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How Rand Paul Threatens Left and Right

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp declared [1] 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 [2], “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 [3] and federal drug sentencing laws [4] by taking positions that once would have been considered almost exclusively left. Paul has introduced legislation [5] ending the practice of civil asset forfeitures [6]—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 [7] address at progressive Berkeley [8] 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 [9], tackling the dangers of police militarization in a way that would earn him praise [10] across the ideological spectrum [11]. This month Paul met [12] with black leaders in Ferguson [13]. He has been the first potential 2016 presidential candidate of either party to do so [14].

In 2013, when the senator filibustered [15] 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 [16] on an issue that hadn’t even been on most Americans’ radar. The Tea Party loved it so much Republican hawks [17] 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.” [18] Code Pink thanked [19] him too.

Last year, The Daily Beast’s [20] 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 [21] 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 [22] from—and even antithetical [23] 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 [24] Paul in the most unflattering [25] light imaginable [26]. 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 [27] post-9/11 foreign policy consensus [28] that defined the Bush years. Like Corn’s recent digs at Paul at Mother Jones, you will be hard pressed [29] to find many positive stories about the son of Ron Paul at the Free Beacon, but you will find [30] consistent attempts [31] to relegate [32] the senator [33] to the fringe [31]. (Disclosure: my own “Southern Avenger [34]” radio history and relationship with Senator Paul would become a well-publicized part of this effort [35].).

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 [36] their model. At a time when more Americans than ever are identifying as independents [37], Paul makes partisans uncomfortable.

When Time dubbed Paul “the most interesting man in politics [38]” this month, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele observed [39] “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 Rare.us [40] and the former New Media Director for Senator Rand Paul.

32 Comments (Open | Close)

32 Comments To "How Rand Paul Threatens Left and Right"

#1 Comment By William Dalton On October 29, 2014 @ 12:57 am

When Barry Goldwater’s forces took over the Republican Party, the division it caused produced electoral disaster for the party that year. But that change in Party leadership would become a growing and lasting one that would persist until the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War it was fought to defeat. If Rand Paul’s forces take over the Republican Party, in 2016 or 2020, the impact will be just as divisive, but it will also represent a lasting and irreversible change in the public face and appeal of the Party for the succeeding generation.

#2 Comment By JonF On October 29, 2014 @ 6:34 am

Paul’s popularity is largely due to his (occasional and vacillating) anti-war stance and his (more perceived than real) life style libertarianism. If he seriously threatened middle class entitlements his favorables would decline to the levels enjoyed by diarrhea and bedbugs.

#3 Comment By SteveM On October 29, 2014 @ 7:31 am

Re: “At a time when more Americans than ever are identifying as independents, Paul makes partisans uncomfortable.”

Rand Paul may make partisans uncomfortable, but as I had mentioned in a previous comment, they control the Republican party apparatus. And it’s orthodox partisans that vote in Republican primaries, not disaffected independents.

Note too that Tea Party voters are generally Neocon Social Darwinists rather than non-interventionist Libertarians, so will continue to vote for assertively interventionist movement Republicans as long as the candidates advocate for the mythical balanced budget amendment.

Moreover, the Republican Nomenklatura would rather maintain its orthodoxy than win elections because their orthodoxy is really about money. Nomenklatura funding sources map back to the status quo, (e.g. defense contractors). Stupid wars are an abstraction when living large on sumptuous meals at the Caucus Room is at stake. (Paid for directly or indirectly by Lockheed, Raytheon, et. al.)

In that context Rand Paul is an existential threat who can’t be allowed to make it out of the primaries.

Would I vote for Rand Paul? Yes. Can Rand Paul actually win as a Republican that fights the party apparatus? I’d say his chances are less than 20%.

#4 Comment By Kurt Gayle On October 29, 2014 @ 7:58 am

“Puff Graham.”

Puff Paul?

#5 Comment By Crprod On October 29, 2014 @ 9:00 am

In light of his views of Second Amendment supremacy over reducing preventable deaths as far as the Surgeon General nomination goes, America may be better off with him as a politician rather than a physician although we have too many of the former already.

