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Getting a Read on Rand Paul

With Ron Paul’s exit from Congress, his senator son, Rand Paul, is now the great hope of many conservatives and libertarian-leaning activists. Senator Paul has done superb work challenging the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act. He is seeking to burnish his bona fides with a new book, Government Bullies.

This volume will tell you all you ever wanted to know about federal wetlands policy, which is discussed exhaustively in the book’s first hundred pages. The Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and other agencies have trampled property owners’ rights time and again on the most arbitrary and unjustified pretexts. Similarly, Government Bullies contains extensive discussions of the government’s abuses of farmers, small businessmen, a guitar manufacturer, and other likeable victims.

While Government Bullies thrashes federal bureaucracies despised by conservatives, the book avoids controversial subjects. And it repeats the myth of Flight 93, which President Bush once trumpeted but was eventually shamed into dropping:

Those brave passengers on board that day had heard of what had just happened to the World Trade Center. They knew this was not a typical hijacking. … Those passengers knew that thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of innocent people might die if the hijackers succeeded in crashing the plane. So they acted. They overpowered the hijackers and took down the plane themselves, sacrificing their lives to save countless others. No one knows for sure how many lives they saved that day. It is hard to imagine an act of heroism any greater.


There was never any evidence that Flight 93 passengers chose to commit suicide as opposed to fighting to capture control of the plane from the hijackers. FBI director Robert Mueller told a closed congressional hearing in 2002 that Flight 93 crashed a few minutes after one of the other hijackers “advised Jarrah”—the one piloting the flight—“to crash the plane and end the passengers’ attempt to retake the airplane.” A 2003 Associated Press report noted that the FBI’s interpretation, “based on the government’s analysis of cockpit recordings, discounts the popular perception of passengers grappling with terrorists to seize the plane’s controls.” In 2006, the feds finally released the transcript the final minutes of Flight 93 that showed the hijackers chose to crash the plane into the ground after passengers stormed the cockpit.

Senator Paul says that the federal government had some “good reactions” after 9/11, such as “we took steps to put air marshals on planes.” He’s too generous. Air marshals have become the biggest law-enforcement laughingstock in the land. They are far more likely to lose a gun in an airplane bathroom than to catch a terrorist. Security expert Bruce Schneier, whom Rand quotes elsewhere in the book, noted in 2010 that “more air marshals have been arrested [for felony offenses] than the number of people arrested by air marshals.” Schneier examined the air marshals’ budget and performance and concluded that “we are spending approximately $200 million per arrest” by the marshals. There is no evidence that they have prevented a single terrorist attack.
Government Bullies offers a long list of TSA horror cases, and Paul is justly outraged by abusive TSA patdowns, which are often instigated after false alarms by unreliable scanning equipment.  He notes: “Passengers who do everything right—remove their belts, their wallets, their shoes, their glasses—and all of the contents in their pockets—are then subjected to random patdowns and tricked into believing that the scanners actually do something.”

One of Rand Paul’s solutions in his Air Travelers Bill of Rights, however, is “Guaranteeing a traveler’s right to request a patdown using only the back of the hand.” This seems akin to entitling rape victims to request their assailants wear a condom. There would still be no way to hold TSA liable when its agents help themselves to a full handful.

The senator’s proposal also calls for an “expansion of canine screening at airports.” It is difficult to understand how boosting the number of German shepherds and their handlers sweeping around passengers will revive the spirit of liberty. The dogs are notorious for giving as many false positives as TSA scanning machines.

Perhaps the starkest difference between Senator Paul and his father is on U.S. government meddling abroad. Ron Paul was one of the most outspoken critics of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In contrast, Rand Paul heaps praise on the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, divisions of NED. “These organizations are not partisan. They do not choose political sides. They do not provoke or become involved in the politics of any country they work in. They do not encourage or cause dissent. They do not advocate against government.”

In reality, NED has been involved in election-manipulation scandals ever since it was created in 1983. The International Republican Institute played a key role in the overthrow of Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In February 2004, an array of NED-aided groups and individuals helped spur an uprising that left 100 people dead and toppled Aristide. Brian Dean Curran, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, warned Washington that the International Republican Institute’s actions “risked us being accused of attempting to destabilize the government.”

