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Rand Paul and the Prime-Time Test

I had two illuminating conversations about Rand Paul this week. One, from a libertarian who worked the Kentucky campaign who felt that in endorsing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rand was throwing what has come to be known as the “liberty movement,” under the bus. The other conversation was with a local fan of my work, a casual, independent voter who had supported Ron Paul during the South Carolina GOP presidential primary mostly because of my radio rants. Said this gentleman late Saturday night, beer in hand, “I liked Ron, Jack, but what’s up with his son supporting segregation?”

Let the games begin.

It was evident from the beginning that Rand was going to be a different candidate than his father. Whereas Ron would talk bluntly and openly about issues that might roil mainstream Republican audiences, Rand seemed to take these sensitivities into account, essentially parlaying the same message as Ron only using more measured rhetoric. Other times Rand went off the libertarian reservation— deviating from his father’s stance on Gitmo, saying he would support the CRA, and even saying that nuclear action against Iran should not be off the table. Was this a Paul or Rand Limbaugh?

Both, and necessarily so. If Rand ran a primary campaign like his father’s in Kentucky, Ron’s legions of fans would likely not have a stake in that state’s senate election right now. When Rand said Gitmo should remain open, I cringed—and approved of him taking that position, understanding his dilemma from my own deep red Republican state of South Carolina. When Rand said he would have voted for the CRA my only problem is that he did not say it sooner—and I still pretty much agree with Barry Goldwater’s opposition to that legislation. Segregation does not need to be a topic of discussion in any debate with his Democratic opponent. It’s an irrelevant issue constructed intentionally to keep Rand off message. And it has.

There’s a huge difference between playing politics to advance principle and pretending to be principled to advance one’s self. Rand is certainly no Mitt Romney and his problem has never been that he has too few principles but too many—at least in the sense that his libertarian ideals might not jibe with the sound bite driven, dumbed-down world of practical politics. In fact, this is exactly what his mainstream critics—both Left and Right—are now saying, at the same moment many of his hard Right and hardcore libertarian critics are accusing Rand of not having any principle at all.

In recent days there has been much criticism of Rand by the mainstream media, but more distressing, those to Paul’s Right. Daniel McCarthy of the American Conservative puts their concern into context: “Rand Paul is not running to be a spokesman for paleoconservatism or libertarianism, the role in which he has been cast by Ross Douthat [1] and many of his father’s supporters. He’s a Republican politician who identifies himself a conservative. By the standards of that species, he seems pretty good. If the species itself is something that paleos and libertarians cannot support, then so be it.”

“Pretty good” is right, and McCarthy not only reflects my own views on Rand perfectly, but explains why paleos and libertarians should support him: “I think the odds are that he’ll be better than his colleagues: if he wanted to be perfectly safe and unobjectionable to GOP voters, he would never have said anything critical about U.S. foreign policy. No group of voters ever gets 100 percent of what it wants from any political candidate. The question is, if you can get 80 or 90 percent, should you try to achieve that? If not, you aren’t in politics… I’m willing to give Rand Paul a chance. He won’t vote the way I want on every issue, but he’ll counter-balance some of the more ideologically imperialist forces in Washington. There’s a pressing need for that.”

Pressing indeed. Conservatives and libertarians upset by some of Paul’s questionable stances or rhetoric should remember there’s a reason Dick Cheney’s aide sounded the alarm early on Rand, or as the Politico reported in March [2]: “On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us,’ Cesar Conda wrote in an e-mail to figures such as Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor and Marc Thiessen.”

For all his ideological imperfections and occasionally disappointing stances, Rand is the neoconservatives’ worst nightmare precisely because a Senator Paul could feasibly wield significant anti-imperial influence. Yet, at precisely the moment Sarah Palin is being pushed aside in favor of Rand as the leader of the Tea Party—possibly bringing a much more Old Right brand of Republicanism to Capitol Hill and the masses—some of his father’s staunchest supporters seem ready to bail (even as Ron stands by Rand). My question is this: Are paleoconservatives and libertarians really ready to go “prime time”—enduring the inevitable awkwardness and discomfort of meshing their long marginalized philosophy with the mainstream—or are they more comfortable simply arguing among themselves?

