The WSJ editorial board sniffs and calls Rand Paul’s filibuster a “rant,” and a ”stunt” that “fires up libertarian college kids.” Jennifer Rubin points out, in an otherwise praise-filled post, ”at times he ventured into skepticism about the war on terror itself.” Ben “Friends of Hamas” Shapiro informs us that it “signals a groundshift” in the GOP.
Though all three pushed various fallacies and untruths about Chuck Hagel, the tepidly interventionist Republican Secretary of Defense, none mentioned Rand Paul’s vote to confirm him in their coverage of the filibuster.
Most of the Republican senators who rose to support Paul [my live-blog here] framed their statements in terms of defending the Senate’s procedural prerogatives and oversight responsibilities. The GOP only decided to embrace Paul’s filibuster when they realized how successful it was–Marco Rubio’s press office told reporters earlier in the day that he had been “snowed in.” That’s why, even though Jennifer Rubin doesn’t have a problem with drones, weakly supports Paul and says Benghazi is a good enough reason to hold up or oppose the nomination, and why Ben Shapiro claims this is mostly about transparency.
They’re all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. How can they claim that the support Paul received, from Twitter–where he was trending internationally–from Jon Stewart, and even from a few honest liberals, was due to a minor policy clarification? Transparency is important, but there’s more going on here.
His support was due to the fact that, go figure, people care about the right of Americans to not be killed by their government without a trial, and they have the nerve to believe they deserve assurance that it will be respected. It matters to them that we’ve been engaged in a boundless, endless war for more than 12 years. The GOP’s hawkish cheerleaders can’t seem to grasp that.
Tim Stanley has a saner take:
Aside from being a fun time had by all, Paul’s principled stand has reversed some of the logic of US politics, turning a Democratic president into an agent of authoritarianism and the Republicans into defenders of civil liberties. If the GOP could marry that small-state message on rights to a small-state message on economics, this could affect a paradigm shift that broadens the party’s appeal (particularly to younger voters). This is no idle fantasy.
I’m pretty skeptical that Paul’s speech actually signals a “groundshift,” but if it did, Shapiro seems pleased that the GOP has merely shifted towards confrontational oratorical grandstanding. The real lesson should be that the party has much to gain by turning away from militarism.
[Update: John McCain reads that WSJ editorial on the floor of the senate]
Apart from news of a radio gig, Ron Paul has kept a fairly low profile since his bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination last year. Last night at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium Paul gave what was, if I’m not mistaken, his first speech in DC since the 2012 election. He touched on familiar subjects like the Fed and the drug war, but also focused on the plight of whistleblowers John Kiriakou and Bradley Manning, and the Republican Party’s long-forgotten noninterventionist streak.
He was introduced by Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), an early conservative opponent of the Iraq war who said Paul “deserves a tribute such as being placed on one of our coins.”
One hopes it would be a gold coin.
Paul also briefly mentioned on the nomination battle over Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel:
We’ve had this big argument, just the last couple of weeks, with the confirmation of Hagel and Kerry. Hagel, of course, is a Republican. He said some things similar to what I’ve just got done saying, that maybe we shouldn’t go [to war] so fast, maybe we should be cautious. Who piled on him? It was the Republicans who piled on him. ‘Don’t talk like that, don’t talk like a wimp! We don’t want you in there!’ … These two guys actually went to war and were wounded and won medals. And who’s jumping on them? People who have never even served in the military. This whole idea that you can challenge someone’s patriotism because they happen to take a position that is slightly less anxious to go to war … we ought to be cheering someone who’s more cautious about going to war.
The bit about challenging someone’s patriotism is a clear reference to Sen. Ted Cruz, whose senatorial bid Paul endorsed. During the nomination hearings Cruz suggested that Hagel’s loyalties were divided due to alleged ties to foreign governments and “radical and extremist groups,” a possible reference to a now-debunked hoax perpetrated by the reliably belligerent–in rhetoric and foreign policy–Breitbart blog.