#6 Comment By John On October 29, 2014 @ 9:26 am

On February 4, 2011, Politico reported Rand Paul’s observation that Israel was per capita one of the world’s richest countries, and that the United States need not borrow money simply to give it “welfare.” This amplified statements made in a 65-page budget-let that he released to burnish his credentials as a fiscal conservative. About three months later, he released version 2.0 of that budget-let, absent all language regarding Israel. Since that time, Paul has become as hawkish as anyone about Israel’s right to do whatever it wants to whomever it likes at any time it pleases, and America’s obligation to back up Israel no matter what.

The reason I mention this is not that either of Paul’s stances on Israel is bad in itself, particularly if Paul is content merely giving aid and speeches supporting Israel like most presidential candidates. It’s that Paul undoubtedly was persuaded not to offend Sheldon Adelson or other donors in the Republican Jewish Coalition, in the same way that Chris Christie was made to walk back “occupied territories” as if that weren’t the nomenclature used by almost everyone but Adelson. If that’s how Paul responds to overt pressure with people with money, how will he respond to more subtle, private pressure from other people with money? You know, like the people who obtain contracts to build armaments and vehicles for the military?

Paul has a couple of viewpoints that “blur the lines,” as you put it, but on everything that matters, I expect him to dance with them that brought him. I’ve had enough bipartisan appeals that end in enacting doctrinaire Republican policy, thank you.

#7 Comment By SDS On October 29, 2014 @ 10:05 am

Would I vote for Rand Paul? Yes. Can Rand Paul actually win as a Republican that fights the party apparatus? I’d say his chances are less than 20%.

“his views of Second Amendment supremacy over reducing preventable deaths”
IF reducing preventable deaths is the most important thing; we should all have mandatory gov’t.- hired drivers assigned to us and our licenses taken away- THAT would reduce more deaths than most other actions….

#8 Comment By bc3b On October 29, 2014 @ 10:10 am

Rand Paul is Mitt Romney 2.0. He has no core, but simply says what thinks a particular audience wants to hear at that given time.

#9 Comment By Where There’s Hope On October 29, 2014 @ 10:15 am

The salient number is the huge increase in independents.

The creaky old Democrat/GOP tag team operation is falling to pieces. People are sick of having to choose between Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer or the Clinton mafia on the one side, the and Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Paul Ryan, Cheney/Bush pathology on the other.

I don’t agree with everything Rand Paul says, but I respect his willigness to break out of the foetid death-grip of the establishment parties and offer real choice.

#10 Comment By RogerO On October 29, 2014 @ 11:04 am

“If he seriously threatened middle class entitlements”— JonF

These types of comments piss me off. It is very socialistic/communist in nature, what class do you want us to be? Do you want us all to be lower class while government retains higher?

The goal we all should strive for is to be middle and upper class! If you want to remain lower class that is your call, don’t get government to drag us all down.

#11 Comment By Francis On October 29, 2014 @ 11:09 am

Nothing scares me more than anyone creating issues to further his political aims, and of this Rand Paul is the master.

His and his father’s obsession on counting gold in Fort Know is a prime example — assuming its all there, the gold’s value is about one month of Federal spending and if sold off, would hardly dent the deficit.

On February 4, 2011, Politico reported Rand Paul’s observation that Israel was per capita one of the world’s richest countries, and that the United States need not borrow money simply to give it “welfare.”

No only does he continue to vote for aid to Israel, his characterization of it being “welfare” is groundless:

1) Direct economic grants to Israel ended when Obama took office.

2) Israel receives $3 Billion annually in Foreign Military Financing — grants and loans to help countries purchase defense equipment produced in the United States.

Thus, USA aid to Israel is really domestic American military industrial complex welfare.

So what is Rand Paul? A liar? Incompetent? Disillusion?

Elizabeth Warren is none of the above and represents the middle classes best hope.

#12 Comment By EliteCommInmc. On October 29, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

“I don’t agree with everything Rand Paul says, but I respect his willigness to break out of the foetid death-grip of the establishment parties and offer real choice.”

I don’t think a carte blanche pass for Israel in Palestine is emblematic of some independent thinking on the realities of occupation. That sounds keenly “establishment” and in many ways exceeds even most establishment expectations.

