news that the war is over—at least for him. In part, that’s because he treats libertarianism as a kind of religion. But it’s also because he still has money to wage his repeal-the-federal-government crusade.
And for that, he has gay billionaire Peter Thiel to thank.
On the list of top ten donors to super-PACs—the sky’s-the-limit spending organizations that are (wink, wink) separate from political campaigns—German -born Thiel is tied for fourth place. As of February, Thiel has plunked down $2.4 million for the Paul’s Endorse Liberty PAC.
For all intents and purposes, Thiel is Endorse Liberty: He’s donated more than 70% of the committee’s total funding. Without Thiel’s contributions, Ron Paul for Prez advertising would be relegated to 3am spots on low-rated cable channels.
Of course, Thiel, 44, has plenty of capital to invest in quixotic ventures: He made his money co-founding Pay Pal and taking an early stake in Facebook, earning him a net worth estimated to reach as much as $3 billion. Not all Thiel’s investments have been blessed: He lost most of an $8 billion hedge fund he managed during the Great Recession. (For more on Thiel and his mega-millions, check out Queerty’s profiles of The World’s Eight Richest Gays.)
But why is Thiel backing Paul, whose record on gay issues is hardly stellar? Well, the gay Midas’ enchantment with the Ayn Rand school of politics is nothing new: In a piece for the Cato Institute, he explained, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” He later clarified that “While I don’t think any class of people should be disenfranchised, I have little hope that voting will make things better.”
In the 1995 book he-coauthored with David Sacks, The Diversity Myth, Thiel praised a renegade law student who shouted “Faggot! Faggot! Hope you die of AIDS!” outside an instructor’s window:
“[The student's] demonstration directly challenged one of the most fundamental taboos: To suggest a correlation between homosexual acts and AIDS implies that one of the multiculturalists’ favorite lifestyles is more prone to contracting the disease and that not all lifestyles are equally desirable.”
Of course, Thiel was still closeted at the time—he didn’t come out until nine years ago, at age 35. In the New Yorker profile, Thiel says he now wishes he had never written about the episode and writer George Packer adds that, “the subject of homosexuality remains one that he doesn’t much like to discuss.”
Which might explain why, when Thiel does talk about homosexuality in relation to politics, he seems to be viewing it from a different planet. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would characterize today’s Santorum-worshipping GOP as more tolerant of gays and lesbians than it was under George W. Bush, but Thiel does. Explaining away the homophobes in the Grand Old Party, Thiel said in a New Yorker article, “there are a lot o f people who have crazy emotional issues, and politics is a way to channel that.”
Unfortunately, a lot of those same people have found their way to the Paul campaign that Thiel enables.
Among these crazies is Mike Heath, who served as Paul’s Iowa state director and led anti-gay efforts in Maine for 15 years. (Heath likened gay equality to “Nazi tyranny.”) And there’s the Rev. Phillip Kayser, who believes in the death penalty for same-sex sodomy. He supports Paul because the
Senator’s Representative’s philosophy enables groups interested in implementing Christian fundamentalism as the law of the land.
And it’s not as if Paul himself is likely to be on the lead float of a gay Pride parade any time soon: Former aide Eric Dondero, claims Paul is “personally uncomfortable” around gay people, enough so that he wouldn’t use the bathroom at the home of a gay supporter. (Paul denies the charge, and it’s likely he’s found a way to make himself comfortable around benefactor Thiel.)
Then there are the vicious comments in the Ron Paul newsletters from the 1990s—like the line that gay people didn’t fight AIDS because, “they enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.” Pushing the limits of credibility, not to mention responsibility, Paul claims he didn’t write (or even read) the columns. Amazingly, He’s gotten a pass from liberals on language that would have rightfully sunk any other candidate.
And while Paul has opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, it’s only because he believes there is no federal authority to define the institution in the first place.
Apparently none of that bothers Thiel. It’s not like he’s not the type to fail to do his homework. Of course, when your fabulously wealthy, it’s easy to believe what will hurt the common man doesn’t apply to you. From press accounts and interviews, it’s clear Thiel pretty much lives in his head, which is filled with ideas for a futuristic libertarian utopia that includes underwater cities and a cure for death (we can only imagine what that would do to rents!).
As Paul makes a well publicized campaign swing this week through the Bay Area—where he’s surprisingly popular among progressives—it’s not too late for Thiel to pull back from the Ron Paul cliff. When you have truckloads of money, the public is awful forgiving. And as Facebook prepares for an IPO, friends say he’s become more comfortable in gay settings: Thiel recently addressed StartOut, a group of LGBT entrepreneurs. He’s also supported the American Foundation for Equal Rights and GOProud.
But Thiel needs to go further: Rather than fixating on a cure for death, a fantasy only a billionaire could indulge, why not start with a cure for HIV? And rather than underwater cities, which might be a tad claustrophobic, wouldn’t it make more sense to further the cause of the cities where we already dwell? Right over the hill from Thiel’s San Francisco mansion is Larkin Street Youth, a highly-regarded organization that provides shelter, counseling and HIV education for kids on the streets, many thrown out of their homes.
Still, no matter how many good deeds Thiel does, it’s not going to erase his belief in an ideology that trumps common sense in politics. That attitude is bad enough, but it’s truly destructive when accompanied by large checks to a candidate that’s hurting the cause.
Photos by TechCrunch50