State of the Union

What Kevin Williamson Gets Wrong About the Libertarian Moment

Credit: Reason/YouTube Screenshot

There’s something amusing about the essays on the apparently elusive “libertarian moment” (from Robert Draper’s 2014 New York Times conversation starter to Kevin D. Williamson’s latest obituary in The Atlantic this week): each draws upon Senator Rand Paul. Paul, after all, still maintains a high profile, helps direct national conversations, and even occasionally affects policy.

Most traditionalist conservatives have long insisted that the Old Right’s “moment” in the mid-20th century was largely centered on the impact of Senator Robert Taft. Libertarians are now living through a similar event. With the arguable exception of his father Ron Paul, the United States has never seen an explicitly libertarian politician with the visibility and influence Rand Paul continues to have, however great or small that might be.

This is by no means everything (Taft, who was even part of GOP leadership, didn’t ultimately redefine his party in the end). A single elected figure falls far short of the sweeping phenomenon that Draper analyzed in his original Times piece.

Yet it’s still a unique moment in American politics. A libertarian one, even.

But not according to Williamson, of whom I am a fan and who claims to be a self-identified libertarian. “Senator Rand Paul is a man out of time,” begins his essay “The Passing of the Libertarian Moment.”

He continues:

It was only a few years ago that the editors of Reason magazine held him up as the personification of what they imagined to be a “libertarian moment,” a term that enjoyed some momentary cachet in the pages of The New York TimesThe AtlanticPolitico (where I offered a skeptical assessment), and elsewhere. But rather than embodying the future of the Republican Party, Paul embodies its past…

After noting Ronald Reagan’s and William F. Buckley’s classical liberal leanings (now in the dustbin of history Williamson consigns libertarianism to), he surveys the current landscape.

“The view from 2018 is rather different,” Williamson writes. “The GOP finds itself in the throes of a populist convulsion, an ironic product of the fact that the party that long banqueted on resentment of the media now is utterly dominated by the alternative media constructed by its own most dedicated partisans.”

“It is Sean Hannity’s party now,” he moans.

But the GOP was Sean Hannity’s party when George W. Bush was president, too. If Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio—or even Rand Paul—had prevailed in 2016 instead of Donald Trump, it would have also been Hannity’s party, whatever that might have looked like. Hannity’s party is whatever the Republican Party happens to be doing at any given moment: the war on terror, the Tea PartyTrump, and whatever might follow Trump.

And something different almost always follows.

In 2008, the Democratic base was united against Bush’s Iraq War and championing Barack Obama as the anti-war candidate. By 2016, the Democratic base was stagnating under Hillary Clinton, who in so many ways was alike to Dick Cheney, the left’s arch-villain just a decade prior.

Politics constantly change and the party faithful rallies around whomever sits at the top. Presidents and even presidential nominees, for a time, almost always have a trickle-down affect on their parties. Of course, this isn’t logical ideologically. But it is how the mindless partisanship that Williamson rightly deplores works.

It didn’t start with Trump and nor will it end with him. Williamson sees an America and world permanently cemented in Trump’s moment, in which nothing good for libertarians is happening or can ever happen—on economic policy, foreign policy, the drug war, criminal justice reform, you name it. “(T)he United States is for the moment left with two authoritarian populist parties and no political home for classical liberalism at all,” Williamson laments.

No home at all? There are actually classically liberal aspects of the current administration for those willing to look (coupled with so many other anti-liberty aspects, as Williamson correctly details). Reason’s Nick Gillespie does a noteworthy job of finding much libertarian good in the Trump agenda in his response to Williamson:

Williamson, a doctrinaire #NeverTrumper, ignores any possible positives coming out of the current moment, such as the deregulatory regime that is taking place at, among other agencies, the FCC… At places such as the FDA, the EPA, and the Department of Education, a similar if partial dismantling of the administrative state is under way. Despite his obscene increases in Pentagon budgets, Trump has been less bellicose in foreign policy than his two immediate predecessors; indeed, he’s being attacked these days for planning to pull out of Syria, a country with whom we’re not technically at war (but never mind). He has also managed to oversee the reduction and elimination of various tax expenditures (mortgage-interest and state-and-local tax deductions) and a thoroughgoing reform of the corporate tax system. During the 2016 campaign, Trump was clearly better on the drug war than Hillary Clinton, believing that pot laws should be dealt with at the state level. Despite his attorney general’s recent assertions that he’d be going after legalized marijuana, there’s no sign that’s going to happen… he is downsizing the stature and ultimately the power of presidency and the government more generally.

“Williamson’s relentlessly dour assessment should serve mostly as a reminder that Trump Derangement Syndrome exists on the right as well as the left,” Gillespie adds.

Gillespie is no Trump cheerleader, but he’s still able to find positive aspects of Trump from a libertarian perspective. I’m not particularly pro- or anti-Trump, but Gillespie’s observations stand. The chances for libertarian progress should be soberly considered outside of one’s love or antipathy for the president.

Even before the rise of Trump, Williamson saw little hope for any libertarian political influence, whether in the form of Rand Paul or his father Ron Paul. In fact, the last time I responded to Williamson on libertarianism’s prospects was over his negative 2011 cover story for National Review, “Ron Paul’s Last Crusade,” which portrayed Paul and his supporters as a bunch of kooks unworthy of the libertarian mantle, much less the Republican Party’s.

As I said in my response to Williamson: “any genuine bottom-up grassroots movement—like the Tea Party or the Ron Paul movement—is going to be filled with everyday people, some of whom might not say the right things or present the right temperament for many in the political class.”

This is an unfortunate but unavoidable element of populism. It was true of Paul’s movement. It was true of the Tea Party. Hell, it’s been true on the right going all the way back to Barry Goldwater. It is certainly true of Trump and his supporters, as Williamson has observed.

But what is the alternative to populism for anyone interested in politically advancing libertarianism—or any other inherently anti-establishment philosophy?

If a critique of Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign is that he failed to reach voters in the visceral way Trump did, Williamson’s retort to the pain of the struggling working class communities Trump did reach was that they “deserve to die.

That’s probably not a good campaign slogan. It’s also the left’s stereotype of a libertarian—and no one is going to support that model.

To advance any political philosophy, you have to reach actual people, however imperfect that might look in practice to some ideologues.

The most popular libertarian movement in American politics is one that Williamson has largely rejected from the beginning. Now, under Trump, he’s erecting a headstone for libertarianism itself.

Whether the libertarian moment has passed will continue to be debated. That Kevin D. Williamson ruled it out years ago should not be.

Jack Hunter is the former political editor of and co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Senator Rand Paul.

Jonathan Chait’s Cockeyed Trump-Libertarian Fantasy

Credit: C-Span/BookTV/YouTube Screenshot

When the New York Times’ Robert Draper asked in 2014, “Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived?” a significant part of his story was spent exploring whether a number of developments—Millennial attitudes in favor of gay marriage and marijuana legalization, renewed attention to issues like privacy rights and criminal justice reform, public fatigue with partisanship and war—had perhaps culminated in a political climate that could improve Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential chances.

Of course, that didn’t happen, and Paul dropped out of the Republican primaries a year and a half later. Ever since, pundits left and right (especially conservative hawks) haven’t hesitated to lampoon, rewrite, and diminish any libertarian moment that might have been, if it ever was.

There are two things most of these libertarian-moment-phobic liberals and conservatives seem to agree on, however unintentionally:

  1. Most feared a libertarian moment from the get-go because it threatened their own respective progressive, neoconservative, and socially conservative brands, so each camp jumped at the first opportunity to declare it dead.
  2. Donald Trump killed the libertarian moment.

“RIP, Libertarian Moment 2014-2014,” one liberal taunted on the same day Paul left the presidential race.

But this week, that same writer, New York‘s Jonathan Chait, decided that the libertarian phenomenon in fact isn’t dead anymore, but instead that “Donald Trump’s Presidency is the Libertarian Moment.”


Chait begins his fantasy by arguing that since free-marketeer billionaires Charles and David Koch once opposed Trump and are now pragmatically working with the president where they can (on obviously libertarian issues), that somehow most libertarians across the board have fallen in line with the entire White House agenda. Chait writes:

The Koch rapprochement mirrors a broader trend: Among the conservative intelligentsia — where resistance to Trump has always run far deeper than it has among the Republican rank and file — libertarians have displayed some of the greatest levels of friendliness to the Trump administration. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is a bastion of pro-Trump conspiracy-theorizing about nefarious deep-state plots, in addition to celebrations of the administration’s economic record. Grover Norquist, Stephen Moore, and Ron and Rand Paul, among others, have all staunchly defended the president.

For starters, since when is the Wall Street Journal libertarian? Their characteristic hawkishness and anti-civil liberties stances are closer to Dick Cheney and even Hillary Clinton than Rand Paul, and bear little resemblance to self-identified libertarian outlets like Rare (where I serve as political editor) or Reason (which has been far more anti-Trump than pro-).

Also, in what universe have Ron and Rand Paul “staunchly defended the president”? Senator Paul has opposed Trump in some pretty high-profile ways, while also being vocal about their areas of agreement. That’s not capitulation; it’s statesmanship.

Chait basically believes, using the Koch brothers as a primary focus, that libertarians are now embracing Trump, particularly post-tax cuts, because they “have historically been open to authoritarian leaders who will protect their policy agendas,” meaning those that help the rich.

This is not only baseless, but a liberal’s cartoon version of what libertarianism is. It mirrors some on the right’s simplistic reduction of libertarianism to dope-smoking hedonism.

And if Chait’s basic analysis is irreparably flawed, his prescriptions are fallacy squared (emphasis added):

You would think a libertarian might have some deep-seated qualms about leaving untrammeled executive power in the hands of an obviously ruthless and autocratic leader like Trump. The only practical way to restrain Trump’s efforts…would be to help Democrats regain one or more chambers of Congress, so they could conduct oversight and act as a check on the executive branch.

In the same month that Chait wrote the above paragraph, liberal columnist Glenn Greenwald observed that “The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless Surveillance Powers” when congressional Democrats joined with the White House and GOP leadership to protect Section 702 of the FISA bill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi helped give Trump wide authority to spy on Americans. Indeed, these massive spying powers could have never been granted without the Democrats. Even The Onion couldn’t ignore the irony.

Who—wait for it, Jonathan Chait—were the only members of Congress to oppose giving Trump this power? A handful of principled progressives, who unfortunately remain a minority in their party, and libertarian Republicans who allied with them against the Trump administration.

But if libertarians are supposed to warm to Democrats, it makes sense which “libertarians” Chait thinks are getting it right: the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Niskanen Center. Chait writes (emphasis added):

The Niskanen Center has nurtured a cell of moderate libertarians that has lobbed attacks on the administration and its allies. But Niskanen’s rejection of Trump has come alongside a broader rejection of the priorities of the politically dominant wing of libertarian politics; they have criticized Trump for the same reasons most libertarians have supported him.

 This is the most, and perhaps only, accurate part of Chait’s piece.

If you journey through the policy prescriptions of Niskanen, you will find less libertarianism than explanations of why universal health care is inevitable, “the freedom lover’s case for the welfare state,” and pondering about why George W. Bush/Hillary Clinton-style international military engagement might be preferable to non-interventionism.