That position given the issues swirling around Mideast peace say with Iran is problematic to say the least.

#13 Comment By grumpy realist On October 29, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

If Rand Paul were really the heroic figure Mr. Hunter thinks he is, he wouldn’t have flip-flopped so easily on Israel.

We’ve seen Paul already: an attitude-striking poseur who won’t stand up under pressure. Why the libertarian fanboys think he will do any better on any of his other touted issues is beyond me.

#14 Comment By Clint On October 29, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

Rand Paul saw how neoconservative and liberals smeared up and marginalized his dad and learned how to maneuver past these agendists.

After the campaign flops of neoconservatives’ John McCain and Mitt Romney and Obama’s governing poll flops,Paul is maneuvering between and past their flopping agendas.

#15 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 29, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

“Paul is maneuvering between and past their flopping agendas.”

You have of course made the point why he should be treated with suspicion. As with all libertarians, they are wholly unwilling to commit to any specific position that is not upon question fluid.

I am pro-capitalist. But it has become apparent that they are incapable of playing by the rules of capitalism, chief among them fair, honest accountable dealings. Pose that dilemma to a libertarian and they will go one about how the market will correct itself, despite the reality that the markets are being manipulated by the players to shore up their own margins at the public’s expense. Which of course fuels the very concern.

As noted noted in articles by Mr. Larison and others no unnecessary foreign use of force, unless of course one is discussing ISIS, which begs the question, what of other groups like ISIS battling it out to govern their countries and no threat to the US — The Israeli and ISIS loophole suggest that Sen. Paul is not going to reign in our unnecessary use of force better than the current spout if interventionists.

He has no plan to address the rising deficit spending. The dip this year is more anomaly than trend downward.

#16 Comment By Clint On October 29, 2014 @ 7:06 pm

@ Francis :

“Contrary to ordinary U.S. policy, Israel has been and continues to be allowed to use approximately 25% of this military aid to purchase equipment from Israeli manufacturers. According to CRS, ‘no other recipient of U.S. military assistance has been granted this benefit. ‘ ”

“the Obama Administration gave $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Israel for the Fiscal Year 2014. In addition, the U.S contributed $504 million to the joint U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Program during FY 2014. If we include that number, American taxpayers give Israel $9.9 million per day.”

#17 Comment By JonF On October 29, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

Re: It is very socialistic/communist in nature

Nothing I said is remotely Socialist or Communist. Words have meanings and people like you who sling them about as careless insults to dismiss ideas you disagree with (evidently in a knee-jerk fashion without any serious thought) have no place in polite political discourse. Yes, that also includes ranting leftists who yell “Fundamentalist” at anyone who professes religion, and “Fascist” at anyone who thinks laws ought generally be obeyed and public order kept.

FYI: I am upper middle class, at least by the usual income standards. My advice to you: “Better to be silent and be thought perhaps ignorant than speak up and remove all doubt.”

#18 Comment By VikingLS On October 30, 2014 @ 7:04 am


Elizabeth Warren has to get by Hillary Clinton. Good luck with that.

#19 Comment By VikingLS On October 30, 2014 @ 7:08 am

Paul is not always consistent, but trying to paint him as a Mitt Romney type is really not accurate.

#20 Comment By Clint On October 30, 2014 @ 8:15 am

He has no plan to address the rising deficit spending.

You may have missed Senator Paul’s Balanced Budget Plan.

#21 Comment By Lord Karth On October 30, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

When Mr. Paul has the nerve to come out and say that elderly entitlements are unsustainable, and that a default on said “obligations” is coming, then and only then will I take him seriously.

Until then ? He’s just another DC Ostrich, hiding his head in the sand in a desperate effort to avoid facing Reality.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#22 Comment By Andy On October 30, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

Compared to Clinton vs Christie Rand Paul vs Elizabeth Warren would that be a welcome breath of fresh air? I’d likely go for Warren.Seems both are long shots but time will tell.

#23 Comment By Bernecky On October 30, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

Jack Hunter: “When even President Obama and Hillary Clinton were hesitant to address the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in August, Paul did, addressing the dangers of police militarization in a way that would earn him praise across the ideological spectrum.”