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Rand Paul and the Prime-Time Test"

#1 Comment By Eric Dondero On May 27, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

A great many Pro-Defense Libertarians were at first skeptical of Rand and his campaign. We were deeply relieved to find him distancing his views on foreign policy from those of the father. Thankfully, he’s pretty much stood by his dad’s hardline economic libertarianism.

It’s almost the best of both worlds: Get the best of the dad – strong Constitutionalism and uncompromising support for market economics – lose the bad parts – non-interventionist, almost isolationist foreign policy that doesn’t see Radical Islam as a threat.

#2 Comment By Jim Bonney On May 27, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

Well said! I trust Rand and would rather that he be a US Senator in Washington that I can support on 80-90% of issues than the “alternatives”. Rand will by far represent the views of lovers of liberty
more than anyone else currently in the Senate in DC. Rand will be a terrific senator!

#3 Comment By Jack Hunter On May 28, 2010 @ 12:53 am

@Eric Dondero

If I believed that Rand was truly an interventionist to the extent that you seem to desire, I would have never wrote this piece or been so supportive of his campaign.

Any self-described “libertarian” who considers our current foreign policy somehow “pro-defense” not only negates his “hardline economic” stance (perpetual war and empire costs a lot of money and require big government), but is unquestionably pro-terrorist, something Rand’s father had to explain to opportunist hawk Rudy Giuliani during a 2008 Republican presidential primary debate. As both paleocon Pat Buchanan, who agrees with Rand on Gitmo, and Paul the elder believe–the terrorists do indeed fight us over here precisely because we are over there. Any “libertarian” that does not get this basic fact should probably quit subscribing to that label.

My guess is a Senator Paul will disappoint you, and Dick Cheney, on foreign policy more often than not by looking at pocketbook issues, not to mention the national interest.

#4 Comment By Bigmo On May 28, 2010 @ 1:56 am

I think this is a good point. But I have a feeling the more controversy the better it is for Rand. I don’t think that civil rights issue was something really big as most Americans probably did not see anything wrong with limiting civil rights laws to public places. Plus with a Black President, who really cares.

Its mass immigration that will be the tricky issue. For that Libertarians are not going to do. It needs to be a combination of Libertarians mainstream and a moderate White Nationalist minority. Only then will the Republican party be effective. It needs a Louis Farakhan like figure for Whites. Maybe not the biggest block in the party but at least an accepted one. Don’t democrats accept Farakhan as a legitimate Black leader as they did with Rev Wright.

#5 Comment By Royden Lippincott On May 28, 2010 @ 6:22 am

I would love to see Rand Paul in the Senate and would certainly vote for him if I lived in Tennessee. I was, however, troubled to see him cancel his “Meet the Press” appearance. It made him look cowardly, and allowed the intellectually challenged panelists to slam him and further their ridiculous assertions that libertarians are racist. Rand should have had the balls to face David Gregory and not allowed the smears to occur behind his back.

Rand could have pointed out the absurdity of discussing a 40 year old piece of legislation in the context of the present campaign. At best, he could have told the disingenuous Gregory that the same position has been espoused by Walter Williams who is, of course, an African American. I bet Thomas Sowell would also express the same views.

I also have a feeling Ron Paul would not have pulled out of the program

#6 Comment By Bill Clark On May 28, 2010 @ 7:48 am

I knew almost nothing of Rand Paul before his victory in Kentucky. I have been deeply disappointed by many things I have learned since. Aside from the CRA brouhaha (which he handled spectacularly badly), his position on foreign policy is deeply incoherent in its own right and inconsistent with his economic principles, as pointed out so well by Jack in his comment above.
I had been hoping to find, in Rand, a politician who could take up the Ron Paul banner when Ron becomes too old to continue the fight. Rand is not the one. More disturbing than his deviations from principle (and sense) with respect to foreign policy, is his inability to explain his positions sincerely and coherently, a thing at which his father excels. His mishandling of the questioning about the CRA creates the impression, whether accurate or not, that he will shift his position in response to the political winds. The example of Ron Paul has shown that this kind of political “expediency” is not necessary and that a significant portion of the electorate is demanding better.

#7 Comment By Royden Lippincott On May 28, 2010 @ 8:27 am

Yeah, I know. Kentucky. Sorry.

