Political Hay

The Obama-Lite Side of Rand Paul

Remaking the GOP as a left-leaning party?

By 8.28.14

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The target was Hillary Clinton. Calling the famously liberal former Secretary of State “a war hawk,” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) added in a recent Meet the Press appearance: “You know what? We are tired of war.… We’re worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she’s so gung-ho.”

One has to wonder. Was Rand Paul’s real target Hillary Clinton? Whom he correctly blames for the Benghazi fiasco? Or was it, as it strikes… Ronald Reagan? Not to mention conservatism and the timeless idea of what Reagan termed “peace through strength.” Reagan’s formulation long ago captured by Edward Gibbon when he wrote of the Roman Empire: “They preserved peace by a constant preparation for war…. they announced to the nations on their confines that they were as little disposed to endure as to offer injury.” There was nothing said about being “war hawks” or, for that matter, “neo-cons.”

In this corner Rand Paul is a favorite. He is right to show up at Howard University and Berkeley. He is right to stand on the floor of the Senate and make a fuss about drones. He was decidedly right to do the same over the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan. Not to mention taking on the privacy issue was correct. 

Yet what was intended as a shot at Hillary Clinton appears to be a worrisome endorsement of Barack Obama-style leftist appeasement. The very same far-left view of the world that, in conveying an image of American weakness, has provoked war and/or chaos everywhere from Ukraine to Syria, Iraq and the American southern border, with various actors believing America has made up its mind to withdraw from the world. Unable or unwilling to even defend its own border.

“We’re tired of war”? Doubtless true of every American. But invoking this Obama-esque line of thought indicates that Senator Paul agrees with the most left-wing president in American history, sharing the self-evidently disastrous belief that because Americans are tired of war they can simply declare victory and come home. Once the last American stationed somewhere abroad has his boots on American ground, America’s enemies will then just go away. Or so goes the Obama/far-left view. Which, apparently, Senator Paul agrees with.

Suffice to say there is nothing conservative about this, if indeed it is the Senator’s real view and not some sort of convenient campaign tactic to elevate himself in the GOP presidential crowd. There is even less about it that would conform to the world of libertarians. Islamists like ISIS are about a global caliphate, the very antithesis of libertarianism. Unless libertarianism is re-defined to mean libertarians will just roll over and acquiesce to the “convert or die” demand that is at the top of the ISIS list of demands, hoping then to be left-alone-Islamic-converts, this is hardly a campaign winner in a GOP primary race. And even, or perhaps make that “especially,” if Senator Paul became President Paul it would mean nothing less than a GOP endorsement of the Obama left-wing foreign policy that, as mentioned, has turned into an unmitigated disaster.

This isn’t Rand Paul’s first fling with the American left. Taking to the pages of Time to comment on the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Paul wrote:

 

Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them….

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

This is standard leftist rhetoric that reflects the Big Government view of race relations. Divide Americans into racial groups (“black and brown men and women” in the Paul phraseology), add Big Government, more money and stir. In fact, it is indistinguishable from these words:

A shocking 3/4ths of all persons behind bars for drug offenses are people of color as the Project’s website states, and for Black males in their twenties, 1 in 8 is in jail on any given day.

Thus speaks that well known conservative/libertarian advocate of smaller government and a colorblind America — the Reverend Al Sharpton. If a GOP presidency is to be based on a strategy of agreeing with Al Sharpton, perhaps it’s time to just repeal the 22nd amendment and re-elect President Obama, whose White House has made Sharpton it’s go-to guy on matters racial.

Politically speaking, if this is where Paul is headed, one gets the sinking feeling that a Paul campaign would be nothing more than a stylized re-do of the Romney campaign, producing the same results. Losing because unenthusiastic Republicans, seeing little difference between Romney and Obama, simply didn’t vote for Romney. 

Recently the New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy piece featuring Senator Paul and asking “Has the Libertarian Moment Finally Arrived?” On display were both the strengths and weaknesses of the movement, strengths and weaknesses that Paul himself reflects.

The strongest point both libertarians and Paul have going for them is their anti-regulatory, anti-spending vision. This is a decidedly welcome change from Establishment Republicans whose record is littered with a view of the world that Barry Goldwater used to scorn as the “dime store New Deal.” Things get murkier on social issues. The embrace of same-sex marriage does not include an embrace of polygamy, polyamory or a move to legalize adultery, although in fact some states have embraced the idea of removing the latter from the books. So one presumes all bets are off here, at some point polygamy, polyamory, and who knows what else will be embraced, all of which would effectively lead to the abolition of marriage. Abortion would seem to be a ready-made issue for libertarians. If anyone has a right-to-be-left-alone or a right to privacy it would seem to be the unborn child. Yet the Libertarian Party takes a pass, saying:

Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

In other words, the government will not protect a child’s life or the God-given right to life that is expressed in a growing unborn child. And giving to everybody the ability to decide for themselves just what — or who — constitutes life. The beginning of the downward slope that ultimately would remove everybody’s privacy.