Paul also spoke about the need for the GOP to return to its noninterventionist roots:
There was a time when the Republican party was the peace party, back with Taft, before World War II, and even with Eisenhower. Eisenhower did some great things! You would never believe that the Republicans at one time cut the military budget by 30 percent in real terms, and it was considered beneficial to the economy, and we had a great decade in the 50s. That’s what Eisenhower did. Of course, Taft argued we shouldn’t be the world policeman. If we want the Republican Party to help lead the charge in this revolutionary change, we have to decide what we believe in, and one big issue will be foreign policy. Some will say, can we steal this from the Democrats? Aren’t they the peace party? Aren’t they always for peace? Yeah, sure, our current president gets in, a week later he wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and the next day he sends in thousands of more troops and expands the war in Afghanistan. Politically, though, he was the peace candidate.
In regards to war, he also said this confusing thing:
The burden is going to be placed on you to pay for this. The founders understood this, they were so clear on this. This is the reason they put in the Constitution that no president can go to war without a declaration of war by the U.S. congress and the consent of the people. [Bold mine--JB]
What was he trying to say with that statement? The latter part isn’t really true, except implicitly, and Dr. Paul, the strict constitutionalist, has to know that. Was it an endorsement of the Ludlow Amendment?
Paul also repeated a conspiratorial claim about DHS armaments purchases. Yesterday Infowars among other places reported–reported?–that DHS bought 2,700 tanks, presumably intending to use them to round us up into FEMA camps pursuant to Agenda 21. The story isn’t true–the tanks are actually MRAP assault vehicles, and they’re going to the Navy. But the claim about DHS buying 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition turned out to be real, and at least the good doctor is keeping up with the headlines.
This weekend, about 1,500 young libertarians arrived in the beating heart of American power for the annual conference of Students for Liberty at the Grand Hyatt in Washington DC.
The event itself has grown substantially in the last four years, taking over most of the hotel with lectures on everything from Seasteading to police militarization to libertarianism’s gender imbalance, exhibitors (including The American Conservative!), and various other activities including “Pin the Drone on the Foreign Country.”
There were not one but two tapings of “Stossel” on Saturday (episode to air Thursday), the Fox Business show hosted by the former 20/20 reporter who stopped winning Emmys when he became a libertarian. The producers keep the guests–a mix of libertarian icons and statist scapegoats–secret until the last minute but the lineup is always interesting. The single most entertaining moment of last year’s conference was watching John Bolton face a roomful of livid hostility. Though the students missed the chance to inquire about his support for the since-delisted terrorist group MEK–what better way to illustrate Bush-era civil liberties abuses by pointing out the possibility that a former UN ambassador had violated the PATRIOT Act?–it was nice to see him get asked the sort of questions he never gets as a Fox News contributor.
This year the show opted for a whipping boy–woman, as it was–who could at least dish it out better than Bolton did. With characteristic decorum, Ann Coulter used her introductory time to call libertarians “pussies.”
She puts it more bluntly than most, but Coulter’s disdain for politically-skeptical libertarians is shared among many in the GOP. For the most part, the disdain is mutual. Though a “libertarian narrative” is often touted as a way out of the Republican Party’s current crisis, capturing actual self-identified libertarians–as opposed to the merely fiscally-conservative and socially-tolerant–is probably pointless and impossible, if the high-information, well-educated subset of young people at SFL’s conference is any indication. Especially if the GOP starts moving in Scott’s “solidaristic” direction. A philosophy that’s essentially about the kenosis of political power is at odds with sustainable long-term governance.
Nonetheless, despite being an elected official who accepts the basic legitimacy of government, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was well-received. NRO’s Betsy Woodruff writes:
Most attendees tend to view the Republican and Democratic parties with equal contempt. “I think the Republican party still represents the best opportunity for bringing liberty to the political system,” Amash says, and they’re listening. His talk is punctuated with applause — when he praises the sequester, when he mentions his fight with Carney — and after laying out a simple criticism of the president and a defense of his membership in the GOP, he announces that he’d rather take questions than ramble on. …
Amash is eminently unflappable. He explains that though he supported Romney, he wanted his endorsement “to mean something.” He says that he’s received “implied threats” because of his willingness to break ranks with his colleagues and that he doesn’t get invited to fancy dinners. He explains that he supported funding the court case to defend DOMA but doesn’t support a federal definition of marriage. He argues that the rest of the GOP — the establishment, old-guard types — are the extremists and that he’s the commonsensical moderate. And he says that the party’s libertarian wing is its future.