#8 Comment By Thomas Jefferson On May 28, 2010 @ 8:57 am

Let’s not forget that Rand Paul is only 40 years old, which is still quite young for the task he is given. His grasp of the complexity of the issues will only grow, unlike all those nutbars in the Senate who are not aware of the complexity of the world and who think they can simply make things happen like they want them to be. With time, Rand Paul will, like his father, sound more and more coherent, and will also have clearer ideas.

Besides all that, the point also remains that despite a few disagreements you may have with Rand Paul, he is still your better option for the Senate. If you think that you should leave the field open for his democratic challenger, think again.

#9 Comment By Adam Holtzapple On May 28, 2010 @ 9:54 am

Rand Paul has done a wonderful job explaining the context of his comments on the CRA, yet the media doesn’t want to give that air time. Instead, the keep pushing the “fact” that Paul wants segregation and to remove civil rights. It’s insane, people need to do a little investigating for themselves and stop listening to the liberal media.

#10 Comment By C_T_CZ On May 28, 2010 @ 10:07 am

I live in Holland, Michigan and support Rand Paul (and Ron Paul) completely. I look forward to donating to moneybombs as they are announced. I am able to look beyond any minor disagreements I have with either of them, because Americans need defenders of liberty in Washington.

#11 Comment By Michael Hardesty On May 28, 2010 @ 10:58 am

The fact that Eric Dondero would support Rand is reason in itself for limited government advocates not to support Rand Paul. Dondero represents the anti-libertarian Israel First warmonger attitudes exemplified by John Hospers, the Brandens & their cult and the Zionist nutballs at the Ayn Rand Institute. Radical Islam was never a threat before US
blank checks to Israel. It never existed as a movement before US blank checks to Israel. The US hasn’t been in a justified war since the American Revolution. Dondero and his fellow
neo-conservatarians hate good revisionist historians like Murray Rothbard precisely they debunk the good war myths
AND demonstrate that the greater growth of the US state is due to the warfare state rather than our dimestore welfare
(so-called) state. Even statist monstrosities like the 1964 CRA
were justified to show we were nondiscriminatory in competing with the Communists for world opinion. Federal
aid to education was also a result of so-called defense spending. It’s appalling to see Dondero endorsing Rand after he had tried so hard to smear Ron two years ago in conjunction with the CATO-REASON crowd.
I was also appalled to read that friends of Jack who allegedly believe in limited government could interpret criticism of the 1964 CRA as endorsing state segregation ! If we have this kind of ignorance in our own ranks………………
No, I can’t go along with Rand. I’m not looking for yet another
GOP nut endorsing anti-abortion statism in addition to a very
bad foreign policy. Maybe real libertarians should contribute to Jack Conway, at least check him out.

#12 Comment By Jeff Taylor On May 28, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

Excellent job, Jack. I especially liked your final question: “Are paleoconservatives and libertarians really ready to go ‘prime time’—enduring the inevitable awkwardness and discomfort of meshing their long marginalized philosophy with the mainstream—or are they more comfortable simply arguing among themselves?”

The belief that if A supports B then we shouldn’t support B and the suggestion that real libertarians should consider supporting Jack Conway are textbook examples of self-defeating behavior by those who prefer marginalized purity to real-world politics. Nothing personal, Michael. I share your contempt for armchair warmongers. But how in the world could Conway be better than Paul for liberty, constitutionalism, peace, or genuine defense? Because we’re disappointed by some of Paul’s positions or posturing, we should give money to his party hack opponent? That makes no sense to me.

Jack nails it: “There’s a huge difference between playing politics to advance principle and pretending to be principled to advance one’s self.” I’m convinced that’s what’s going on with Rand Paul. Politics is a game and there is some playing that must be done. Even Ron Paul tries to put his best, most-appealing foot forward and compromises by backing incumbent Texas Republicans.

The quotes from Dan McCarthy are also spot-on.

Eric ought to read Patrick Buchanan and Andrew Bacevich to learn the difference between defense and offense, between protecting a republic and maintaining an empire. If they’re not sufficiently libertarian, go to Murray Rothbard or Lew Rockwell. Or Ron Paul!