So, yes, Niskanen does work overtime to, as Chait describes, reject “the priorities of the politically dominant wing of libertarian politics.” You know, crazy priorities like free markets rather than socialism, voluntary solutions as opposed to government mandates, a more restrained foreign policy—or, more succinctly, being generally distrustful of the state as opposed to constantly signing on to its expansion.

Niskanen’s vice president of policy, Will Wilkinson, has loathed the most successful libertarian figures of recent times—the Paul family—for a number of years now, though he did think socialist Bernie Sanders was a good choice in 2016. Wilkinson, to his credit, was frank in 2012 when he wrote, “What ‘libertarian’ tends to mean to most people, including most people who self-identify as libertarian, is flatly at odds with some of what I believe. So I guess I’m just a liberal…” Similarly and not surprisingly, Niskanen president Jerry Taylor couldn’t wait in early 2016 to declare “The Collapse of the Rand Paul Movement and the Libertarian Moment That Never Was.”

My criticism of Niskanen shouldn’t be interpreted as saying that libertarian premises are always correct and shouldn’t be challenged. Purist libertarians are often their own worst enemies. I’m all for practical politics. It’s why I consider it integral to nourish an enduring liberty faction within the Republican Party. Politicians like my former boss Rand Paul and Thomas Massie have been invaluable, and I hope more eventually join them.

But part of that pragmatism means challenging a status quo that doesn’t work, not merely rationalizing it for the sake of political surrender—or worse, elite recognition and respectability. When the primary function of a think tank that brands itself libertarian seems to be to discount the core beliefs of most libertarians in most eras, it should probably stop pretending to speak in that philosophy’s name.

Whether or not a “libertarian moment” has happened, can happen, or perhaps is even still happening, will no doubt continue to be debated. Whether or not Donald Trump’s presidency is that moment’s culmination will always be a debate too stupid to bear.

Jack Hunter is the political editor of and co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Senator Rand Paul.

National Review Finally Gets It Right on Stop-and-Frisk

When it comes to the Second Amendment, conservatives insist that despite liberal arguments that more gun control will prevent firearm violence, the constitutional rights of citizens cannot be infringed upon.

Conservatives are right.

From the First Amendment to the Tenth Amendment, both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning voices have often made what sound like reasonable requests to diminish freedoms in the name of societal goods. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union was told it must choose between “free speech” and “racial justice” if it insisted on being First Amendment purists when it came to the white nationalist alt-right.

It’s not unreasonable to not want to defend racists. But the principle of freedom of expression still matters—even the freedom to express disgusting things—and the ACLU was right to resist this backlash.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the New York City police tactic of Stop-and-Frisk was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on illegal searches and seizures. It was good to have such a ruling, but the notion that police officers could search random people based on nothing more than a hunch should have struck everyone as unconstitutional from the get-go. In America, you can’t just stop passersby (so many of whom were innocent) and intrude on their personal spaces and lives in brute fashion.

As part of his 2013 mayoral campaign that year, Democrat Bill de Blasio vowed to end the practice, something many in law enforcement and on the political right insisted would inevitably spike crime. That isn’t what happened. Today crime is down in New York City significantly, to levels not seen since the 1950s.

So kudos to National Review’s critic-at-large Kyle Smith for recently admitting his publication was wrong for supporting Stop-and-Frisk:

Today in New York City, use of stop-and-frisk, which the department justified via the 1968 Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court ruling, has crashed. Yet the statistics are clear: Crime is lower than ever. It’s possible that crime would be even lower had stop-and-frisk been retained, but that’s moving the goalposts. I and others argued that crime would rise. Instead, it fell. We were wrong.

Those of all ideological persuasions should respect anyone who has the guts to admit he was incorrect, and my purpose here is not to undermine in any way an important concession from an esteemed conservative journal about an awful police practice.

Smith continues:

Nevertheless, de Blasio was correct in saying the city could withstand a sharp decrease in stop-and-frisk. And he was right to draw attention to the social cost of the practice; more than 80 percent of those subjected to stop-and-frisk since the start of the Bloomberg administration were, according to the NYPD, completely innocent. That means hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were unjustly subjected to embarrassment or even humiliation.

Remember, respecting constitutional rights in toto would have prevented such embarrassment and humiliation in the first place. And it isn’t just the right that’s struggled with the Bill of Rights’ protections. Every liberal I know thinks it’s necessary to infringe on (or at least distort by pretending their actions don’t constitute infringement) the Second Amendment in order to lower gun crime. Significant portions of the illiberal authoritarian left now think free speech is no longer sacrosanct.

The basic freedom of a man or woman to walk down the streets of New York or any other city without fear of being harassed by law enforcement is something we should all be able to agree on and defend. There are no exceptions great enough to dismiss that principle. It’s why we have a Fourth Amendment in the first place.

I’m not such a libertarian purist that I believe the scale between liberty and security should always tilt in the direction I prefer, particularly in times of crisis. But not every moment is a crisis. Government will always tend towards exploiting our fear to take away our constitutional rights: mass shootings, murderous white supremacists, urban crime.

It’s good that crime has not risen in New York City with the demise of Stop-and-Frisk. It’s good, too, that National Review is admitting it was wrong to support that heinous policy. But conservatives must remember going forward that invoking the Second Amendment to defend gun rights or the Tenth Amendment to defend states’ rights means you must also back the Fourth Amendment—even if it positions you against those you cherish and support.

Jack Hunter is the political editor of

There is No ‘New Normal’ After the Alabama Election

Winner Doug Jones. Credit: Open minded in Alabama/Flickr

I’m glad Roy Moore lost on Tuesday. While there’s a respectable argument that a conservative agenda might have been advanced had that Senate seat remained Republican, it’s just as arguable that Moore would have been a detriment to conservative causes by virtue of him being Roy Moore. The American Conservative’s Jim Antle made that case, that Moore’s election could actually hurt efforts to protect religious liberty, while TAC’s Gracy Olmstead ably explained why she believed “Electing Roy Moore Will Be the Doom of the Pro-Life Movement.

I think Moore’s loss is a win for conservatives because any right-of-center movement worth having is eventually going to have to develop a positive agenda as opposed to simply opposing the left and GOP establishment. Yes, it’s true that a largely negative campaign elected the current Republican president, but to what end? Will that happen every cycle? Donald Trump won through a combination of white and working-class identity politics and voters’ deep dislike of Hillary Clinton. Moore also pushed an identity politics campaign, while also harping on his opponent’s platform weaknesses, particularly Doug Jones’ extreme abortion views.

And yet the hard-right Republican was defeated by a Democrat many conservatives considered an abortion extremist in the deep red state of Alabama.

The media and much of the left blared headlines along the lines of “major blow to Donald Trump” and “a rebuke to Steve Bannon.” But is that actually what happened? The margin between the winner Jones and loser Moore was 1.5 percent. We’re talking about a few thousand votes. If that small number of ballots had swung in the other direction, would it have been a major victory for Trump and Bannon? We can be sure that many in the media, especially certain right-wing journalists, would be making that claim right now.

If a major landslide occurs for one candidate or another, the result can easily be declared a mandate or recognized as being indicative of which way the nation or a locality might be drifting politically. But is it possible that a politician can eke out a victory without it being considered an endorsement by their voters of their entire brand? That it’s not an up or down wholesale embrace or condemnation of whatever the Democrats or Republicans might be selling in any given election? Sometimes the cookie just crumbles the way it does. Elections can be decided based on any number of random variables that may or may not correlate or add up to any definitive conclusions.

That’s largely what happened in 2016. Hillary Clinton losing was not a complete rejection of Democrats or their agenda because it wasn’t a landslide election (indeed, as Democrats never tire of pointing out, Clinton won the popular vote). Her loss did not mean Democrats were doomed for the foreseeable future. There were too many moving parts that served to undermine such a blanket statement.

Trump winning in 2016 also did not mean nationalism and populism would be the new Republican Party from now on. Perhaps that was reinforced on Tuesday night, as Roy Moore’s boldly nationalist and populist campaign succumbed to defeat.

Or perhaps it wasn’t. It really is just speculation when the vote is as close as it was in Alabama. Many conservatives in that state very probably would have voted more passionately for a different kind of Republican candidate. We can be sure that a pro-life Democrat would have also picked up more support than Jones did. Similarly, not all Democrats are going to have the luxury of running against a Republican who’s been branded as a pedophile.

So liberalism ascendant? Nationalism falling? The moribund Democratic Party finally getting back on its feet? Who can say? One can’t consider all these factors and arrive at a conclusion that leans favorably for either party in any meaningful way. Too often we get caught up in media-created narratives that might look good on cable news chyrons, but don’t reflect actual reality.

Politics is fleeting. The “new normal” so often isn’t. Alabamans went to the polls this week, where the Democrat barely won and the Republican barely lost. Regarding America’s political future, honest observers probably shouldn’t try to read too much into what happened.

Jack Hunter is the political editor of

Tom Petty’s Permanent Things

One of the first music videos I ever saw on MTV was Tom Petty’s “Refugee” in 1980. I was six years old.

The next time I thought about that song at any length was in 1990 during a heavy make-out session in my high school girlfriend’s bedroom where Petty’s third album “Damn the Torpedoes” was on a constant cassette loop. I must have heard “Refugee” four or five times that night. I was 16 years old.

Those are some formative years for any young man, and Petty was a part of them.

I’m 43 today, and songs like “Refugee” (1980) and “American Girl” (1978) come to mind first. Yet among the many social media tributes posted by those a decade younger than me, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (1985), “Free Falling” (1989), and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (1993) were among the most cited Petty classics.

Few artists can claim to make relevant music for as many decades as Petty did. He was an enduring musician, a great songwriter—and he had a conservative side, too.

Despite the fact that Petty was a political progressive who once asked George W. Bush and Michele Bachmann to stop using his music, his 1985 song “Southern Accents” from his album of the same name is arguably one of the most traditionalist tunes in rock history.

“There’s a southern accent, where I come from. The young’uns call it country. The yankees call it dumb,” Petty sang. “I got my own way of talkin’, but everything is done, with a southern accent, where I come from.”

For Petty, his southern roots were a Permanent Thing.

Growing up in South Carolina, I always appreciated that the Floridian Petty’s accent sounded more like mine compared to most on MTV during the 80s. As a politically minded adult who had not paid much attention to “Southern Accents” prior, it was satisfying to discover that Petty wrote a Bill Kauffman-esque ode to his region.

The second verse of “Southern Accents” isn’t unlike some of Russell Kirk’s critiques of the disruptive patterns of modernity, just simpler and twangier:

Now that drunk tank in Atlanta’s

Just a motel room to me

Think I might go work Orlando

If them orange groves don’t freeze

I got my own way of workin’

But everything is run

With a southern accent

Where I come from

“For just a minute there I was dreaming,” Petty continues in the bridge. “For just a minute it was all so real. For just a minute she was standing there, with me.”

Who is “she?” Petty’s mother, of course, who he addresses in last verse:

There’s a dream I keep having

Where my mama comes to me

And kneels down over by the window

And says a prayer for me

I got my own way of prayin’

But everyone’s begun

With a southern accent

Where I come from

These are traditionalist themes that any old-school conservative would embrace. Not surprisingly, Arkansan Johnny Cash would also cover “Southern Accents” in 1996.