“If it ever was a contest, libertarianism has certainly triumphed over conservatism in the battle to galvanize non-leftist students,” writes Robby Soave at the Daily Caller, highlighting the biggest way Students for Liberty has changed the landscape of campus political activism. Fresh off reading Becoming Right (review forthcoming), similar thoughts were in my mind during the conference. Binder and Wood’s sociological study of college conservatism during the waning years of the Bush administration inadvertently demonstrates what an unprecedented thing SFL has been able to accomplish. The largest national conservative group profiled by them, the Reaganite Young Americans for Freedom, has somewhere around 100 chapters. SFL-ers have corrected my exact number several times, but their total affiliates number somewhere between 700 and 800, and it was founded in 2008. That puts it beyond even Students for a Democratic Society in its heyday. Ron Paul ran for president twice after Binder and Wood conducted most of their research, and it’s entirely possible that the picture they sketch bears no resemblance to right-wing student activism today.
There is a hole in our politics where a center-right politics of limited government solidarity should be. That isn’t because of a lack of policy proposals or the lack of a (latent) public desire for such a center-right politics. This lack in our politics exists because of mistakes by key political elites who keep getting suckered by Obama’s statism into a radical-sounding rhetorical anti-statism that doesn’t even reflect Republican policy. Better options are available. We just need to stop charging furiously every time Obama waves his red flag and build our own positive message. We might find that a prudent and relevant Catholic-influenced Republican politics is more popular than the Republican politics of job creators + tax cuts for high earners + nothing.
I do have to quibble with one point, however. Spiliakos is right that Republicans spout anti-statist rhetoric that’s more extreme than the actual portfolio of policies they’re trying to enact. But it’s not because Obama is “suckering” them. Obama practices a center-left politics that is not substantially different from that of the Clintons. And to the extent that Republicans insist on defining the center-left as “radical,” they must rhetorically push themselves further right in order to offer a truly “conservative” alternative. (As Dan McCarthy observes, this seems to be Sen. Rand Paul’s long-term gameplan. I’m not sure it’s a recipe for success in ’16—and it seems to me that Paul is developing a “populist libertarian” message to soften the hard edges.)
Secondarily, Republicans would, I think, have employed apocalyptic rhetoric about country-destroying socialism and spiteful 47 Percentism even if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2008. The party, and the movement broadly speaking, needed to evade responsibility for the financial crisis and the recession that followed. So it noisily separated itself from the big-spending ways and self-advertised “compassion” of the Bush administration—even as it now grapples with the task of presenting an agenda that affirmatively appeals to middle-class families.
The problem is simple: a pro-family agenda and the apocalyptic anti-statism are divergent paths.
Sooner rather than later, conservatives interested in winning elections again are going to have to choose.
My first reaction to Senator Rand Paul’s foreign policy address at the Heritage Foundation last week was that it was about time a U.S. Senator of one of the two major political parties would articulate traditional American principles of non-interventionism in a clear and concise way.
That Paul is also a Republican and a self-proclaimed conservative/libertarian political figure who is willing to challenge the neo-conservative interventionist orientation that has dominated the GOP foreign-policy agenda in recent years gave me a sense of hope that the Junior Senator from Kentucky would succeed in igniting a serious debate on America’s place in the world today.
It was also original and somewhat cool that he relied on both the renowned diplomatic historian George Kennan and President Ronald Reagan in preparing a foreign policy manifesto.
I didn’t know Kennan; Kennan wasn’t a good friend of mine; but I’m sure that Kennan (who died at the age of 101) would probably be turning in his grave if anyone would have suggested that he and Reagan had anything in common politically speaking, and especially when it came to foreign policy.