By the time most Americans learned of Michael Brown’s death, there was only one thing for them to do: secure the rights of the accused.

#24 Comment By seamus_padraig On October 30, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

Rand is definitely not Ron. He’s vague, he equivocates sometimes–which is just another way of saying that he really wants to be president, I guess. Even so, if it were a choice between him and Hillary, I would vote for him without hesitation.

The question is: can he make it out of the primaries? Core parts of the Republican establishment really don’t like him, and while the Tea Party types will give him a polite audience, I really think they’re stuck on Ted Cruz (who, by the way, could never beat Hillary).

So we’ll see…

#25 Comment By cynthia curran On November 2, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

Rand Paul is bad. He got the John Bircher thinking that the left is evil. A lot of the right is evil. He gets big bucks from the Koch brothers to pushed for eliminating the minium wage and make every state a right to work state. In fact I favor a Karl Hess approach which is to pushed the maker movement in the US. It could help Joe Blow who has to worked a service job and can get extra money from selling products. It could make manufacturing back to where 1 to 5 people can do it in a shop and less worry about going overseas or robots. Paul is the typical Bircher type economic conservative with far right views on the social issues. I predict Paul and the Tea party will be died as silent generation and baby boomers die off and the maker movement can appeal to both the left and right.

#26 Comment By balconesfault On April 7, 2015 @ 11:14 am

@Andy Rand Paul vs Elizabeth Warren would that be a welcome breath of fresh air?

I think Warren is wise enough to realize that her talents are best suited for the Senate … since running for President inevitably forces a politician to make all sorts of ideological compromises that dilutes their core message, and inevitably forces them to be subject to the whims and wishes of the big donors, be it Wall Street and global corporations or Sheldon Adelson.

Would that Rand Paul would internalize the same message … all the best things about Rand, pointed out above, seem to stem from his not running for President, while so many of his worst tendencies and positions come directly from his obsession with transforming himself into a GOP-primary ready candidate.

#27 Comment By collin On April 7, 2015 @ 12:18 pm

In all reality the media has been relatively kind to Rand Paul who does have the potential to win Brogressive votes against HRC. However, unless Rand Paul takes an effort to investigate and possibly support the Iran deal, most Brogressives or Demotarians will not forgive Rand on this. I still say the best libertarian message is “The road to big government starts with war.”

#28 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 7, 2015 @ 9:39 pm

Where There’s Hope:

“The salient number is the huge increase in independents.The creaky old Democrat/GOP tag team operation is falling to pieces. People are sick of having to choose between Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid [etc]…on the one side, [or]…Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Paul Ryan [etc] [on] the other. I don’t agree with everything Rand Paul says, but I respect his willingness to break out of the fetid death-grip of the establishment parties and offer real choice.”

Would that it were so. But he is a Republican Senator running for the Republican Party’s nomination for President.

And Independents, while they matter, don’t decide that nomination. Indeed, Paul, unlike, say, a McCain or Romney, is not going to be able to count on Establishment support, monetary advantages, name recognition advantage, organizational advantages, or the notion that this is “his turn.” McCain and Romney were able to combine some or all of the above, with a better than average score among Independents, to overcome their weakness with hard core Republican voters in the primaries.

I even question how well Paul will done among Independents who vote in the GOP primaries. Are they primarily of the libertarian/anti war right, or are they instead either Tea Party supporters of “traditional values” and aggression abroad, and sort of “moderate,” semi Republicans of the country club/status quo variety? I can’t see either of those groups going to Paul, in any great numbers.

It may simply be impossible to run as an antiwar/life style freedom libertarian in a national Republican race. It may be impossible even to run as such in a Democratic national race. Obama was only tepidly antiwar, and Hillary and Gore and Kerry hardly at all. Dean only slightly more so, and he was obliterated by the party establishment. And the whole Dem party now seems committed to the endless maintenance and even expansion of the National Security/Surveillance State. And the lifestyle libertarianism of the Dems begins and ends with gay and abortion rights. Serious reform of the drug laws seems beyond them.