Petty told “Performing Songwriter” in 2014, “I thought at the time I was going to do an album based on southern themes and southern music.”

“I still think it’s probably one of my best two or three things that I ever wrote,” Petty added. “I thought it was very personal, so that was one where it just took me over.”

Now that he’s passed, the sheer popularity of Petty’s music is starting to set in. His songs were the soundtrack to so many lives. His music was universal. But sometimes it was particular, too.

Jack Hunter is the editor of and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.

Our Newfound Sympathy for Addicts

In April, a prominent U.S. political figure yelled the following at Black Lives Matter protesters: “I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped on crack and sent them out into the street to murder other African-American children!”

Was this Donald Trump? Ted Cruz, maybe?

No, it was former President Bill Clinton, whose wife Hillary, the current Democratic presidential nominee, went out of her way last month at her party’s convention to demonstrate she too thinks black lives matter.

The Clintons are a throwback to the 1990s. How Bill Clinton talked about crack addicts in April is how many, and probably most, Americans viewed that epidemic at the time. 

Crack addicts were reduced to gang members. Criminals. “Superpredators.”

Compassion was rarely part of the national dialogue on illegal drugs back then. Quite the opposite—Clinton-era drug laws punished “crackheads” more harshly than users of other illegal drugs.

Rare’s Yasmeen Alamiri spent months examining America’s heroin epidemic and found more sympathy for today’s victims than those addicted to crack cocaine in the ’90s could have imagined: “Once Obama, Congress and even health officials joined the chorus asking for ‘compassionate’ care in confronting this crisis, it marked a drastic change in tone from the United States’ long-running ‘War on Drugs’—which disproportionately affected minorities, specifically black men,” Alamiri reports.

She continues: “Now that the conversation has become less about ‘junkies’ who have made a criminal choice and more about everyday Americans getting hooked on prescription drugs, the national calculation has focused on the system leading to drug abuse.”

Everyone now appears to want to help heroin addicts, whose numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate. Thank God. This is how such crises should be addressed. Why was the crack epidemic treated differently?

For one thing, 80 percent of today’s heroin abusers got hooked by first becoming addicted to legal prescription drugs. These people aren’t criminals, you see. Their problems started with legal drugs, not criminal activity. If anything, though, condemning poor people, often black, for using illegal drugs while excusing the middle class and affluent who become “junkies” legally only compounds the hypocrisy.

But perhaps the most significant difference is that the current heroin crisis has mostly affected whites. The crack epidemic was largely seen as a black problem.

“When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences,” the New York Times reported last year. 

“But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.”

Most Americans, including President Bill Clinton, were probably not being intentionally racist in how they approached the crack problem. But the attitudes and policies of that time were unquestionably racist—certainly functionally racist.

Sympathy is more easily given when the victims are relatable. When you can see yourself in a victim of drug abuse, you’re more likely to feel for them. White Americans knew few if any crack addicts 20 years ago—films like New Jack City were about as close as they got—but they are now alarmed by how many heroin addicts they see in their midst.

Black Americans were simply not afforded the same sympathetic attitudes or help—far from it. “No matter how far from our lives crack was, we’re guilty by association,” said law professor Ekow Yankah in March.

“African-Americans were cast as pathological,” he said. “Their plight was evidence of collective moral failure, of welfare mothers and rock-slinging thugs and a reason to cut off all help.” 

“Blacks would just have to pull themselves out of the crack epidemic,” Yankah said.

Today’s Black Lives Matter movement is often controversial. But its primary focus on police brutality has been validated in a myriad of ways since the unrest in Ferguson two years ago this month. These activists and supporters believe black Americans are generally placed in a different category in the public mind and thus receive unequal justice, not to mention consideration and understanding.

In the 1990s, black crack-cocaine addicts were unquestionably placed in a different and lesser category. Why would anyone doubt this still happens today? Why wouldn’t black Americans still think this today?

Jack Hunter is the politics editor at and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.  

Why Conservatives Ignored the Ferguson Report

In the wake of the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report, The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf asked, “Where’s the Conservative Outcry on Ferguson Police Abuses?

National Review‘s Jason Lee Steorts and Red State’s Leon Wolf actually did write columns blasting the Ferguson police department and city government, detailing just how unjust and abusive Ferguson’s government has been, something Friedersdorf acknowledged and appreciated.

But despite those columns, Friedersdorf still has a point. Where is the popular outcry from conservatives over this gross display of big government? Why hasn’t this subject become a right-wing staple, similar to Obamacare or Benghazi? Why hasn’t it dominated talk radio? Why hasn’t it been all over Fox News in ways that are sympathetic to the citizens of Ferguson?

Wolf suggests, “Conservatives… have become highly resistant to assimilating information that strongly suggests that the Ferguson PD—as with many other municipal police departments in the country—truly is out of control, in that it recklessly violates the constitutional rights of the citizens of Ferguson and does so in a manner that has a clearly disproportionate impact on minorities.” Wolf is correct. But again… why the blanket one-sidedness from the right even when presented with solid evidence of abuse?

Because many have already made up their minds. The citizens of Ferguson are bad people.

During the Ferguson riots in August, Mad Men actor and St. Louis native Jon Hamm said, “That’s my neighborhood, and I know there’s a lot more good people in those neighborhoods than there are bad people.” Judging by their rhetoric and reaction (or lack thereof) to the DOJ report, it’s not hard to conclude that many conservatives believe the opposite of Hamm’s statement—that although there are some good people in Ferguson most of them are probably bad.

Conservatives certainly agreed that black entrepreneurs whose businesses were destroyed during the riots were good people. They agreed that the black citizens who used their 2nd Amendment rights to protect private property from looting were good as well. But far more often than these positive narratives, we saw right-wing media portray the black citizens of Ferguson as “thugs,” “animals,” “savages,” and worse.

At that gut, emotional level, there was an underlying sense among many conservatives that whatever injustice the people of Ferguson may have suffered, they probably deserved it. Some might attribute this to racism, intentional or not, and I agree, but it also something more than that. It’s about how we as human beings, particularly partisans, have a tendency to lump people together and indict the whole lot.

Conservative attitudes toward the people of Ferguson are not entirely dissimilar to how liberals reacted to the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups. For most conservatives, it was clear that the IRS abused its power. A judge eventually ruled in favor of the IRS, but Tea Party groups still feel like they were abused. And they were.

Still, many on the left didn’t mind that abuse (or pretended there was no abuse, similar to how conservatives perceive Ferguson police behavior). Why? Because the Tea Party are bad people who probably deserved it. Conservatives love to cite black crime to dismiss injustices like those in Ferguson. Liberals have noted that the Tea Party gets out of line too, so naturally they’re just asking for trouble.

This sort of collective guilt-think is not dissimilar to how some right-wing hawks
view the Arab world. Neoconservative Washington Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb explained the recent popularity of über-hawk Tom Cotton by saying, “At the end of the day, the Republican base is for bombing bad people.”

But does the U.S. just bomb “bad people?” Do police only abuse bad people? Does the IRS only target the wicked? Or do individual liberties, rights, and lives still matter to people of good conscience?

What if many of the “bad people” people the U.S. has killed with bombs or drone strikes have actually been innocent? Many conservatives don’t want to believe this and often exhibit an attitude that Muslims probably deserve what they get. All Muslims.

Tom Cotton himself displayed this attitude that when he said that “we should be proud for the way we treated these savages at Guantanamo Bay,” and that “every last one of them can rot in Hell.” But many and perhaps a majority of Gitmo detainees may have been innocent and the Bush administration even knew this.

Still, they are all bad people.

Cotton defends his position by posing the question, “How many detainees in Guantanamo Bay are engaging in terrorism or anti-American excitement?”

I bet some have engaged in “anti-American excitement.” Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai said to President Obama in October that U.S. “drone attacks” in her country “are fueling terrorism.” “Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people,” she said.

That resentment is probably anti-American. Some might even get excited about that resentment, in ways that Cotton cites as justification for holding people—even if they aren’t directly involved in terrorism—in Gitmo for years without trial.

Tea Partiers have certainly engaged in anti-government “excitement,” and any good liberal knows they are bad people. Many in Ferguson have no doubt engaged in anti-police “excitement.” The Ferguson DOJ report certainly gives the people of that city many reasons to despise their local government and the police. In the 1950s and ’60s, some constantly criticized civil rights protesters as “agitators” who were engaged in anti-American “excitement.” You see, rabble rousing is what bad people do.

When you collectively indict a group of people as bad, some will justify any extremes to punish them. Look at how some black Americans who distrust the police have even justified murdering cops. Police lives matter.

So does black life in the United States. Wolf wrote at Red State, “Anyone who can read the actual report itself and be comfortable with the fact that citizens of an American city live under such a regime is frankly not someone who is ideologically aligned with me in any meaningful way.”

Wolf is correct that anyone who actually read it and dismissed it doesn’t deserve to be called a small-government conservative, but this isn’t at all about ideology. It’s emotion. It’s anger. It’s rage. It is what passes for much of our political discourse today.

And for too many conservatives, bitter feelings are directed far more at black people in Ferguson than the police and local government, any evidence to the contrary be damned.

The venomous anti-Tea Party liberal is really not much different from the conservative who seethes at images of black protesters on his television screen. They know who the bad people are and don’t intend to show them any mercy. There is no moral complexity they feel compelled to consider.

There’s a reason why conservatives will harp incessantly on the fact that “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” didn’t actually happen but will completely ignore the abusive environment as evidenced in the Ferguson report that made it so easy for African Americans to believe it did happen.

George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree—but for generations the symbolic fable was worth it for the lesson.

For many conservatives, there are no lessons to be learned from the Ferguson report, except that bad people sometimes get what they deserve.

Jack Hunter is the editor of and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.

Don’t Hate Chris Kyle—or the Iraqis

photo by Warner Bros. Entertainment

“I hated the damn savages… I could give a flying f*** about the Iraqis,” wrote the late Chris Kyle in his 2013 memoir, American Sniper.

As the Clint Eastwood-directed biopic about Kyle continues to do big box office, The Guardian’s Lindy West asked why so many were celebrating a “hate filled killer.” West wasn’t the only one who wondered why so many were proud of this “psychopath.”

National Review’s Ian Tuttle notes how some of Kyle’s controversial comments may have been taken out of context. For example, Kyle actually wrote, “I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,” (emphasis added) which is significantly different from how West’s edit portrays him. As for not giving a “flying f***” about Iraqis, here is the entire quote:

I didn’t risk my life to bring democracy to Iraq. I risked my life for my buddies, to protect my friends and fellow countrymen. I went to war for my country, not Iraq. My country sent me out there so that bullsh*t wouldn’t make its way back to our shores. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying f*** about them.

I have long believed the Iraq War was one of the worst foreign-policy blunders in U.S. history. Watching “American Sniper,” Kyle seemed to me as much a victim of the horrible decision to invade Iraq as the Iraqis.