As Kennan saw it, “Reagan viewed the world through dangerous simplicities, not realist subtleties,” according to his biographer John Lewis Gaddis (George F. Kennan: An American Life) who added that Kennan, an intellectual elitist, a snobbish, and to extent, a bigoted WASP, suspicious of the masses, and with no great admiration to modernity–he even decried the invention of the car–”distrusted both happiness and California” and “probably would have distrusted Reagan, even if the president had tried to win his trust” (although before his death Kennan admitted that Reagan had helped end the Cold War). Read More…
I’m heartened to see that Peter Wehner has noticed the rather stark divide between young George Will and present-day George Will. He concludes, wistfully:
I hope Will—one of modern conservatism’s most significant and exceptional conservative writers and thinkers—directly addresses his intellectual evolution. I for one would be fascinated to know why Will today holds views philosophically at odds with Will circa 1983. And I imagine others would as well.
I’ve been on this beat for some while now. For those inclined to care, I have a few possible theories about why Will ditched his old Tory views, which he held not just circa 1983, but into the early 1990s.
The Claremont Institute. I’m of the mind that if you want to characterize Woodrow Wilson as a fascist, you should do so because he presided over a virtual police state that rounded up radicals and socialists—not because of his war-socialist economic policies, which he actually hated. But the influential folks at the Claremont Institute markedly disagree, finding in Wilson, and Progressivism more broadly, the seeds of the smiley-faced tyranny that afflicts us today. My best guess is that, like many conservatives, Will has assimilated this doctrine and sincerely concluded it’s the truth. No shame in that.
Decadence. I could imagine Will explaining that when he wrote Statecraft as Soulcraft, in 1983, the size of the federal government was a lot smaller than it is in 2013. That is: “I never imagined it would get this big. Or try to do this much.” In a recent column, Will counts the moral costs of the modern welfare state:
Deficit spending once was largely for investments — building infrastructure, winning wars — which benefited future generations, so government borrowing appropriately shared the burden with those generations. Now, however, continuous borrowing burdens future generations in order to finance current consumption.
I find Will’s judgment here to be somewhat unfair. “Current consumption,” full stop, doesn’t tell the real story, which is that the spike in entitlement-driven deficits is largely a function of the cost of healthcare, which is rising because of the unique dysfunctionality of our system, but also for reasons that Will identified way back in 1986:
Why does government grow? In August 1986, Reagan at the Illinois State Fair boasted—yes, boasted: “No area of the budget, including defense, has grown as fast as our support of agriculture.” He added that “this year alone we’ll spend more on farm support programs … than the total amount the last administration provided in all its four years.” The farmers interrupted his 11-minute speech with applause 15 times.
As Moynihan says, growth of government is a natural, inevitable product of the political bargaining process among interest groups that favor government outlays that benefit them. This process occurs under all administrations [emphasis mine]. What is different today—so different in degree that it is different in kind—is the radical discontinuity between conservative rhetoric and results. …
There are many facets of the modern world that explain why the civic religion of small government is unconstraining. Knowledge, says Moynihan, is a form of capital, and much of it is formed because of government interest in education. Our knowledge-based society is based on a big-government provision [emphasis mine].
Also, knowledge begets government. An “information-rich” society by its own dynamic learns about matters that make government goods and services either economically rational, as in government support for scientific agriculture, or morally mandatory, as in medicine.
Not long ago, most American workers were farmers. Today about 3 percent are, and they feed all of us and many more around the world. The most important cause of this revolution was knowledge generated and disseminated by government [emphasis mine].
The social sciences and medical science have produced knowledge that has, in turn, driven government in the direction of activism. Antipoverty programs became a moral choice only after we learned how to measure poverty. Time was, Moynihan notes, when the biggest hospital expense was clean linen. Now we have knowledge of kidney dialysis, and numerous other technologies. We can choose to keep people alive, and so we do, and it costs money.
As society’s wealth has increased, so have demands on government. There are limited amounts of clean air and water. But a “people of plenty” accept fewer limits than a society of scarcity. They make the collective purchase of environmental improvements.
It is very hard for me to read those paragraphs and conclude that Will has “grown up,” become more world-weary, gloomy, and pessimistic. If anything, Will has gotten more idealistic as he’s grown older, more intolerant of the difficult tradeoffs of governing a (one of his favorite old phrases) complex urban society.