NED pulled out all the stops to help its favored candidate win an election in 2004 in Ukraine. In the two years prior to the election, the United States spent over $65 million “to aid political organizations in Ukraine, paying to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet U.S. leaders and helping to underwrite exit polls indicating he won a disputed runoff election,” according to the Associated Press. Ron Paul complained at the time that “much of that money was targeted to assist one particular candidate, and … millions of dollars ended up in support of the presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.”
It is mystifying why a senator as smart as Rand Paul would hitch his wagon to a federal agency that has tarnished itself and the United States around the world. Is the senator receiving extremely bad information from someone?

[1]Rand Paul has made excellent comments in floor speeches and TV interviews on the folly of foreign aid. Yet Government Bullies champions the notion that U.S. foreign aid can be used to spread good government abroad. The senator declares, “We need a firmer hand. We need a stronger voice. We need to say no more aid to countries that do not have democratic elections, no more aid to nations that terrorize their own people—and no more aid to anyone who detains innocent American citizens.” Sounds great, but who will be administering the new conditionality of the foreign-aid program? The State Department and the U.S Agency for International Development, a bureaucracy that exists to disburse U.S. tax dollars abroad.

Rand Paul remains a work in progress. Will he take the principled high road that his father paved with such courage? Or will he become simply another conservative who flourishes government waste, fraud, and abuse stories to make supporters believe he is going to roll back Leviathan? Unfortunately, the answer to those questions will not be found in Government Bullies.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2].

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "Getting a Read on Rand Paul"

#1 Comment By Carl Lowland On November 20, 2012 @ 9:10 am

The family Paul is a bit eccentric to say the least. Seems to be a growing number of eccentrics getting higher and higher in government with each round of elections. Odds are one of these eccentrics will become president one day and it will either be comedy central or all hell will break loose.

#2 Comment By Roman On November 20, 2012 @ 9:52 am

God Bless Ron Paul.

His son can only do what he is doing because of his father. Rand is now doing what his father never did, but this is a good thing. Rand is making brilliant political moves. As much as it isn’t appealing, you have to get dirty in politics to bring about change and to put yourself in leadership roles. Ron never was able to get there due to his unwavering position, but someone like that was needed for a grassroots movement to take off. Ron had a legacy to uphold. His son is continuing that legacy but understands that he must be a politician to get anything done. He’s not stupid. He gets the game.

#3 Comment By Philip Giraldi On November 20, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

As Jim notes, Rand has a number of blindspots on foreign policy to put it mildly, or perhaps he is consciously positioning himself in a certain way to appeal to what he identifies as Republican core constituencies. Either way, it is frequently hard to swallow.

An endorsement by Jennifer Rubin:


#4 Comment By dbriz On November 20, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

Describing Sen Paul as “work in progress’ is a fair description.

He has been inconsistent when compared to his father. Even bumbling at times. Yet it is was unfair from the start to expect an exact emulation of son to father.

And, it should be understood, the Senate is a different animal than the House. A place where deference and patience are prerequisites if one wishes to assume more than rhetorical significance.

So, let those of us in the Ron Paul camp give Rand some time to develop his own style without demanding perfection. It is quite apparent that a decision has been made that the best way to success for the “liberty and freedom” movement is through the GOP structural apparatus.

As well, let us not place all marbles in one basket. We have as a result of the 2012 election, the happy prospect of several others who deserve our attention, Justin Amash , Kerry Bentivolio, MI, Thomas Massie, KY Randy Weber, Ted Cruz, TX. As well as several holdovers like the estimable Walter Jones, NC and Jimmy Duncan, TN.

It is from this pool we should expect some national leadership to develop.

By all means watch Rand closely but let us not fail to watch the welcome development of a potential “liberty caucus” that can represent libertarian/conservative philosophy where it is sorely needed.

There may never again be the likes of Ron Paul and yet, it is important that his ideas find expression in the next generation of leadership.

#5 Comment By Tex Tradd On November 20, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

What dbriz said.

Rand Paul says he is eyeing a 2016 run: [4]

Rand Paul’s speech to the GOP convention was…conventional, and boring. He’s one more right-wing anti-big government voice in the stale chorus, where his father can light up the room and inspire millions when he talks about ending the wars. However, Rand Paul is so much better than any Republican in the Senate in terms of voting. He really is a force for liberty, and that he pales in comparison to his father is to be expected, as a regression to the mean.