#13 Comment By Tug Rexwell On May 28, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

“Segregation does not need to be a topic of discussion in any debate with his Democratic opponent. It’s an irrelevant issue constructed intentionally to keep Rand off message. And it has.” – EXACTLY.

#14 Comment By Jeff T. On May 28, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

Unlike Royden, I was glad to see Rand Paul cancel Meet the Press. Enough already! Why argue the fine points of a 1964 law on national television in 2010? It’s a non-issue. A total distraction. For better or worse, you can’t un-do the Civil Rights Act or at least 1/10 of it. It’s folly to try in the middle of an election campaign. Nuanced theory does not translate well into televised sound bites. It was dumb to discuss it in the first place, dumber to keep discussing it.

I think Rand needs to stop appearing on the national media so much. He should keep his eye on the ball. Stick to campaigning in Kentucky. Talk to the local press. Stop doing all the national television, including Fox News. Why show up on NPR of all places? Screw ’em. Average voters in Kentucky may decide Rand is too big for his boots, that he’s more concerned about the national spotlight than their concerns. I know he wants to be a national Tea Party leader but he needs to get elected first.

#15 Comment By Michael Hardesty On May 28, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

I appreciate your thoughtful remarks, Jeff. But after observing real politik since 1960 I’m tired of supporting the not so lesser evil. Rand Paul will do more damage when he takes a bad stand than a thousand Jack Conways and the reverse is true,
a Conway taking a good stand will mean much politically than
a Rand Paul of whom it is (wrongly) expected. I can overlook Ron Paul’s theism and anti-abortion stand because he’s great on just about everything else. Not so with Rand. And one of the problems with giving blank checks to “our” guys is that then all the pressure comes from the other side.
I can remember Goldwater lecturing conservatives at the 1960
convention to “grow up” and back Dick Nixon.
As the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Rand is not a chip off the old block. Jack Hunter’s a great guy
but he hasn’t made the case here for Rand. And it’s not his
fault, it’s Rand’s.

#16 Comment By Bruce Layne On May 28, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

Michael Hardesty said, “Maybe real libertarians should contribute to Jack Conway, at least check him out.”

Bwa ha ha ha ha. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all week.

That’s a great idea… if you want to trade an imminently electable conservative who will be 90% libertarian for yet another leftist Big Government party hack who would score under 5% on libertarian issues.

I live in Kentucky and spent a HUGE amount of time as a volunteer in Rand’s campaign over the last 15 months. I know Rand. He is the man for the job. Nobody else is even close. Anyone who would even suggest Conway must be joking. If MoveOn and the DNC each spent a BILLION DOLLARS, that guy still wouldn’t be elected in Kentucky. No way. No how. Check him out at JackConway2010.com.

I hope Rand keeps gently introducing these issues that make people think about the status quo and the false history propaganda we’ve been fed. Call it conservative or libertarian, but people need to think about the role of government in our private lives, our private property, and our private businesses.

#17 Comment By Royden Lippincott On May 29, 2010 @ 6:33 am

Jeff T. has a very good point. Rand Paul probably should focus his efforts on Kentucky. I’m simply saying that it looked bad when Gregory announced the cancellation. And then we had to listen to Thomas Friedman say the US should be more authoritarian like China so Obama could get things done.

We finally have some libertarian sympathizers spreading the word, and it’s nice to get the exposure. Even the neocon Republican monolith at FOX NEWS is beginning to crack. Some libertarian voices are starting to be heard there, and Rand Paul is the most prominent.

#18 Comment By Lou S On May 29, 2010 @ 6:39 am

Good article. Rand Paul is the best candidate for Kentucky. I’m glad he didn’t do the Meet the Press interview. The Civil Rights Act is a non-issue.

Perhaps next time, his scheduler will think twice about sending him into a den of wolves.

#19 Comment By Andrew On May 29, 2010 @ 6:40 am

As a Kentuckian what I’m pbserving so far is there are a lot of yard signs, bumber stickers, banners by the road for Rand Paul. I have not seen any for Conway. The constant media barrage about Rand also encourages a certain contrariness in people here.

What’s going to actually settle this election is security and the economy. Conway is probably going to do the strong national defense, “I’m here to help Kentuckians, not be a national star” approach.

