State of the Union

Rand Paul’s Task in ’16: How to Sell Country Liberty to the City

In conjunction with his appearance on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, Sen. Rand Paul attended a gala sponsored by the magazine, where he toasted Henry David Thoreau—“just a guy,” Paul explained, who “wanted to live by himself,” but “society wouldn’t leave him alone.”

Obviously, the Kentucky senator, and possible 2016 presidential contender, chose to highlight Thoreau not just because he was an idealistic, contemplative loner. In the broader context of the liberty movement’s desire to see the Republican party reclaim the mantle of individual rights, it makes perfect sense that Paul would cheer Thoreau’s legacy of civil disobedience in the face of slavery and imperialism.

More, one can imagine Paul approvingly quoting Thoreau’s paean to trade and “commerce”—“its enterprise and bravery”:

Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments, and hence its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes. I feel more like a citizen of the world at the sight of the palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen New England heads the next summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoanut husks, the old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails …

Yet the pairing, however brief, of Paul and Thoreau had me stewing this past weekend. I was thinking about the desire to “be left alone.” Laissez-faire. Liberty defined as the absence of restraint. In order to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” Thoreau withdrew from the community, from the polis. Read More…

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Raimondo vs. Rauch: The Marriage Debate You Haven’t Heard Before

With Straussian eminence Walter Berns in attendance—he asks the final question—Jonathan Rauch and Justin Raimondo debate “Is Gay Marriage Good for America?” for American University’s Janus Forum.

Rauch frames his pro-SSM argument as socially conservative, a “Burkean social fabric thing,” in the words of one audience member. Raimondo has a radical libertarian counterblast to that, and he notes the irony that while genetic determinism is frowned upon in discussions of race or sex, it’s invoked as a source of authority by those who argue for same-sex marriage. He calls it “pseudo-science mixed with moralism” and latter-day “Lysenkoism.” Rauch is concerned to protect religious liberties, while Raimondo, foreseeing dire consequences for Christians who refuse to accept a new definition of marriage, warns that “people who are oppressed inevitably turn into the worst bullies” once they have government power on their side.

It’s a debate unlike any other on this issue, inspired in part by Raimondo’s TAC article “The Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage.”

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Would Justin Amash Really ‘Tear Down the Left-Right Paradigm’?

The libertarian-trending George F. Will seems cautiously optimistic about what an ambitious Rep. Justin Amash could mean for a Republican brand in flux. He writes of the 33-year-old House member, who’s mulling a run to replace Michigan Sen. Carl Levin:

Last month, when [Sen. Rand] Paul was waging his 13-hour filibuster, Amash made his first visit to the Senate floor and was struck by the contrast with the House, which he says is “good fun” and “loud and boisterous.” The Senate would be more so with Amash inside, and Michigan Republicans, having lost six consecutive Senate elections, might reasonably want to try something new. But as Amash undertakes to “tear down the left-right paradigm,” he must consider how the delicate but constructive fusion of libertarians and social conservatives has served Republicans, and the sometimes inverse relationship between being interesting and being electable.

Amash is mindful of two things: 1) that there’s a demand among Republican elites for a more “moderate” face of the party; and 2) that lawmakers in the self-styled liberty movement have a reputation for being the opposite of moderate.

And so Amash surveys the scene and calls himself, well, a “moderate”—because, he tells Will, “the point of the Constitution is to moderate the government.”

Reason’s Brian Doherty appreciates Amash’s rhetorical jujitsu, but doubts it will fly politically:

surely deep down he understands that his libertarian leanings scare lots of voters. He’d certainly be painted by the Democrats as the candidate out to destroy Medicare, Social Security, the safety net, clean food and air, and our national security if the Democratic Party had to fight him for a precious Senate seat.

If “libertarians are the true moderates” turns out to be a flop in the near term, what about the ideological medium- and long-term? Will Amash and co. “tear down the left-right paradigm”? The liberty Republicans see an opposition party embracing, and their own party halfheartedly resisting, a collectivist drift on government spending, civil liberties, and economic freedom. Can Congress’s liberty caucus simultaneously push to restore its vision of limited government and make the Republican once again a national party?