That said, Rand Paul may figure out how to thread the needle. He doesn’t have the enemies of his Dad, nor weird tawdry newsletter creepy-crawly friends. Evidently he seems like someone the neocons feel like they can have a respectful exchange with, which is fine if he votes like an antiwarrior and anti-imperialist.

I was appalled at his endorsing Romney, but we have to make do. Liberty activists, antiwarriors, decentralists, front porch republicans, tradents and paleos ought to get on board if he runs in 2016, and push hard to keep him from succumbing to DC neocon enthusiasms or just consensus-head empire-defending business as usual.

#6 Comment By Clint On November 20, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

Sen. Rand Paul is getting to run for president in 2016.

“I want to be part of the national debate,I’m not going to deny that I’m interested.”

#7 Comment By Kelley Vlahos On November 20, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

Thank you Jim for this even-handed analysis. I haven’t read the book yet, but I appreciate the cliffnotes, particularly the stuff on TSA. I remember Sen. Paul was caught in the humiliating TSA trap once himself. All Senators should be put through the experience at least one time, it seems to set their heads straight on the issue!

#8 Comment By Chad On November 21, 2012 @ 8:36 am

“Will he take the principled high road that his father paved with such courage?”

Deification of Ron Paul like this, in conjunction with the absolutely racist newsletters he wrote in the 90’s will insure that the libertarian movement will have issues once they decide to appeal to people who are underprivileged in our society.

#9 Comment By Clint On November 21, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

Ron Paul on Old Newsletter Controversy

#10 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 21, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

I am “minority” race and don’t at all consider Ron Paul racist.

#11 Comment By Goldbug36 On November 21, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

Oh, my, the old racist newsletter issue AGAIN. It’s kind of like, “don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up!”

#12 Comment By jack ryan On November 23, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

Why should America be selfish and keep the Rand Paul and Ron Paul Libertarians to ourselves?

They know the secrets that will save….


Free Markets, less or no government, everyone free to do whatever they want, hire and fire whoever they want with wages determines by….

(Your employer is looking to fire you and hire happy, sub minimum wage Mexicans and they will be happy workers)

We should share the Rand Paul and Ron Paul Libertarian true believers with….


Starting with Mogadishu Somalia!

Mogadishu Somalia should be the libertarian dreamland – no functioning government, everybody pretty much doing whatever they want to be doing, being


Mogadishu Somalia has pretty much lived the Libertarian dream of open, legal drugs (what do they call the popular drug Kwat?)

With any luck the Somalians will drag the mutilated dead White bodies of Rand Paul/Ron Paul Libertarian cult through the streets of Mogadishu, the same way they did to the US Army Rangers, the last time idiot White Americans went to Somalia to “SAVE” the locals.

The moral of my story is:

Don’t feed the Libertarians – don’t encourage them, don’t let them in to your home, or they will never leave.

#13 Comment By Mightypeon On November 24, 2012 @ 6:27 am

Didnt Ron Paul disavow that anyway? Politicians are always fallible, if some racist stuff (West Germany was basically run by Nazis, guys like Globke actively make me puke) he actually disavowed is all the skeletons he has in his closet, than that still miles better than either someone who is bed with Wall Street (Obama) or someone who is Wallstreet (Romney).

His stance of the death penalty will, if implemented, do more to diminish actual racism that kills people than having a black president does.

On a related sidenote, I never got why the GOP is generally pro death penalty. To me, there is no bigger gouverment than a gouverment that can kill its citizens (now also without judicial review or even informing them of their charges).

#14 Comment By Clint On November 25, 2012 @ 9:57 am

@jack ryan :

The Federal Government of Somalia was established on August 20, 2012, following the end of the interim mandate of the Transitional Federal Government.
Local state governments, officially recognized as Federal Member States, have a degree of autonomy over regional affairs and maintain their own police and security forces. However, they are constitutionally subject to the authority of the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
The Ministry of Health heads the country’s healthcare system.
The Ministry of Education is officially responsible for education in Somalia.

#15 Comment By David Giza On December 3, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

Ron Paul voted for the House immigration bill on November 30 allowing more foreign born students that major in STEM fields to stay and study longer at U.S. universities. What about native American born students? Shouldn’t they have preference over foreign born students?

#16 Comment By Jimi On December 10, 2012 @ 2:28 am

@ Roman

That’s what I’ve been thinking. I don’t see the son of Ron Paul doing an about face to his father like that. No way.

But on the other hand worse things have happened. So who knows.

I hope you’re right!