If Paul wins, and I think he will, it will show Republicans they can win an election without being a hard core hawk. That’s something I think TAC should regard as a signifigant victory.

#20 Comment By Michael Hardesty On May 29, 2010 @ 8:57 am

Bruce, I don’t know much about Conway but I do know enough about Rand Paul to be very wary of him. What’s the point of him introducing issues when he subsequently caves in ?
You give no specifics, Bruce, just a rah rah Rand. That won’t cut it.
Lou, your wrong, the 1964 CRA is an ongoing issue particularly in the area of employment. There are hidden quotas and much discriminatory behavior towards white males. Now the act has been broadened to include every
pressure group around. Public accomodations is an issue if you want to dine in peace in many restaurants. We have created special privileges for non-whites and this will either get reformed or worsened.
As far as Rand avoiding the national media that says more about him than it does them, as bad as they are.
Kentucky went for Bush 2 twice and they elect someone like
McConnell. I’m not impressed with their voting choices.

#21 Comment By Michael Hardesty On May 29, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

Bruce, your about Conway, what a zero. In a thread on the 1964 CRA two of his fans blasted libertarianism and Objectivism, which they feel influences Rand.
I saw the March TIME interview with Rand “I’m Not A Libertarian” Paul. Really bad stands on the drug war, federal legislation on abortion, Kentucky coal mine protectionism
and tough on national security.
Oh, well. He’s won.

#22 Comment By KDZ On May 29, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

Rand Paul can broaden his support by criticizing (and calling for better regulation of) Wall Street, and by insisting that ab–tion, which we are not supposed to talk about in a time of economic troubles, should be left to the state legislatures. The latter will appeal to many of the Republican faithful presently in the neocon camp, and the former will appeal to anyone who doesn’t idolize Big Business, including Goldman Sachs and its ilk. This won’t hurt him in Kentucky, and it will greatly help him nationally. If a novice senator like Obama can run for president on the thinnest of resumes–well, you get the drift.

#23 Comment By Sean Scallon On May 30, 2010 @ 6:19 am

While Rand will be better 99 percent of the U.S. Senate as now sits in that body, for Paul’s movement to prosper, it has to be more than just “Paul’s movement.” Other candidates, have be elected arguing the same principles and still others influenced by them. That’s starting to happen but the movement can’t expand into something larger unless others outside the Paul’s immediate circles and don’t face the same dilemmas they do advance politically.

#24 Comment By Michael Hardesty On May 30, 2010 @ 7:37 am

No one claims it is Paul’s movement. Rand explicitly disavows libertarianism in the March TIME interview.
Sure, he’d be better than Conway but so would a junkyard dog. That Palin endorsed him is unnerving.
Sean, I need to respond to your vicious post on the Chronicles site comparing Objectivism to Pol Pot.
Considering the tens of millions who have been exterminated in the name of Christianity alone that was rich of you.
Most Objectivists probably would not favor government subsidized abortions but I do because I think it is one of the better uses of my tax dollars. The alternative is the birth of millions of the underclass who assault each other and other
people outside their ranks. You have no right to be born and as Rothbard put it in The Ethics Of Liberty, what human being has the right to remain inside the body of another human being against that person’s will ? This is exactly paralell to the leftist environmentalist movement that proclaims the future has moral superiority over the present. Say what ? As Rothbard put it, what did the future ever do for us ? In the past 500 years of western industrial capitalism the future has always been more prosperous than the present so in the environmentalist and anti-abortion advocacy we are really sacrificing the less wealthy to pay for the more wealthy, a very peculiar moral pose. Fleming routinely censors libertarian views so it’s impossible to respond there.
Rand Paul’s views on abortion bother me a great deal. Whether he really believes them or is just pandering to his Bible Belt yahoos I don’t know. But further cooperation between Objectivist libertarians and the paleos is a nonstarter.
You won’t believe the civil war you’ll get over here if abortion is outlawed.

#25 Comment By Dan On June 4, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

Once the Rand Paul as racist garbage blows over the mainstream media will start on the Rand Paul is gay smear campaign. Mark my word for it, it is coming. The media elite has no response for Rand Paul’s challenge to orthodox so they attack the messenger not the message.