Rod Dreher is right: “The main takeaway for me was the cost of war on a soldier. It made me angrier at Bush, Rumsfeld, and the lot for putting true-believing, faithful soldiers like Chris Kyle into Iraq under false or foolish pretenses.”

In the film, Kyle is not a knuckle-dragging murderer who gets off on killing “brown” Arabs, as some have alleged, but a soldier who wrestles tremendously with his military duties and is never really comfortable with his fame as America’s “most lethal sniper.” Kyle seems sure in his rhetoric about fighting for his country and getting the “bad guys,” but his everyday environment, both in Iraq and stateside, is morally complex. Kyle and his fellow soldiers do wonder about the point of their mission, particularly as the years wear on. Why are they there? What are they trying to accomplish?

“What was that for, anyway?” Rod Dreher asks.

Kyle didn’t give a “flying f***” about Iraqis because his first concern was his “buddies” and his countrymen. Likewise, many Iraqis didn’t care for the U.S. soldiers in their midst because of what the war had done to their families and country.

Both of these different, yet same, perspectives are healthy and normal patriotic sentiments. Both emanate from people who are culturally removed from each other, if not for war. It is this detachment that makes it easier to villainize the other side. In the movie and probably in real life, this becomes harder to do as U.S. soldiers and Iraqis see each other face-to-face daily.

Demonizing either U.S. soldiers or ordinary Iraqis is much easier for those who didn’t have to live the war up close, or at all, but only experience it through Fox News pundits or op-eds in The Guardian.

Every Arab or Muslim is not a terrorist, though for many hawks there is a certain moral comfort in subscribing to this kind of bigotry. Every U.S. soldier is not a “murderer,” “psychopath” or “baby killer” (going back to the Vietnam-era), though antiwar critics get a certain satisfaction with these blanket slanders.

The truth is more complex. It almost always is. Simplifying it often only compounds the tragedy for those who’ve suffered, but strengthens attitudes that can lead to policies that result in more suffering.

Many Americans, perhaps many fans of Chris Kyle and “American Sniper,” really do think of Iraqis or Muslims in general not as people, but as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Yet many innocents Muslims and Arabs are as much victims, of both American foreign policy and Islamic extremists in their midst, as the innocent people murdered on 9/11. They didn’t ask for this chaos and tragedy in their lives, but they find themselves damaged by it, nonetheless.

Most U.S. military members are regular, morally upstanding people who are thrust into extreme circumstances due to their government’s unwise foreign policy decisions. Yes, they voluntarily signed up, whether out of patriotic duty or economic necessity. Still, it wasn’t Americans soldiers’ decision to invade Iraq. It wasn’t Chris Kyle who sneakily tried to connect the 9/11 attacks with Saddam Hussein, as Dreher notes.

Kyle was a victim of this deception as were his brothers and sisters in arms.

Those who constantly argue against a habitually aggressive and mindless U.S. foreign policy insist that we must consider what war does to those living in the Middle East on a personal, emotional level, and also how this affects the long term security interests of the United States. “Blowback” is real, and yet it is a hard sell for many Americans, particularly because Middle Eastern culture is still something remote for most living in the United States. Many in the U.S. more often see that region and the people in it as an inconsequential blip on CNN, not as individuals with families who share the same life concerns as Americans.

Chris Kyle, on the other hand, was all-American. Those who admire Kyle probably know people like him.

Culturally, Kyle reminded me of me. I was born the same year as Kyle, come from a middle-class background, spent the better part of my life in bars chasing girls, have a distinct Southern drawl, and my rhetoric can be rough and undisciplined. Watching “American Sniper,” I imagined what I would have done if I found myself in the same situation. I really don’t know. My current political beliefs aside—senator and Vietnam veteran Jim Webb once called the battlefield the most apolitical environment he’s ever experienced—I am not confident my behavior or attitude would have been different from Kyle’s.

Kyle, like many Americans, wants to believe his government is right but becomes more confused as the war wears on. He joined the military to do his duty and serve his country. His certainty dampens and then deteriorates, as does his mental state while his family life lies in tatters.

Chris Kyle wasn’t alone. The following is a private discussion with a woman who generally holds antiwar views that helps shed light on what many military members and their families have gone through post 9/11. She wished to remain anonymous and this is used with her permission:

My brother did five tours between Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he did a lot of things we know he didn’t do, and suffers from insane PTSD to the point that he and I hardly speak and when we do he’s irrational to the point of distraction. But he’ll tell you some crazy stories, has some serious violence issues, and probably could be classified as the same type of “jerk, liar, and murderer” that Chris Kyle is accused of being. These guys come back messed the hell up. Some figure shit out, others don’t. Sometimes the bragging is their way of dealing or staying numb or hiding. I’ll pass on making judgment because I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to handle what they went through and I hope one day my brother returns to a piece of who he was before.

How many U.S. military members and their families see their own struggles reflected in the saga of Chris Kyle?

War critics who now attack Kyle and arguably, by extension, the U.S. military, don’t sound much different than hawks who revel in casting all Middle Easterners in the worst possible light. There is an ugly crudeness to being anti-Muslim. The same can be true of being anti-military too.

Many war critics are careful to explain the context of anti-American sentiment made by some in the Arab world, that certain U.S. policies naturally provoke emotion and extreme rhetoric. These critics should approach Kyle and some of his controversial statements with the same depth, consideration, and judgment.

Being antiwar can, and should, also mean being pro-soldier. “American Sniper” should be instructive in this regard, despite attempts by left and right to see only what suits their ideological purposes. Director Clint Eastwood says his movie makes “the biggest antiwar statement any film can.”

Ultimately, “American Sniper” is about what the Iraq War did to Chris Kyle and his family. He wasn’t just some cocksure cartoon. He was a man. And he was a mess.

Jack Hunter is the editor of and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.

The Right’s Race Deafness

Over the last week, many conservatives seemed to be unified around one narrative: Race or racism had absolutely nothing to do with the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings, the protesters had simply made it such and this led to the tragic murder of two New York City police officers.

The shooting of an 18-year-old black male by a white officer in Berkeley, Missouri, near Ferguson, on Tuesday—accompanied by a video that appeared to support the cop’s actions—reinforced this narrative among conservatives. So did the senseless riot that followed.

Many conservatives believe race or racism was never a factor at all in the Brown and Garner cases, or in most of these types of cases. Many insist that the protesters were just making all this stuff up.

Who disagrees with this? Black people.

In poll after poll after poll after poll after poll—strong majorities of black Americans have consistently said that race plays a role in how law enforcement is applied and how the justice system is conducted in the United States.

We know that black teenagers are 21 times more likely to be shot by the police than whites. We know that 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to jail in their lifetime. We know that 1 in every 15 black males in the U.S. is currently incarcerated. We know black offenders receive longer sentences than white offenders. We know that despite the same rate of use of marijuana, blacks are 4 times more likely to be arrested.

Black NYPD police officers give some perspective. Reuters reported on Tuesday:

Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.

The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.

On the Garner killing, Reuters added, “Said one officer from the 106th Precinct in Queens, ‘That could have been any one of us.”

These are just a few of the statistical realities and perspectives black Americans know too well, and through which they viewed the Michael Brown and Eric Garner controversies. It’s almost impossible to imagine them not seeing a racial component.

But are blacks just misperceiving these circumstances as racism, as many conservatives seem to think? Or have black men and women have observed things in their communities for a very long time that many outside their communities aren’t aware of?

Is this even a possibility? Many conservatives: Nope.

Years ago, I used to say inflammatory things as a conservative radio shock jock, “The Southern Avenger,” knowing it would generate a certain animosity, even racial.

I thought it was a badge of honor, that this was my role. I believed part of being a conservative was simply to ignore minority criticism, or perhaps to point to other minorities who agreed with me. Over the years, I’ve changed my mind significantly.

But do many and perhaps most conservatives subscribe to this mindset? I must ask—particularly given recent events and the reactions to them—is part of being conservative just not caring what black people think? It should be noted that there were diverse conservative opinions about the Eric Garner decision.

Conservatives do not need to agree with every criticism made by black Americans of law enforcement and our justice system, but they do need, at a bare minimum, to consider them. They need to acknowledge that they exist.

They need to listen.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul has listened. He even agrees that black Americans have a point about racism and our current system. The conservative reaction? Paul has been called  “anti-cop,” accused of “pandering” and worse.

So much for minority outreach.

Politics is tribal. The dynamic of conservatives vs. liberals and Republicans vs. Democrats isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

But in the past few months since Ferguson erupted, and the last week in particular, it has felt a lot more like conservatives vs. blacks—that the right thinks African Americans don’t have a point, an argument, or even a side worth considering when it comes to these controversies.

I hope I’m wrong.

Jack Hunter is the editor of and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.

What’s Conservatism Without Liberty?

DoD photo by Cherie A. Thurlby / Released

When the CIA torture report was released, Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano said the perpetrators might be “war criminals.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he’d “do it again in a minute.”

After the Eric Garner decision, Rep. Justin Amash tweeted, “Clearly excessive force against #EricGarner.” Rep. Peter King thanked the Staten Island grand jury for “doing justice” by not indicting the officer.

During the unrest in Ferguson, Rand Paul called for demilitarizing the police, blamed the system, and met with local black leaders. Mike Huckabee said Michael Brown would still be alive if he hadn’t been a “thug.

These are high-profile conservatives having opposite reactions to recent controversial events. Napolitano, Amash, and Paul can be fairly categorized as libertarian-leaning men of the right, while Cheney, King, and Huckabee can be fairly categorized as conventionally conservative or Republican. The conservative brands these two sides represent are far more contradictory than they are compatible on some key issues.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin agrees. In her column “The libertarian-conservative alliance frays” Rubin insists that despite shared opposition to certain domestic big-government programs, libertarians really don’t belong in the same category—or even party—with conservatives.

On the most obvious surface disagreement between libertarians and many conservatives, foreign policy, Rubin writes, “As foreign policy becomes more critical, the libertarian-conservative alliance is harder to maintain. Whether it is internment of enemy combatants or enhanced interrogation, libertarians line up with liberals—against conservatives.”

For Rubin, the conservative Republican position is to support Gitmo and torture (but not call it that), and since the left doesn’t support either, this essentially makes libertarians little different from liberals. Never mind that the otherwise hawkish 2008 Republican presidential nominee supported closing Guantanamo Bay and the most popular conservative of the last half-century vigorously opposed torture, including “enhanced interrogation tactics”—these are Rubin’s conservative litmus tests, and she’s sticking to them.

But beyond foreign policy, Rubin believes recent controversies have further demonstrated why libertarianism represents something separate and antithetical to conservatism. She writes:

But foreign policy is not the only issue that separates the libertarians from the conservatives. Recent incidents in the news make clear how respectful of authority conservatives remain

In their opposition to government power, libertarians are sympathetic toward complaints about the police, are quick to see that the police have used excessive force, want to “demilitarize” them, leaped to accuse the police in the Ferguson, Mo., killing and like to cite the laws that give pretext to police stops (cigarette laws in the case of Eric Garner) as a major problem.

Conservatives, on the other hand, still give high marks to the police, did not buy the narrative that Michael Brown was an innocent victim in the act of surrendering, and want plenty of law and order. It was no coincidence that Rand Paul and the Rev. Al Sharpton sat down together or that Paul was the first (and only) potential 2016 contender to accuse the judicial system of being afflicted by widespread racism.

