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Rand Paul Learns to Love the Drug War?

Yesterday’s Post carried this story on Senator Rand Paul’s attempts to reach out to the evangelical community, and carried this choice, heretical-by-libertarian-standards, quote:

In an interview a day before his Iowa trip, Paul, 50, also tried to make clear just what kind of politician he is. “To some, ‘libertarian’ scares people,” he said. “Some of them come up to me and they say, ‘I kind of like you, but I don’t like legalizing heroin.’ And I say, ‘Well, that’s not my position.’ ”

Paul said he believes in freedom and wants a “virtuous society” where people practice “self-restraint.” Yet he believes in laws and limits as well. Instead of advocating for legalized drugs, for example, he pushes for reduced penalties for many drug offenses.

“I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” he said. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The evangelicals, at least according to the story, seem to be buying it:

[Pastor Brad] Sherman got that chance Friday when he joined other clergy members at the Cedar Rapids lunch to pose pointed questions to Paul. He said he came away liking what he heard. “He made it very clear that he does not support legalization of drugs like marijuana and that he supports traditional marriage,” Sherman said.

Not so much the libertarians, if Reason’stake (“I can’t help but wonder how Paul would be different from any other Republican president”) and my Facebook feed are any indication. Just like the flap over his position on drones, the outrage seems to be over a less elegant statement of the same position he’s held the whole time. Fair is fair, of course, and it’s entirely reasonable to take a politician at his word, but I have two thoughts.

First, many of the people now denouncing Paul for not wanting to end the drug war also share a sense that he’s concealing his radicalism. Second, assuming Rand Paul were to run in 2016, it’s highly likely that he’ll come out in favor of marijuana legalization, which a majority of voters now support—my guess would be by endorsing state-level initiatives rather than saying he’ll reschedule it at the federal level—but that probably won’t happen until he gets the nomination.

Comments made in the context of buttering up religious-right leaders shouldn’t be overinterpreted, especially given the American Family Association’s signal that they wouldn’t fight Paul on the marijuana issue. And there’s reason to doubt the assumption that the social conservative position is to favor an endless, wasteful drug war that is anything but Christian. Among religious leaders there’s more consensus about its failure than ever before, but radicalism isn’t going to get them to warm up to reform.

It’s also worth mentioning Rand’s carte blanche states’ rights position isn’t very different from his father’s, who, in the GOP presidential debate, didn’t actually say he’d legalize heroin, but that he’d leave it to the states. Despite some sloppy AP reporting to the contrary, the younger Paul believes basically the same thing; it works as rhetorical cover. I guess I part with a lot of libertarians in thinking it’s wise for him to be using it for the time being.

about the author

Arthur Bloom is the former editor of The American Conservative online. He was previously deputy editor of the Daily Caller and a columnist for the Catholic Herald. He holds masters degrees in urban planning and American studies from the University of Kansas. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Spectator (UK), The Guardian, Quillette, The American Spectator, Modern Age, and Tiny Mix Tapes.

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