In my view, undermining the current two party structure cannot be a project that is realized primarily in presidential politics. The last third party to succeed, the Republicans, was founded in 1854, was soundly defeated in its presidential bid in 1854, and only succeeded in 1860 because of the slavery crises, because the Democrats were divided, and because the other existing major party, the Whigs, fell apart (and was never really a well organized party in the first place). And that was at a time when parties were more fluid, there were lots of third parties, and the two party structure had not yet been written into law nor even necessarily accepted as an “unwritten” law of US politics.

It will be harder for a third party to succeed now, not easier. And banking on the presidential race, as the Naderites and the Libertarians and Constitutionalists and Ross Perot and so on have done is a bad bet. What really needs to be done is the hard spade work of building a party up from scratch. Perhaps more than one party, because, as you say, both parties have now more or less abandoned principle and even decency. For this to work, folks have to be willing to run for local and county offices first. Then move on to State legislative races in districts that seem especially favorable. From there move on to promising congressional district. And then to State level offices and US Senate seats in some States. All the while, working in concert with kindred spirits within the existing parties. Offering coalition support to factions within those parties that also challenge the status quo, while also asking them to switch to the new party. Only after all that, finally, perhaps, can one or both of these fledgling parties replace the moribund, corrupt, essentially criminal gangs currently running our politics entirely, including at the highest, ie presidential, level.

The presidential nut is the hardest one to crack, not the easiest. Lincoln would never had won were it not for the hard work done in the decade of the 1850s in building up the Republican Party at the local and State levels. Even Jefferson would never had won in 1800 if he and Madison had not begun organizing opposition to the Federalists, at all levels of government, years earlier.

#29 Comment By Michael Powe On April 9, 2015 @ 7:36 am

Rand Paul’s ideological commitment is a mile wide and an inch deep. It appears that his entire acquaintance with libertarianism is having read (most of) Atlas Shrugged. He has the intellectual heft of a spork.

His appearance as a serious contender for the nomination as the Republican candidate for President is a testament to the decline of the Republican Party as a serious political party. It is now fully a rump party. It maintains its position in national politics through gerrymandering and vote suppression. In a head-to-head fight over national political office, the GOP gets decked. In the last election, trumpeted as a “major victory” for the Republicans, in fact the Democratic candidates collected more votes in toto than the Republicans. Only through shameless vote dilution were the Republicans able to win.
Republicans in various states and levels of government have begun discussing how to gerrymander the Presidential election, as well, through redesigning the Electoral College. The Republicans can’t win on ideas, nor on accomplishments.

Rand Paul is merely another candidate recycling the same tired, discredited talking points that fail.

#30 Comment By Rossbach On April 13, 2015 @ 4:07 pm

It may be that the US electorate is not as heavily invested in the Left/Right ideological paradigm as the leadership of the 2 government parties seem to think. What the public wants is a political program that works for the average citizen, not just for the Wall Street wing of the GOP or for the academic Marxists of the Democratic Party.

#31 Comment By redfish On April 13, 2015 @ 11:27 pm

…so will continue to vote for assertively interventionist movement Republicans as long as the candidates advocate for the mythical balanced budget amendment.

You mean the balanced budget amendment that failed by 1 vote in the Senate in 1997? I’d hardly call it mythical. Hasn’t been put up for a meaningful vote for a while though.

On topic though, I’m also old enough to remember Pat Buchanan running for President in the 90s. Non-interventionist conservatives are not new, and I wouldn’t define that as what’s new about Rand Paul.

He is a bit of fresh air after Bush neo-conservativism has dominated the party since 2000. Only a bit, though, since Rand Paul still supports free trade and has been pushing Obama to sign the TPP.

Oh yes, I’m a political Independent who supported Perot. I have mixed feelings on Rand. Just being ‘transpartisan’ doesn’t guarantee you win Independents.

#32 Comment By Louis Thorndon On April 14, 2015 @ 10:55 am

Rand Paul is actually a man of the extreme right of the non-socialist Left. He is a William Ewart Gladstone figure. I doubt he can win the nomination, but if he does, then I think he is likely to win the general. The last President like him was Grover Cleveland, whose supporters included those prominent figures of Progressivism – Woodrow Wilson and Louis D. Brandeis – both once upon a time – “gold Democrats”.