Rubin finishes, “To be blunt, conservatives respect authority and crave social order; libertarians instinctively recoil from appeals to both.”

Balancing liberty and security has been a concern since America’s founding, and certainly for generations of conservatives. Russell Kirk, no fan of libertarians, believed in the importance of authority and social order but always prescribed an “ordered liberty.” Conservatism as defined by political standard bearers Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan has represented a long history of libertarians and traditionalists joining forces for common causes.

Rubin seeks to strip the liberty factor from conservatism and behave as though what’s left over is conservatism proper—that the concerns and priorities of libertarians are somehow antithetical to genuine conservatism. If conservatism had only existed from September 2001 until the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, she might have a case, one in which many believe extremism in the defense of liberty devolved into extremism in the name of security.

Fortunately for conservatives, Dick Cheney’s definition of conservatism is not the only available model. If Reagan believed libertarianism was the “heart and soul of conservatism,” Rubin wants us to believe ripping out that heart is conservatism. That’s simply not true.

However, Rubin is right about stark differences between libertarians and many more conventionally conservative Republicans—there is a significant and perhaps even irreconcilable philosophical contradiction developing on the right.

But it is not between libertarians and conservatives. If looking for the most accurate and useful term to analyze this conservative dilemma, the opposite of libertarianism is not conservatism, but authoritarianism, and the current tension is between libertarians and authoritarians.

Libertarians distrust government. So have generations of conservatives. Conservatives have also long trusted and admired certain types of government—the military, the police, the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency—believing these bodies represent law, order, and safety.

Recently, ascendant libertarian Republicans have extended their skepticism of government to state agencies that the right is accustomed to giving the benefit of the doubt.

Have we now learned that the CIA crossed lines that threaten the ideal of American liberty at home and around the world? Libertarians say yes. Authoritarians say don’t question the CIA. Has law enforcement behaved in ways that threaten the liberty of citizens, and particularly African-Americans? Libertarians wonder. Authoritarians say don’t question the police. Has the NSA threatened our privacy? Libertarians say absolutely. Authoritarians say don’t question the NSA. Does our current foreign policy enhance or diminish or enhance national security and are the benefits worth the exorbitant cost? Authoritarians scoff at these questions, treating Pentagon spending in particular as sacrosanct.

Libertarians question government. Authoritarians, naturally, don’t question authority. That government agencies authoritarians like can be as inefficient and corrupt as the parts of government law-and-order conservatives aren’t so fond of simply does not enter the equation.

It is also significant that while libertarians favor smaller and more constitutional government, authoritarians advocate for bigger, stronger, and even unlimited government.

Last week, hawkish senator Marco Rubio said Rand Paul’s attempts to put definable limits on an Authorization of the Use of Military Force, or giving the president a blank check on foreign policy, was “micromanaging the military.” Jennifer Rubin’s headline on this showdown read, “Conservative Marco Rubio slams Rand Paul’s libertarian views.”

Note that the pro-executive power position is described as “conservative” and Congress attempting to rein in presidential overreach is deemed “libertarian.” Since when is asking to follow the Constitution anti-conservative? Since when is advocating for a limitless and unrestricted executive branch the conservative position?

If liberty is your priority, this is patently absurd. But if you lean authoritarian, it makes perfect sense.

If you prefer constant and prolonged foreign intervention, unrestricted intelligence gathering and law enforcement, this runs counter an agenda of constitutional protections, devolved power, and fiscal responsibility. The idea has always been to balance security and liberty. Authoritarians say liberty disrupts security and therefore libertarians aren’t real conservatives.

If you Google “authoritarian,” your first find will be “Favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, esp. that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.” If Rubin believes “conservatives respect authority and crave social order” and that “libertarians instinctively recoil from appeals to both,” conservatives have also questioned authority, recoiled from government infringing on freedom and many have believed liberty is key to social order.

The reason authoritarians like Rubin and others become so incensed by Rand Paul, claiming he’s not really a conservative, he has no chance to become president, he’s overrated, etc., is because Paul represents the polar opposite of everything authoritarians hold dear.

Ben Franklin warned that if you trade liberty for security you would end up with neither. Jennifer Rubin believes that trade gives you conservatism.

It gives you authoritarianism. Whether that’s what most Americans, including Republicans, want these days is an entirely different question.

Jack Hunter is the editor of and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.

“Fortunate Son” Is Antiwar, and Pro-Military

DoD News photo by EJ Hersom

When Dave Grohl and Zac Brown joined Bruce Springsteen for a rousing rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic “Fortunate Son” at the Concert for Valor in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, The Weekly Standard’s Ethan Epstein complained:

The song, not to put too fine a point on it, is an anti-war screed, taking shots at “the red white and blue.” It was a particularly terrible choice given that Fortunate Son is, moreover, an anti-draft song, and this concert was largely organized to honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Epstein wasn’t alone. Other conservatives also took offense, believing the song was somehow “anti-military.”

This is completely backward.

Fortunate Son is not “anti-military.” It is anti-elite. It is anti-politician. It is anti-Washington.

And yes, it is antiwar.

War is bad. This should not be a controversial statement. Most people of any ideology should be able to agree that even when war is necessary, it is a necessary evil. In 1946, General Dwight Eisenhower delivered an antiwar screed of his own: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Was Ike antimilitary? He was certainly antiwar.

War is brutal, futile, and stupid. Eisenhower saw battle firsthand. In “Fortunate Son,” John Fogerty asks why middle- and lower-class Americans are forced to see war up close while the political elite gets to keep a safe distance.

“Fortunate Son” is antiwar precisely because it is pro-military. It advocates for regular Americans who fight wars and against elites who make them.

This is a distinction conservative hawks find hard to make, or simply don’t want to make. If your ideology consists largely of pushing for every war Barack Obama or John McCain thinks is a good idea, “supporting the troops” inevitably means supporting the wars themselves. The wisdom or results of those wars become secondary to the emotional insistence that we must fight them. “What if we do nothing!”

Just like Cold War conservatives who defended the Vietnam War until the bitter end, you rarely find right-wing hawks today that will admit that the Iraq War was a mistake.

Yet, most Americans think it was a mistake, including the men and women who had to fight. You will not find many hawks that think we’ve been in Afghanistan too long. Yet, most of our soldiers now say that war was a mistake too.

Of course most Americans, including veterans, think Vietnam was a tragic disaster.

There is a disconnect between the people who actually fight America’s wars and the political class that dictates U.S. foreign policy. The conservative critics of Bruce Springsteen singing “Fortunate Son” in honor of America’s veterans Tuesday are part of the same political class Fogerty skewered in the 1960s—those who wave the “red, white and blue” in support of war first and, unintentionally, soldiers second. Sang Fogerty “And when you ask ’em, ‘How much should we give?’ Ooh, they only answer ‘More! More! More!”

The Weekly Standard’s Ethan Epstein thought “Fortunate Son” was offensive at an event to “honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

One has to wonder if Epstein thought the Concert for Valor was just as much about honoring the wars themselves.

Jack Hunter is the editor of and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.

How Rand Paul Threatens Left and Right

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp declared last week, “Rand Paul just gave one of the most important foreign policy speeches in decades.” BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray didn’t see what the big deal was, responding, “I’m confused by these takes on Paul’s speech as if the content was new. He’s been saying the same stuff for some time.”

She’s not wrong. But neither is Beauchamp. In many ways Paul’s foreign policy speech Thursday was nothing new for the senator.

That does not make it any less monumental.

Beauchamp found Paul’s call for a more restrained military approach important because “Paul is signaling that, when he runs for president in 2016, he isn’t going to move toward the Republican foreign policy consensus; he’s going to run at it, with a battering ram.”

Paul’s foreign policy vision is significantly different from every other rumored 2016 GOP presidential candidate. “If he wins,” Beauchamp emphasizes, “he could remake the Republican Party as we know it.”

The Kentucky senator has consistently challenged long-held GOP views on issues like the war on drugs and federal drug sentencing laws by taking positions that once would have been considered almost exclusively left. Paul has introduced legislation ending the practice of civil asset forfeitures—police taking and keeping someone’s property based on nothing more than suspicion—an issue that had previously received little attention in Washington. The libertarian-leaning senator’s well-received address at progressive Berkeley last year on the dangers of the surveillance state would have been unthinkable for almost any Republican during the George W. Bush era.

When even President Obama and Hillary Clinton were hesitant to address the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in August, Paul did, tackling the dangers of police militarization in a way that would earn him praise across the ideological spectrum. This month Paul met with black leaders in Ferguson. He has been the first potential 2016 presidential candidate of either party to do so.

In 2013, when the senator filibustered John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director over drone policy and due process for U.S. citizens, he swung public opinion a whopping 50 points on an issue that hadn’t even been on most Americans’ radar. The Tea Party loved it so much Republican hawks that generally disagreed with Paul on national security-related civil liberties issues felt compelled to join him on the Senate floor, to thank Rand for taking a “stand.” Code Pink thanked him too.

Last year, The Daily Beast’s David Friedlander asked, “How did Rand Paul become a liberal hero?” Friedlander said Paul had “emerged as one of the nation’s most articulate defenders of progressive values…” and that “should he run (for president), he would represent a new kind of figure on the American political landscape.”

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who Paul upsets more—liberals who are embarrassed the Republican senator might be more outspoken than most Democrats on core progressive issues, or Republicans whose idea of conservatism is often something very different from—and even antithetical to—Paul’s vision.

Liberals like Mother Jones’ David Corn appear worried about what kind of appeal Paul might have on the left, when they continuously go out of their way to portray Paul in the most unflattering light imaginable. The ideological mirror image of Corn’s fears can be seen at right-wing outlets like the Washington Free Beacon, who fret Paul might be turning Republicans away from the neoconservative post-9/11 foreign policy consensus that defined the Bush years. Like Corn’s recent digs at Paul at Mother Jones, you will be hard pressed to find many positive stories about the son of Ron Paul at the Free Beacon, but you will find consistent attempts to relegate the senator to the fringe. (Disclosure: my own “Southern Avenger” radio history and relationship with Senator Paul would become a well-publicized part of this effort.).

But left and right partisans’ uneasiness is not unwarranted. Many conventional liberals and conservatives grimace at Paul blurring left-right boundaries in ways that make their stock partisanship harder. There has always been a comfort, whether out of genuine conviction or just intellectual laziness, in simply blaming “those conservatives” or “those liberals” for every problem.

In forcing wider and more substantive debates, Paul threatens entrenched political identities in ways that undermine the very premises of those identities. Too much re-examining of what’s “right” and what’s “left” might create problems. For politicians and pundits accustomed to mere mudslinging, Paul’s approach challenges their model. At a time when more Americans than ever are identifying as independents, Paul makes partisans uncomfortable.

When Time dubbed Paul “the most interesting man in politics” this month, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele observed “I call him the most dangerous man in politics, because he has the ability to draw from the Democrats as well as the Republican bases in a way that could upset a few apple carts if this thing strikes the way he is talking.”