If it does, it will be because both parties will have coalesced around variants of radical individualism. What Amash fails to appreciate, in my view, is the practical interpretation of the Democratic agenda. Where Amash sees collectivism, voters increasingly see a distant and neutral guarantor of personal liberation and self-actualization. Amash sees high taxes, Big Brother, and mass gymnastics; the “coalition of the ascendant” sees government creating “ladders of opportunity” while abjuring moral judgmentalism.

A politics that further marginalizes the Rick Santorums of the world, that elevates individualism at the expense of the party’s waning ethos of communitarianism—and while continuing to frustrate the Koch Brothers’ economic agenda—is not what Justin Amash has in mind.

Yet unwittingly that’s what he’s paving the way for: a shattered left-right paradigm that yields a new left-right fusionism.

I don’t think George Will would find this constructive at all.

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Ron Paul’s New Foreign-Policy Website:

Ron Paul launched his new foreign-policy educational effort today with this website and a press conference featuring fellow congressman past and present Walter Jones, Dennis Kucinich, John Duncan, and Thomas Massie. The former three are all on the Ron Paul Institute’s board. Massie was there for moral support and to show how the liberty movement is adding to its ranks in Congress even without Paul in office.

As always, Walter Jones was a particularly powerful speaker—he has an Old Testament quality when he acknowledges the guilt he feels for his vote in favor of the Iraq War. Congressman Duncan, meanwhile, is the last of the six Republicans to vote against the war who is still in Congress. Kucinich lauded Paul for his qualities that went beyond partisanship: “The thing that impressed me the most was your love of country.”

Daniel McAdams, Paul’s chief foreign-policy staffer while he was in Congress, described the the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity as rather different from a traditional think tank: it’s a special project of Paul’s FREE organization (the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education) and in addition to the news-and-analysis website a prime focus will educating students about Paul’s views on war and peace. There’ll also be a congressional scorecard, which promises to be invaluable to anyone who wants a foreign policy different from that of George W. Bush and Barack Obama alike.

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Remembering Vivien Kellems on Tax Day

Vivien Kellems | Source

The woman above is Connecticut industrialist Vivien Kellems, who in 1948 refused to withhold income taxes from her 100-odd employees, saying if the government wanted her to be a tax collecter, they would “have to pay me, and I want a badge.”

She dared the IRS to file suit against her to test the constitutionality of the income tax, but they never did. Despite the fact that her employees were paying their taxes anyway, IRS agents went to her bank and confiscated $6,100. She sued, and though she wasn’t allowed to argue constitutional grounds, was granted a full refund by a district court.

Kellems was in the cable grip business, and to get a sense of the sort of lady she was, check out this letter quoted in the introduction to her 1952 book, Toil, Taxes, and Trouble (whole thing here):

I have been in and out of manholes all over the country, and usually stop traffic when going down or emerging. The hottest manhole was in Honolulu, where cold air had to be blown in all the time we were underground. The coldest was in Chicago, where I wore a mink coat. During World War II our cable-grip principle was adapted to every war cable. We are doing the same thing now for the new defense program. During World War II we lifted all the shells, everything from the 76 mm. to the 16″ Navy projectile, which was coated with a thick covering of grease. All the cables on battleships were secured permanently with our grips. I enjoyed describing to General MacArthur how they were fastened in the firing turrets of the battleship Missouri. Seventy-five women made two million small ones for the Signal Corps during the war.Many and varied are the uses of the cable grip, but, most of all, the cable-grip business is fun, because something new is always popping up.

