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?
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.