No doubt, Rand Paul will keep talking, and his transpartisan message might keep resonating. That’s what so many in Washington today are afraid of.

Jack Hunter is the Editor of and the former New Media Director for Senator Rand Paul.

How to Win a Culture War

illustration by Michael Hogue

For as long social conservatives have been a force within the Republican Party, moderates and liberals have insisted that their presence hurts the GOP. There is certainly evidence Americans are becoming more socially liberal on some issues.

In May, a Gallup headline read, “Same-Sex Marriage Support Solidifies Above 50% in U.S.: Support has been 50% or above in three separate readings in last year.” In October, the same firm announced, “For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana: Support surged 10 percentage points in past year, to 58%.” Medical-marijuana initiatives have been widely successful, and now recreational marijuana has become legal in places like Washington and Colorado. More states may soon follow.

A poll conducted in April by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that older Americans and white evangelical Protestants were the two groups most opposed to same-sex marriage and relaxing marijuana laws. But attitudes are changing even among Christians, as a Religion News Service interview with PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox revealed:

“We see these generational differences even among certain religious communities,” said Cox. According to the poll, younger Christians, too, are twice as likely to see marijuana use as morally acceptable compared to older Christians. “It’s forecasting a future where the majority of Christians will likely also favor legalization, although they’ll likely be a little bit behind Americans overall,” Cox said.

Yet if Americans—particularly younger ones, including Christians—are increasingly embracing same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, public opinion is tacking rightward on the issue that has long inspired conservative culture warriors the most.

In May 2009, a Gallup poll found that 51 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life” when asked about abortion, compared to 42 percent who label themselves “pro-choice.” The firm noted that this was “the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.”

Then in May 2012, a Gallup headline announced, “‘Pro-Choice’ Americans at Record-Low 41%: Americans now tilt ‘pro-life’ by nine-point margin, 50% to 41%.” And this past July, ran an item titled, “Another Poll Confirms Young People Under 35 are Strongly Pro-Life.”

Citing data from the National Opinion Research Center, noted, “First—and in many ways most revealing—guess which age group is the second most pro-life (after those over 65)? The youngest—those under 35! As has explained many times, young people’s opinion may have become more ‘liberal’ on other social issues but not abortion. That speaks volumes.”

Debates about whether social conservatives should surrender in the culture war miss something very important—that it’s not really an either/or proposition. There is no one “culture war.” There are multiple wars.

Social conservatives who still desire a national consensus on traditional marriage or for the drug war will likely continue to find shrinking support. But so will liberals and moderates who still consider being pro-choice on abortion the more popular or “forward-thinking” position. Same-sex marriage and drug decriminalization are seeing success because young people generally support them. Those same young Americans are also coming to view abortion more unfavorably than their parents.

These trends serve to remind us that culture is indeed more important to changing minds on so-called “social issues” than politics is. We’ve had laws against same-sex marriage and marijuana for decades, but the public has become increasingly accepting of both. Today popular entertainment is full of gay characters and drug references, and it has been for some time, reflecting a level of public comfort with both. Openly gay politicians are now commonplace, as are presidents and Supreme Court justices who admit to having used marijuana.

The cultural shift on same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization came first and is only now being reflected in our politics and emerging new policies.

Abortion has been legal since 1973, but polls indicate America is moving in a more pro-life direction. Here, too, culture is making the difference. Rapidly advancing technology allows us to see a child’s development in the womb  at earlier stages, clarifying moral questions that used to be more easily obscured. As National Review’s Maggie Gallagher has noted, “Crisis pregnancy centers say very few women who see their babies decide to abort them.”

Young people are generally more tech savvy than their elders, and it is probably hard to share photos of little Johnny in his first trimester on social media, while one’s Facebook friends simultaneously rationalize disposing of little Johnny. Web issue image

New technology is forcing Americans of all ideological backgrounds, and even those who are apolitical, to consider the life issue in a whole new light. As the culture changes, perhaps political victories on the pro-life front may also be more achievable in the near future.

And what issue is more important than life? As a practical matter, conservatives would probably do better with voters by becoming less rigid on social issues where Americans are becoming more liberal. But they also stand to gain by doubling down on the issue that should matter most. Even many conservatives are divided on same-sex marriage and the drug war, but virtually all stand strongly for life—something unlikely to change anytime soon.

Perhaps we will continue living in an America where consenting adults can agree to marry members of the same sex or smoke pot legally. But perhaps we will also live in a country that no longer thinks it acceptable to kill children before they are able draw their first breath.

The priorities should be self-evident. And in picking their cultural battles more carefully, conservatives can win them.

Jack Hunter is co-author, with Sen. Rand Paul, of The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

Why Gay Marriage Isn’t the ’60s Civil Rights Fight

The 20-something me would consider the 30-something me a bleeding-heart liberal. Though I still hate political correctness, I no longer find it valuable to attack PC by charging off in the opposite direction, making insensitive remarks that even if right in fact were so wrong in form. I’m not the first political pundit to use excessive hyperbole. I might be one of the few to admit being embarrassed about it.

This embarrassment is particularly true concerning my own region, the South, where slavery, segregation, and institutional racism left a heavy mark. I still detest those on the left and right who exploit racial tension for their own purposes. But I detest even more the inhumanity suffered by African-Americans in our early and later history. T.S. Eliot said, “humankind cannot bear too much reality,” and it is impossible for those of us living in the new millennium to comprehend that absolute horror of being treated like chattel by your fellow man, or being terrorized by your neighbors, because of the color of your skin.

Books, memorials, and museums will never be able to adequately convey such tragedy, at least not in any manner remotely comparable to the pain of those who lived it.

The debate over gay marriage has been portrayed as the civil rights struggle of our time. I’m generally a supporter of same-sex unions and hold the same view as President Obama—I’m personally for it, but believe it should be decided at the state level. I find it legally objectionable that those in longstanding same-sex relationships do not have the same inheritance, tax, and hospital-visitation rights as straight couples. Whatever the courts or states decide now and in the future, I hope this changes.

That said, gay marriage is simply not on par with the black civil rights struggle. Not even close.

When a group of mostly black protesters stood before the Supreme Court to defend traditional marriage last week, some pundits and social-media commentators wondered how people who once fought for their own civil rights could deny them to others.

For one, these black protesters were Christian. Many American Christians are opposed to gay marriage, and people of faith have as much a place in this debate as anyone else. It is amusing how liberals who preach “diversity” are always surprised when it produces frictions or contradictions, which many on the left found last week in black Americans who oppose gay marriage.

But for these African-American followers of Christ, there were no contradictions.

Race isn’t everything.

I have gay friends who are married. The states in which they reside might not recognize their unions, but their friends and families do, and they generally live their lives in peace. No one is turning water hoses on them. They are not being attacked by police dogs. There is no Bull Connor or Ku Klux Klan. They are not being lynched en masse, drinking at separate fountains, or being ordered to the back of the bus.

This is not to say that gay Americans who wish to have the full benefits of marriage afforded to heterosexual couples don’t face adversity. That’s a major part of the current debate. But it is to say that any hardship they face can’t compare to what black Americans faced 50 or 150 years ago.

There have been instances during the gay-rights movement that arguably could be compared to the black civil rights struggle, like the Stonewall riots of the 1960s or Matthew Shepard murder in 1998. Suicides and other problems related to public attitudes about homosexuality have also unquestionably been a horrible ordeal. Still, with the possible exception of the mistreatment of Native Americans, there has been nothing quite like the systematic exploitation and institutional degradation experienced by earlier black Americans.

My purpose here is not to belittle the fight for gay marriage, only to note that those who keep attempting to draw a reasonable comparison to the struggle of African-Americans are in many ways belittling the black experience in the United States.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul. The views presented in this essay are the author’s own.

Libertarianism for Social Conservatives

Ron Paul and Rick Santorum at the Ames Straw Poll | Gage Skidmore / Flickr

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservatives, many speculated that the GOP might be veering in a more libertarian direction—or at least influential leaders within the party might be prodding it or might be anxious for it to go in that direction. The Daily Beast ran the headline “Libertarians run the show at CPAC.” In his CPAC speech, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum warned that conservatives should not surrender their principles, referring specifically to social issues.

Some on both the left and right perceive libertarianism as inherently hostile to social conservatism. Some libertarians even think this. This is not only a misperception, but flat out wrong—libertarianism offers social conservatives a better hope for success in our current political environment than the nationalist approach often favored by some social conservative leaders.

Part of the beauty of libertarianism is that you can be socially liberal or socially conservative and subscribe to the label. For the millions of social conservatives who constitute a significant base of the Republicans Party, embracing libertarianism is not an all-or-nothing question of accepting or rejecting deep convictions about life, traditional marriage, or drug regulation. It simply means rethinking the approach to these issues.

The distance between mere rhetoric and tangible success for social conservatives essentially comes down to this question: Does the federal government always have to become involved? Or should certain decisions be made at the state and local level, as the framers of the Constitution intended?

The protection of innocent life is the number one concern of millions of Americans in both parties. Most pro-lifers believe that Roe v. Wade was constitutionally unsound, and indeed, some pro-choice advocates even admit that the legal reasoning was flawed. Given the gravity of what’s at stake, it is understandable that many would demand federal protection of the unborn.

It is also true that the political prospects of this happening anytime soon are nil. But if murder and manslaughter laws are decided at the state and local level, why shouldn’t that approach work for those who believe abortion is the taking of an innocent human life? The more libertarian position is the constitutional one—that any powers not delegated to the federal government as outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution are delegated to the states.

It might not be possible to get rid of abortion throughout the nation, but it might be possible to save unborn children in Alabama or South Carolina. National polls have shown that more Americans than ever are now calling themselves pro-life. Fighting at the local and state level to keep pushing attitudes in this direction is certainly a worthwhile effort.

On traditional marriage, public opinion is quickly moving in the direction of allowing same-sex marriage, something still anathema to many people of faith. Libertarians generally take two positions on this issue: One, that states should decide what constitutes a marriage; Two, that government has no business regulating marriage and it should be defined by religious or civic institutions.

Polls show that the entire country, and particularly youth, is becoming more tolerant of the idea of same-sex marriage. In this political climate, allowing more conservative states to define the institution—or better yet, allowing your church to define it—should be more attractive to social conservatives than some of current alternatives.

Concerning the federal war on drugs, it’s hard to measure the damage done to many families whose kids were put in jail for an extended time due to mandatory-minimum drug sentencing. There are countless Americans, and especially young people, who’ve made a single mistake with drugs, get caught, and are then incarcerated longer than rapists and murderers—alongside rapists and murderers.

States should regulate softer drugs like marijuana just like they do alcohol. This might be the tricky issue for some social conservatives, but it is the constitutional position. If we concede that the current federal war against the unborn is wrong, and that President Obama and Congress have no constitutional authority to define marriage, the same is true of federal drug regulation. A war against drug abuse—just like alcohol abuse—should be done at the state and local level, or better yet, the church and community level.

It’s always important to emphasize that this question is not about legalization versus keeping drugs illegal. It is about deciding which level of government should regulate drugs—federal, state, or local. Federal prohibition didn’t work a century ago, and it has failed miserably in our own time.