Religion. Will has become more open about his agnosticism than ever before. Careful readers could suss that Will was a deist at best—especially in his columns around the holiday season. But to my knowledge, the first time he ever publicly declared it was during his appearance on The Colbert Report. Hence, maybe Will has migrated toward libertarianism because it’s a more comfortable home for his secularism. Then again, the religious right, if anything, has grown less powerful than it was in the 1980s, and in the “Religion in Politics” lecture that Wehner links to, Will asserts that the faithful should themselves prefer a modest government that seeks to secure our natural rights and then call it a day.
The Iraq War. This might not seem like an obvious explanation, and I myself think it’s a lousy one, comparatively speaking. But here goes, anyway: Will, to his eternal credit, was one of the earliest mainstream conservative critics of the war. And so maybe Will was spooked by the disastrous human consequences of a policy—a radical democratism purportedly born of compassion—that was hatched by an administration that itself embraced the sort of strong-government conservatism that he once did. I’ve argued this before, but I’ll repeat it here: the best analogue for compassionate conservatism abroad isn’t the Iraq war, but rather programs like PEPFAR.
These are my theories, anyway.
Will could tell me to save my breath and do us all the enormous favor of explaining his evolution. I’d love to hear it, as I wager that his reasoning would be just as interesting as the evolution itself.
Watch it here at C-SPAN.
Read Jim Antle’s latest article from the print mag about the Texas congressman’s legacy, and his column from today on the libertarian swing vote in last week’s presidential election. An excerpt from the former:
A decade ago, only seven Republican members of Congress voted against the Iraq War—six congressmen and one senator. The number of conservative legislators who opposed the war was even smaller still, the redoubtable trio of Jimmy Duncan, John Hostettler, and Paul. …
What began as an academic exercise became a real movement. Paul’s is the only flavor of conservatism that currently appeals to millennials and other young voters. In Iowa, he finished 35 points ahead of Romney among voters aged 17 to 29. In New Hampshire, Paul won more voters between the ages of 18 and 24 than Romney, Rick Santorum, New Gingrich, and Rick Perry combined. …
When Ron Paul’s remarkable congressional career comes to a conclusion, he can return to Texas with the satisfaction of knowing that his educational mission revived an honorable political tradition: an American conservatism dedicating to conserving, not destroying.
From my vantage point, via YouTube on the morning after, the third-party presidential debate, held in a darkly-lit subterranean Chicago hotel ballroom and moderated by the pterosaur Larry King and a not-ready-for-primetime Christina Tobin of the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, gave off the vibe of an annual corporate sales meeting.
But there sure wasn’t a lot of love in the room for corporations. Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson, of the Green Party and Justice Party respectively, gave voice to the kind of anti-plutocrat rhetoric that leftists long to hear from the Clinton-Obama-era Democratic Party. Balancing Stein and Anderson’s unapologetic social justice rhetoric were Constitution Party contender Virgil Goode and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the former two-term New Mexico governor.
I was at pains to figure out exactly why Goode isn’t a Republican. Jim Antle’s profile of the former Virginia congressman found Goode doggedly on the side of the mainstream GOP on big issues like the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and the drug war. Republicans don’t talk much these days about Goode’s hobbyhorse — term limits — but the issue figured prominently in the 1994 Contract with America. His position on immigration — no green cards for foreign workers until employment is under five percent — is more restrictionist than the average GOPer’s, but his irrational fear of Muslims would fit right into Sarah Palin’s “real America” party.
Johnson, on the other hand, cut a truly “choice, not an echo” figure. He boasted of the 21 “liberty torches” he earned from the ACLU’s annual candidate report card. He fiercely advocated the noninterventionist position on Iran, prompting an unfortunate correction from Larry King: “I think both [Obama and Romney] said they would not bomb Iran.” Uh, no; they manifestly did not say that. Johnson was the only one of the four who actually sounded like he’s capable of performing on a national stage. His answers on drug prohibition and mass incarceration managed the trick of making idealism sound like commonsense. As with Ron Paul, his positions on monetary policy and federal spending were dealbreakers for me. Cutting more than $1 trillion in federal spending in a single fiscal year would hasten an economic crisis, not forestall one.
Each candidate was in agreement on one thing: repealing the codification of indefinite military detention without trial or charge, which President Obama signed into law in 2011. It really is a scandal that neither Obama nor Romney was asked about this in either of the two debates in which foreign policy was discussed. Yet I suspect this omission has little to do with corporate control of the bounds of political conversation, and more to do with popular apathy and ignorance. The Green Party’s Jill Stein argued that our country’s 90 million nonvoters are shouting “No!” to our plutocratic duopoly. That’s worth a chuckle. The 90 million aren’t paying attention, much less shouting.
