This weekend I had a chance to read Rand Paul’s new book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. It is a much bolder book than Rand skeptics would have expected, and it is also a strategically clever book, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. To be sure, Rand’s anecdotes from the campaign trail and from his days as a boy growing up in the Paul household are well executed and engaging, rather than cloying and phony as in so many political books. More importantly, Senator Paul is willing to stake out positions—on the Patriot Act, the U.S. Constitution, the federal budget, Austrian economics, and so on—that are not exactly standard fare for a man in his position.
To begin with, I found Rand’s discussion of his campaign for the Republican nomination interesting and revealing. I did not realize the full extent to which the Republican establishment initially shut him out—at least until it became obvious he was a winner, at which point many of them couldn’t hop onto the bandwagon fast enough. I did recall Dick Cheney’s endorsement of Trey Grayson, the empty suit who opposed Rand in the primary. “I’m a lifelong conservative,” said the former vice president, “and I can tell the real thing when I see it.” That is, Cheney saw “conservatism” in a wooden, uninspired, business-as-usual, entirely safe man of the establishment. I happened to know the calculatingly inoffensive Grayson in my college days; we were both in Harvard’s class of ’94. A nice enough guy, but no one ever knew where he stood on anything. He must have been grooming himself even then.
Grayson was supposed to win. He had the party machine—which was all too happy to endorse someone so obviously uninterested in rocking the boat—fully behind him. And he lost, badly.
Rand can justifiably describe himself as a Tea Party candidate, for it was well outside the GOP establishment that he found his initial popular support. With this book, he capitalizes on that position to lay out the kind of positive vision that critics have claimed is lacking in Tea Party complaints. And here lies the strategic value of the book. Rand writes with the confidence of someone drafting a manifesto. He does not tell the Tea Party, “This is what you should believe.” Rand seems to suggest, without being obnoxious, that these things are what the Tea Party already believes. He discusses even the most controversial budget-slashing proposal as a matter of common sense, a logical consequence of the Tea Party’s overriding concern with debt and deficits. Intentional or not, Rand takes this opportunity to push the Tea Party into a more self-consciously Old Right direction—but without burning the bridges to figures and outlets who befriended him during the campaign.
The foreign-policy chapter, the book’s longest, is also its best and boldest. Rand dismisses the fourth-grade propaganda fed to the American public in the name of the War on Terror, citing and quoting at length from figures on his father’s recommended reading list for Rudy Giuliani. He has no patience for the messianic rhetoric by which the Iraq War was sold, and argues that the neoconservative foreign-policy program is not conservative at all. That may not be news to readers of this site, but when was the last time we heard such a thing from a U.S. senator who has the ear of much of the right-leaning public?
Rand’s rhetoric and even some of his positions are not identical to those of his father, to be sure. I am not in complete agreement with him myself. But had he come out of nowhere, the Old Right—who made no idols of politics or politicians—would have been delighted that such a figure had managed, in defiance of the neoconservatives, to break into the U.S. Senate. His budget proposal, his non-opportunistic support for auditing the Fed, and his opposition to the Patriot Act—all of which he pursued within a month of taking office—make him the best Republican officeholder outside his father. (Faint praise, I know.) He is planted firmly in the Taft wing of the Republican Party, which even the libertarian Circle Bastiat cheered against the internationalists and, later, the neocons.
One of the most encouraging things about the book is that Rand was assisted in drafting it by Jack Hunter, the young radio host, columnist, and TAC videoblogger who has done such excellent work on behalf of liberty and the message of Ron Paul. (Here’s Jack on the juvenile stunt Young Americans for Freedom pulled on Ron Paul in the wake of the CPAC straw poll earlier this month.) Jack is as far as one can get from the party establishment, and it is to him that Rand turned for assistance in drafting his manifesto. That has to be good news.