The drug question also isn’t about surrendering to liberalism or hedonism, but a much-needed, common-sense re-examination of what’s conservative. Conservative icons William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman long advocated the libertarian position concerning the federal war on drugs. So has televangelist Pat Robertson, who has called for marijuana legalization. These men are not exactly “lefties” in any respect.

On traditional values as a whole, some of the most prominent names associated with libertarianism, past and present, are social conservatives—Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Rep. Justin Amash, Rep. Thomas Massie, Fox News’s Judge Andrew Napolitano, Lew Rockwell, Tom Woods, Robert Murphy, Jeffrey Tucker, and last but certainly not least—Ron and Rand Paul (both of whom I’ve worked for).

Indeed, libertarianism’s current mainstream success is largely due to the fact that socially conservative, Christian men have been successful in promoting it.

Again, one can also embrace social liberalism and claim the libertarian mantle, though it is telling that the economic collectivism that remains at the heart of American liberalism continues to render left-libertarianism a much smaller and less significant philosophical force than its right counterpart.

Social conservatives have no reason to fear libertarianism and have much reason to embrace it. In the end, libertarianism simply tells us what the state cannot do; our values tell us what we ought to do, and liberty gives us the freedom to do it.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul. The views presented in this essay are the author’s own.

How Gun Control Kills

Is there an evil worse than killing children? Is there anything more heart-wrenching than the feeling of absolute helplessness in our inability to protect them?

If Newtown, Connecticut shooter Adam Lanza had not taken his own life, millions would want him dead. Part of this tragedy is that the person responsible cannot be brought to proper justice. The entire event played out by his rules. The lack of justice compounds the loss of life. It makes the hurt worse.

It is these emotions—the high pitch of public outrage that accompanies the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting or any tragedy—that liberals say should preclude any possibility of the death penalty. But when liberals present rational arguments against capital punishment or demonstrate multiple instances where government has mistakenly executed innocents, such reasoning is often no match for society’s call for blood.

The calls for increased gun control after the Newtown shooting are also an emotional reaction. The same thought of murdered children that would naturally lead people to support the death penalty has also led politicians, pundits, and other Americans to clamor for more gun restrictions. This happens every single time there is a public shooting that becomes a national tragedy. But it’s demonstrably wrongheaded—and potentially deadly.

Gun control deters violent crime about as well as the death penalty. Worse, stricter gun control is the surest way to insure that virtually every would-be shooter is successful.

Two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary rampage, a gunman in San Antonio, Texas attempted to open fire on a movie crowd watching “The Hobbit.” Luckily, the man’s gun jammed. Even more luckily, there was an off-duty police officer who stopped that man with one bullet.

When Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and five others were shot in Tuscon, Arizona in January, the man who wrestled the gunman to the ground before he could continue killing had a carry-and-conceal weapon. Said 24-year-old Joe Zamudio, who acknowledged that being armed gave him the confidence to tackle shooter Jared Lee Loughner, “I was ready to end his life.”

Here is a list of potential national tragedies that were prevented thanks to an armed populace (as compiled by the Libertarian Party):“A 1997 high school shooting in Pearl, Miss., was halted by the school’s vice principal after he retrieved the Colt .45 he kept in his truck; A 1998 middle school shooting ended when a man living next door heard gunfire and apprehended the shooter with his shotgun; A 2002 law school shooting in Grundy, Va., came to an abrupt conclusion when students carrying firearms confronted the shooter; A 2007 mall shooting in Ogden, Utah, ended when an armed off-duty police officer intervened; A 2009 workplace shooting in Houston, Texas, was halted by two coworkers who carried concealed handguns; A 2012 church shooting in Aurora, Colo., was stopped by a member of the congregation carrying a gun.”

These are just a few examples spanning 15 years. On December 11 a man opened fire in a mall in Portland, Oregon—that is, until he was confronted by another armed man who had a carry-and-conceal weapon. The gunman who had fired on shoppers then took his own life.

If the people who prevented these crimes through the use of personal firearms were legally prevented from having them—as many liberals now clamor for—America would very likely be remembering a dozen more national tragedies.

In an article for The Atlantic titled “The Death Penalty’s Enduring Emotional Appeal,” lawyer and author Wendy Kaminer wrote in 2011: “Support for the death penalty (like opposition to it) is generally more ideological than pragmatic… This means that people who favor executions don’t accept at face value abolitionist claims about wrongful executions, no matter how carefully they’re documented.”

The same is true of gun-control advocates. As columnist Thomas Sowell has noted:“The key fallacy of so-called gun-control laws is that such laws do not in fact control guns. They simply disarm law-abiding citizens, while people bent on violence find firearms readily available. If gun-control zealots had any respect for facts, they would have discovered this long ago.”

That there really isn’t any way to predict or ultimately prevent these random tragedies—except, if you’re lucky, an armed person being nearby—is a basic truth liberals’ anti-gun ideology has blinded them to. Banning knives would not have stopped Jack the Ripper. Banning guns will not stop the crazed few who seek to open fire on the public.

To the degree that liberals get their way on gun control, there will be more deaths of innocents. I’m not saying liberals would want the potential murders implied in the examples here to occur. But what they want legislatively would only—inevitably—lead to more killing.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul. The views presented in this essay are the author’s own.

D’Souza’s “Kenyan Anti-Colonial” Distraction

I have an aversion to conspiracy theories. It has little to do with whether they’re true. Indeed, some things we now consider common knowledge were once conspiracy theories. It has everything to do with the obstacles they create and political reform they undermine.

The murky notion that President Obama is some sort of secret-Kenyan-Muslim-communist is a prevalent fantasy held among some elements on the Right, from the “Birther” movement spurred on by attention-whore Donald Trump to Dinesh D’Souza’s movie “Obama 2016.” Before the election, The American Conservative’s Michael Tracey summarized D’Souza’s sleeper hit: “The central theme of D’Souza’s film is that deep-down, Obama harbors seething hatred for America, and thus his presidency has been designed to bring about its downfall by a host of surreptitious means. It’s a revolting hour-and-a-half of cinema, targeted at the most angst-ridden and pliable Americans looking for answers…”

When I was boarding a plane leaving Tampa after the Republican convention in August, I sat near two men probably in their mid-to-late 50s. Said one man, and I’m paraphrasing: “You know what you need to see? That Obama 2016 movie.” The other man replied, “Oh yeah, I heard that was really good. Gives us a good idea of what we’re really up against.”

It’s no secret what conservatives are “up against” when it comes to Barack Obama. There’s no mystery to it. From unemployment and staggering debt to ObamaCare—the president’s record is as public as it is repugnant.

Pushing conspiracy theories to “explain” Obama’s record undermines the actual awfulness of his record. What if Obama’s policies really are part of some contrived, anti-American agenda—would the president’s big government onslaught somehow be preferable if it were all-American in origin? Is the problem that the policies themselves are bad? They likely aren’t very different from what a President Hillary Clinton—or let’s face it, Mitt Romney—would have pursued. Must conservatives also prove there is some underlying, unpatriotic plot?

No secret motives are needed to explain obvious bad government.

Conservatives are usually on solid ground when they argue against Obama’s damaging policies. They are on even better ground when they can offer attractive policies of their own. But they are on counterproductive and unwinnable ground when they insist that Obama is an anti-colonial, Kenyan, secretly Muslim communist. These arguments not only sound stupid—they aren’t even arguments. The American Conservative’s James Antle captures why such thinking is entirely beside the point: “Is there anything less interesting than the theorizing about why Obama governs as he does? Obama is a liberal, and a fairly banal one at that … Yet there remains a cottage industry of explanations for why a liberal president has compiled a record of generally liberal policy positions, something akin to a discovery process as to why a quarterback is so taken with throwing touchdown passes.”

It’s no surprise that Romney lost the election given that the core message of his campaign was that he is not Obama. It should also come as no surprise that a GOP void of any positive agenda would double down on the negative. Republicans as high profile as Newt Gingrich complained about Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” When conservatives could no longer articulate what they stood for, this characteristic negativity veered deeper into conspiracy paranoia. Refusing to examine themselves, conservatives instead began subjecting their enemies to cartoonish levels of scrutiny.

Conspiracy theories are not ideas. They represent an absence of ideas. The subtext to most conspiracy theories is that there is no point in arguing over philosophies of better governance, because those who govern are beholden to secret agendas beyond the control of participatory politics. Why vote? We’re all doomed.

While such theories are not always implausible, they are also generally more fun than fact. There will always be a large audience for this stuff for the same reason Americans are more interested in Tom Cruise’s divorce or Kate Middleton’s baby than foreign or monetary policy—it’s titillating and easy.

It’s also a major distraction. As the conservative movement tries to recover, are voters more likely to listen to Republican conspiracy theorists demanding to see the President’s birth certificate and ranting about Obama’s “anti-colonial rage”?

Or liberal Democrats who believe federal stimulus and healthcare is a godsend? Who sounds crazy? Who sounds reasonable?

Like many conservatives in this election, the two men I heard on the plane speaking glowingly about D’Souza’s movie didn’t have anything particularly praiseworthy to say about Romney or the GOP, so of course they were attracted to the idea that Obama was the bogeyman of their worst nightmares. It was all they had left.

Conspiracy theories can be fun. But they will also continue to cripple any serious conservative effort to promote limited government.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul. The views presented in this essay are the author’s own and are independent of any campaign or other organization. 

In Defense of Grover Norquist

There have always been libertarian and authoritarian strains within the Republican Party. Both are very different, often to the degree of incompatibility.

Generally speaking, the libertarian strain is what generations have always thought of as traditional American conservatism—limited government, individual liberty, free markets, strong national defense, and loyalty to the Constitution. However imperfect, this is the conservatism of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. When Reagan told Mike Wallace in 1976 “I think that the heart of my philosophy is much more libertarian,” he thought it important to make this distinction.

The authoritarian strain is what many thought of as conservatism throughout the 2000s: Bigger government (expanding entitlements), attacks on individual liberty (indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping), state intervention in the economy (stimulus, bailouts, TARP), and an aggressive national defense (Iraq War, a decade in Afghanistan). This is the conservatism of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Strangely enough, it is also generally the “conservatism” of Barack Obama, in that most of the more authoritarian policies described here have been continued or expanded by Bush’s successor.

This week, there were dozens of headlines and stories speculating that Republicans were suddenly throwing longtime anti-tax activist Grover Norquist under the bus. Some seem eager to do so. But the argument between Norquist and such Republican leaders, who now say they’ll break his pledge and raise taxes, also represents the latest tension between these libertarian and authoritarian strains.

Those who praise the few Republicans now willing to “compromise” on taxes and revenue are missing the point—these Republicans have been behaving like Democrats for some time. They were the quintessential Bush Republicans, tolerant of massive government intervention in domestic policy and exuberant about it in foreign policy. The kind of low tax, minimal spending, limited government Norquist advocates hasn’t actually existed or been promoted within the GOP for a very long time.

It is no coincidence that the Republicans who now break rank with Norquist—most notably Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Congressman Peter King—are also some of the most high profile advocates of a more authoritarian Republicanism.