The experience of the third-party debate led me to conclude that Ron Paul was wise: his constituency was far better served by his trying to reform the Republican party from within. At the end of this election cycle, who will have done more to advance the cause of the antiwar right? Paul or Johnson? It’s a question that answers itself.
One more point: rather than propping up no-chance presidential parties, third parties generally would be better off fighting at the grassroots level for proportional representation in Congress, which would not require an amendment to the Constitution. (Interestingly, one avenue for getting there — “top-two” open primaries — was rejected by all four of the third-party candidates last night.) With no hope of organizational support in either house of Congress, national third-party candidacies will remain a quixotic joke.
Gary Johnson closed with the powerful assertion that voting for someone you don’t believe in is the real “wasted vote.” Speaking only for myself, I’m not looking for anyone to “believe in.” What I’d like to see is the increasingly ossified clusters of fiscal and social issues broken up and reconfigured in a variety of regionally distinctive ways. Third party-ites are right that certain issues, like climate change and the often cruel fate of nonviolent drug offenders, are ignored. But the bigger problem is that the issues that are debated are held hostage by national ideological enforcers like Grover Norquist and NARAL. I’d like to see more pro-life economic populists in Congress. Both parties used to be able to accommodate such animals. No longer. Maybe another party or two or three is necessary. But that’s incidental to the real culprit: namely the huffing and puffing of national “wave elections” that spend tens of millions of dollars to settle nothing.
The Slate columnist Matt Yglesias provoked a strange debate on Tuesday. Somehow, a Twitter discussion of the legitimacy of redistributive taxation became an exchange with the libertarian Brian Caplan about the implications of John Locke’s theory of property for the historical expropriation of Native Americans. On Yglesias’s reading, Locke claims that “Property is held by right owing to its historical chain of possession from an original legitimate acquirer through voluntary exchange and bequest.” If that’s the really the case, Yglesias suggests, none of the property in land in the United States is legitimate. Because this conclusion is absurd, Yglesias dismisses the principle.
The conclusion that there’s no legitimate real property in America, with the possible exception of Indian reservations, is absurd. But it doesn’t follow from Locke’s account of property, or at least from his intentions. In fact, that account was developed at least partly to justify the seizure and occupation of Indian lands.
The key is the concept of the legitimate original acquirer. For Locke, one doesn’t acquire land merely by claiming it, or even by living on it. One acquires solely through productive use. Moreover, one has no right to hold more land than one can use productively.
The Indians, as Locke saw it, were not just failing to turn “their” land to productive use. By leaving vast expanses to the game they hunted, they were actively depriving others of their right to acquire property in the proper way. For Locke, the settlers who built farms, dug mines, or grazed herds were the legitimate original acquirers.
Indeed, Locke didn’t even stipulate successful cultivation as necessary to legitimate title to otherwise “waste” land. As I understand the Second Treatise of Government, he believed that it was sufficient to intend to do these things.
On a strict Lockean view, then, the settlement and cultivation of the Americas was no theft. It was a legitimate acquisition that initiates rather than interrupts the historical chain of possession. For Locke, in other words, the Native Americans couldn’t be expropriated because they had no property in the first place. Indeed, their attempts to defend from encroachment lands where they happened to hunt, say, were actually a form of theft from the prospective settlers.
Does this argument succeed in justifying settlement? Probably not: Locke seems to have been mistaken about the agricultural practices of at least some Indian tribes, which may have met his own criteria for ownership. But the problem with Locke’s theory of property is not really empirical. Rather, it’s that Locke encourages the fantasy, still popular among some libertarians, that property relations can be generated by a sort of immaculate conception in which no one’s freedom is violated. David Hume got closer to the truth. As he observed in Of the Original Contract, ”there is no property in durable objects, such as lands or houses, when carefully examined in passing from hand to hand, but must, in some period, have been founded on fraud and injustice.” It’s time and positive law, not the original acquisition, that makes property legitimate.