The rest of the book goes into great detail about her lonely campaign against the IRS; it’s wonderful and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It starts with an invocation of Caesar Augustus’s Biblical census, so that “all the world may be taxed,” and doesn’t let up. She reserved special contempt for the phrase “take-home pay”:

The most un-American phrase in our modern vocabulary is “take home pay.” What do we mean, “take home pay”? When I hire a man to work for me we discuss three things: the job to be done, the hours he shall work, and the wages he shall receive. And on Friday when he receives that pay envelope, we have both fulfilled our contract for that week. There is no further obligation on either side. The money in that envelope belongs to him. He has worked for it and he has earned it. No one, not even the United States Government, has the right to touch it. Who dares to lay profane hands upon that money, to rudely filch from that free man the fruits of his labor, even before the money is in his own hands. This is a monstrous invasion of the rights of a free people and an outrageous perversion of the spirit of the Constitution. This is the miserable system foisted upon the people of our country by New Deal zealots and arrogant Communists who have wormed themselves into high places in Washington. This system is deliberately designed to make involuntary tax collectors of every employer and to impose involuntary tax servitude upon every employee. We don’t need to go to Russia for slavery, we’ve got it right here.

The protest garnered nationwide publicity, Kellems was invited on to “Meet the Press” as one of the first female guests (the first was Martha Taft, the senator’s wife), and Westbrook Pegler penned a column calling her “The Most Republican Republican of All.” Here she is chatting with Eleanor Roosevelt about the injustices of the tax system:

(As an aside, I think it’s strange that Ayn Rand ranks higher in the pantheon of lady libertarians than Kellems. Kellems is far more likable, writes better, and actually did all the stuff Rand only wrote about!)

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Gay Marriage: Conservatives For, Libertarians Against, & More

As the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, consider these classic TAC essays on this polarizing subject:

Justin Raimondo — “The Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage

Jon Huntsman — “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause

Margaret Liu McConnell — “Less Perfect Unions

Daniel McCarthy — “Why the Right Can’t Win the Gay-Marriage Fight

Austin Bramwell — “Pleading the Fourteenth

Andre Archie — “What Same-Sex Marriage Means


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Rand Paul at CPAC, Annotated

A tribute to the retiring Mariano Rivera? A wink to the notion that he haunts John McCain’s nightmares? Either way, Rand Paul entered the CPAC stage yesterday to the musical stylings of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” and full-throated roars of approval from the conservative crowd. First elected in 2010, the junior senator from Kentucky has been on something of a political tear of late, and he built off of the momentum from his social media fueled filibuster to offer a textbook demonstration of his skill at covering libertarian ideas in conservative partisan trappings.

Paul began his speech by declaring he had “a message for the President, “a message that is loud and clear, a message that doesn’t mince words.” Listen to three speeches at CPAC, and you’ll hear that four times, followed by a standard GOP platitude. The red-meat crowd sensed their priming and loaded up to applaud an attack on Obamacare, the virtues of America the Beautiful, or some similar staple. Paul gave them: “no one person gets to decide the law, no one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence.” From the first, his speech demonstrated the rhetorical talent Paul the Younger brings to his increasingly large national profile.

In his further attack on President Obama, Paul demanded to know “will you or won’t you defend the Constitution?” The crowd ate it up, so he slipped into Eisenhower, usually more in vogue in the pages of The American Conservative than the ACU, asking “How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend without?” The Senator followed with Montesquieu and the separation of powers but concluded the point by saying “Our Bill of Rights is what defines us and makes us exceptional.” Feeding off the guaranteed applause for American exceptionalism, Paul defended himself against John McCain and Lindsay Graham by draping himself in the cause of the wounded warriors, “the 6,000 parents whose kids died as American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Paul was defending the Bill of Rights so that the soldiers might not have died in vain, thus co-opting the rhetoric that extended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With a deft step, John McCain was rhetorically wrong-footed.

Read More…

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What Was Rand Paul’s Filibuster Really About?

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]

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Ron Paul Rebukes Ted Cruz: ‘We Ought to Be Cheering Someone Who’s More Cautious About Going to War’

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.

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Young Libertarians Converge on DC, State Barely Survives

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.

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