The tired, old neoconservative mindset of more government, more war, and less civil liberties informs the current “changing” views on taxes and spending of these authoritarian Republicans. For example, the automatic cuts, or sequestration, set to occur January 1, are generally supported by Norquist and most libertarian-leaning Republicans. Said Sen. Graham “What I would say to Grover Norquist is that the sequester would destroy the United States military.” “Destroy” the military? Even under sequestration, Pentagon spending will remain about where it was in 2006.

This is how Democrats behave anytime Republicans dare suggest rolling back any federal department. It is also how authoritarian Republicans think about Pentagon spending—that a decrease in the rate of increase is a “cut” in spending.

And this is precisely where Norquist worries authoritarian Republicans the most. Norquist has not only been an outspoken skeptic of current foreign policy, but in his position as one of the conservative movement’s leading fiscal hawks, he has begun to tie deficits and debt to our overseas policies. The authoritarian wing of the GOP does not mind if their fellow Republicans talk about small government so long as they don’t actually go the full route by addressing Pentagon spending—an annual trillion dollar revenue siphon dwarfed only by entitlements.

Unlike Norquist, authoritarian Republicans generally agree with Obama on foreign policy. Libya is a good example, where Senators like Graham and McCain enthusiastically supported the intervention and many identifiably Tea Party Republican leaders opposed it on constitutional grounds. The authoritarian GOP wing also agrees with Obama on the necessity of undermining basic civil liberties in the name of national security, hence their unwavering support for the Patriot Act and NDAA.

So why should it be any surprise that these Republicans might now agree with Obama on taxes too? Particularly, where the discussion on taxes and revenue correlates with neoconservative desires to continue funding America’s alleged role as world policeman—potentially “destroying” the military, as Graham put it?

The message of this year’s election was not simply voters deducing that Obama is absolutely grand and the GOP is too “extreme”—but that the old Republican Party of Bush, and by extension, 2008 nominee McCain and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney—doesn’t work anymore. Americans aren’t buying it.

Though Norquist’s Taxpayer Pledge has been around for decades, as a feature of limited government, it is an example of what a traditionally conservative Republican Party should work toward—not necessarily what it has been.

This is not to say that Grover Norquist is some sort of libertarian purist, far from it. But his general views on taxes, spending, and foreign policy do represent a challenge to the authoritarian Republicans who’ve long dominated the party. This latest scuffle is simply the old guard getting irritated publicly.

Unfortunately, the authoritarian Republicans aren’t going anywhere, any time soon. But neither is their retread version of the GOP. “Compromise” or not.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul. The views presented in this essay are the author’s own and are independent of any campaign or other organization. 

The Petraeus Saga

If there is a positive to come out of the unfolding scandal involving General Petraeus, it might be a more sober accounting of America’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Risks to our national security have been heightened by our continued presence there: Our handpicked president, Hamid Karzai is seen as a joke. Anti-American sentiment has grown considerably. Terrorists recruit. The Taliban endures.

To the degree Americans have even thought about the war, polls in recent years have shown overwhelmingly that the country has been ready to come home. To the degree that a small but influential minority thinks we should stay in Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus was perhaps their greatest advocate within government.

In 2009, President Obama announced his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014. The few journalists and think-tank ideologues who wished to stay in Afghanistan longer wanted a national figure who might redirect this withdrawal narrative. Until two weeks ago, Mitt Romney was one of those figures.

But for much longer, David Petraeus has been that figure.

Consider this timeline of headlines from the nation’s most pre-eminent neoconservative journal, The Weekly Standard—from the beginning of Petraeus’ role as head of Afghanistan Central Command in June 2010 until months after he stepped down in July 2011: “William Kristol: Obama’s Choice: He did the right thing, picking Petraeus and committing to success.” (July 5, 2010); “Gen. Petraeus Wants More Time in Afghanistan” (August 13, 2010); “The Case for Giving Gen. Petraeus a Fifth Star” (January 13, 2011); “Whither Petraeus?: General David Petraeus should next be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” (April 27, 2011); “Kristol: ‘Troop Deployment Schedule Is Being Determined by David Axelrod, Not by David Petraeus” (June 23, 2011); “Petraeus: Afghanistan Withdrawal ‘More Aggressive’ Than Advised” (June 23, 2011); “Petraeus: ‘Maintain the Full-Spectrum Capability’ of the Military” (September 1, 2011); “Report: Petraeus Considered Resigning Over Afghan Drawdown” (Dec. 29, 2011).

These headlines reflect (and they are not cherry-picked) the Weekly Standard’s investment in Petraeus and his consistent advice that America remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. This view was echoed on talk radio and Fox News—that President Obama was somehow “weak” for wanting to withdraw from Afghanistan too quickly, and that Petraeus was the man whose advice we should ultimately follow.

It has become common rhetoric in both major political parties to “defer to the generals” on foreign policy—the notion that military experts know more than the President. But we are not a banana republic: In the United States, the President is the Commander-in-Chief and the generals follow his command. This does not mean generals and other experts are not consulted. It does not mean that they are the ultimate arbiters of war. The Constitution outlines that Congress declares war, presidents devise it, and generals wage it. Our Founders preferred civilian rule to military, knowing full the dangers of the latter.

That generals should have a primary or even final decision in our foreign policy runs counter to the core principles of our constitutional republic. So does the concept of perpetual war itself. Wrote James Madison: “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other… No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Those who construe the American role in the world as that of global policeman or provider, run counter not only to a general public desire for a less aggressive foreign policy but also against core conservative beliefs in individual liberty and smaller government. The national security state that expanded after 9/11 has made mockery of our Bill of Rights. Applying cost/benefit analyses to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reveals staggering costs but little benefit. Americans still believe in a strong national defense. But few believe our current foreign policy has made our nation or military stronger.

Petraeus was not the first military official to conclude we should stay. By most measures, his recommendations for staying in Afghanistan have been that of a strategy expert who recognizes the potential mess that could be left behind in our absence.

But when will American withdrawal not be messy for Afghanistan? Will this not be true in another ten years? And recognizing this, does it even make sense to stay through 2014?

Most rational arguments point toward leaving Afghanistan sooner rather than later, but a longstanding rallying cry for those who wished to remain was to invoke the reputation of Petraeus. He was portrayed as a man whose military wisdom, moral character, and heroic stature were beyond question or compare. The President of the United States might say we should go—but the irreproachable Gen. David Petraeus disagrees.

This was never really an argument. It was idol-worship disguised as an argument. But it worked. Often. Especially with conservatives.

Now, no one sees David Petraeus as irreproachable.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul.

Back to Constitutional Conservatism

Illustration: Michael Hogue

Now that Mitt Romney has lost, virtually everyone agrees that the Republican Party needs to change. Liberals say the GOP needs to become more moderate. Conservatives say it has become too moderate. In a way, both sides are right — and wrong.

The moderate Republican ticket that liberals and GOP establishment types covet has been tried recently: Mitt Romney and John McCain. Conservatives are right that a more moderate Republican Party is not the answer.

What many of them are wrong about is conservatism. To turn on talk radio or watch Fox News is not to experience the philosophy of Bill Buckley, the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, or even something like the free market proposals of Jack Kemp. Aside from Paul Ryan’s proposals for entitlement reform—one of the few tangibly conservative and positive differences that separated the Romney and Obama tickets—the populist Right remained stuck on stupid: The President “apologizes” for America; the U.S is threatened by Sharia Law; “Where’s the birth certificate?” Obama eats dog. Donald Trump. Dinesh D’Souza.

Demagoguery, partisanship, and conspiracy theories do not represent ideas. They represent a lack of them. Throw in some clumsy language about “legitimate rape” and couple it with Romney’s Dubya impression on foreign policy, and Americans saw a “conservatism” they didn’t want. Who can blame them?

But they don’t necessarily want Barack Obama’s America either. Voters weren’t in love with George Bush when they rejected John Kerry. They just liked Kerry less. On paper, Democrats should have lost, if sour economies and high unemployment still have anything to do with how people vote. That Romney couldn’t beat Obama says far more about the Republican Party than it says about the Democrats.

The formula for victory is not being more Democrat-lite or neocon-heavy. It also does not lie in embracing socialism or abandoning social issues. The GOP can become a national party again by offering new ideas rooted in old ones.

Since the 2010 elections, “constitutional conservative” has become a popular term for some Republicans, who actually set out to distinguish themselves from the Bush-era. But what does it mean?

The purpose of the Constitution is to limit the federal government. The core definition of being a conservative in the United States, traditionally, is a belief in small government. At its inception, the Tea Party was perceived primarily as a movement against government spending and debt, and majorities of Americans were on board. A 2009 Rasmussen poll showed that 51 percent of Americans viewed the massive Tax Day protests that year favorably. As late as January 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported: “A new Gallup Poll out this morning finds that 71 percent of Americans, even many who do not think highly of the ‘tea party,’ say it’s important that Republicans should take its positions into account.”

Those who now blame Republican losses in this election on the Tea Party are not blaming the philosophy of limited government. They are blaming a movement that has become associated with too many issues besides limited government, including the social issues on which the early movement remained neutral.

But how should a constitutional conservative approach social issues? In this election, voters approved gay marriage in four states. Two states voted to make recreational marijuana legal. A true constitutionalist recognizes that the regulation of marriage and drugs is not found in the Constitution; therefore the 10th Amendment renders these the jurisdiction of the individual states. Conservatives have made such cases against federal healthcare and gun regulation for some time. They should now be consistent and comprehensive in their constitutional arguments — even when they might disagree with the outcomes.

While polls show that Americans are more accepting of same-sex marriage and relaxed drug laws than ever before, the Washington Post reported in May that a Gallup poll showed: “The 41 percent of Americans who now identify themselves as ‘pro-choice’ is down from 47 percent last July… Fifty percent now call themselves ‘pro-life…” The Post continued:

The polling shows that rather than embracing abortion with increasing gusto, Americans—especially young Americans—are rejecting it with increasing disgust, and not just for religious reasons.

Roe v. Wade has long been the heart of the pro-life movement, which if overturned would allow the states to decide the abortion issue. States are now deciding on the issue of gay marriage and drugs in ways that wouldn’t have been politically possible a decade ago. As public attitudes shift on abortion, so may the politics—and constitutional conservatives could stand ready to make the most effective pro-life arguments in the history of the movement.

If youth attitudes could shift the abortion debate, the same could be true concerning our greatest financial drain: entitlements. Unlike their parents, younger Americans do the math and do not expect Social Security and Medicare to survive. The same could be true concerning youth attitudes toward the second greatest drain on resources: A counterproductive and costly foreign policy. Unlike their parents, young people can comprehend an America that does not play policeman or provider to the world while the next generation foots the bill.

A platform of constitutionally limited government, individual freedom, and personal responsibility could provide fresh answers to the old questions that now impede the GOP’s electoral success. This is not a departure from conservatism but a return to it.

Or the Republican Party can keep recycling Bush-isms—promising more government, war, and less freedom. Constitutional conservatism is the way forward. Conservatism defined as simply hating Democrats will remain a ticket to nowhere.

The lesson of 2012 is that the Republican Party must truly become the limited government party it has always pretended to be—or it will die.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul. The views presented in this essay are the author’s own and are independent of any campaign or other organization. 

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