Always amazingly, when it comes to foreign policy, libertarians cannot seem to get away from an addiction to the far-left McGovernism that was a staple of Ron Paul. Nick Gillespie of Reason is quoted in that Times piece as saying: 

“We don’t have to pretend anymore that radical Islam is an existential threat to the West. It’s herpes, but it’s not AIDS. It’s a chronic condition, but it won’t kill us. Just keep the attacks to a minimum.” 

Wow. “It won’t kill us”? Tell that to the family of beheaded journalist James Foley.

This is, of course, the very belief that was at the core of the unwillingness to oppose Adolf Hitler in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Hitler was seen as an unthreatening clown, a nut. The best thing to do, Americans were told, was to ignore him and let the Europeans deal with him. Even if Hitler got anywhere, went the line of the day, more established German politicians would rein him in etc., etc., etc. It was a violation of one of the most elementary principles human life teaches — the danger of the bully. In the case of a Hitler or today’s ISIS, these threats come not only with the promise of mass war and destruction but the fist of Big Government. Whether run by the Nazi Führer or a Caliph (as Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, styles himself), freedom and liberty were and are hardly the end result of their vision of government. 

There is a difference between “neo-cons” and Reaganite conservatives, a difference between running around the world jumping into this or that foreign war — and peace through strength. Reagan made a mistake in Lebanon, 241 Marines killed as part of an international peacekeeping force. So… out they came. He focused on ending the Cold War, dealing with the Soviet Union as the ultimate threat to not only America but to the freedom of East Europeans and others.

At no time did Reagan — who had nothing to do with sending Americans to Korea in 1950 -suggest that that all those tens of thousands of Americans in South Korea while he was president guaranteeing both freedom and stability should be removed. And they are still there, getting the job done. Yet when Texas Governor Rick Perry criticized Senator Paul’s foreign policy in the Washington Post as “isolationsist,” Paul took to the pages of Politico to object: First, he corrected Perry by saying:

I support continuing our assistance to the government of Iraq, which include armaments and intelligence. I support using advanced technology to prevent ISIS from becoming a threat. I also want to stop sending U.S. aid and arms to Islamic rebels in Syria who are allied with ISIS, something Perry doesn’t even address. I would argue that if anything, my ideas for this crisis are both stronger, and not rooted simply in bluster.

So far, so good. Then the Senator immediately went in the other direction, giving his foreign policy critics ammunition aplenty to paint him, as it were, as Obama-lite. The Senator wrote:

Unlike Perry, I oppose sending American troops back into Iraq. After a decade of the United States training the Iraq’s military, when confronted by the enemy, the Iraqis dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and hid. Our soldiers’ hard work and sacrifice should be worth more than that. Our military is too good for that.

I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country — a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Governor Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq?

I will not hold my breath for an answer. If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an “isolationist,” then perhaps it’s time we finally retire that pejorative.

Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t want to send U.S. soldiers back into Iraq. Is Perry calling the entire country “isolationist” too?

The let’s-intervene-and-consider-the-consequences-later crowd left us with more than 4,000 Americans dead, over 2 million refugees and trillions of dollars in debt. Anytime someone advocates sending our sons and daughters to war, questions about precise objectives, effective methods and an exit strategy must be thoughtfully answered. America deserves this. Our military certainly deserves this.

Tough talk like Perry’s might inspire some for the moment, but when bombast becomes policy it can have long and disastrous consequences…

Americans didn’t want to get involved in Europe in the 1930s, either. As Senator Paul surely knows, the America First movement, egged on by a prominent Republican Senator of the day, Gerald Nye of North Dakota, repeatedly made the case for not getting involved in terms not unlike Senator Paul has expressed in his rebuttal to Governor Perry. Tellingly, as in this account, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as Senator Nye was giving an enthusiastic speech to the group in Pittsburgh on December 7, 1941, he was told that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. Replied the stunned senator, “I can’t somehow believe this.” The very next day he was back in Washington, sheepishly voting with the rest of the U.S. Senate to declare war. Having let the threat grow unabated through the 1930s, the United States wound up fully engulfed in war, with some 400,000 American dead and over 600,000 Americans wounded. 

The very fact that Iraq is now falling apart is precisely because President Obama — apparently to the agreement of Senator Paul — removed American troops from Iraq. Troops that were in fact stabilizing the country. The two men got their way — and unsurprisingly the situation is now worse, the gates of hell are open, and the promised Islamic State that wasn’t supposed to happen is now in business and targeting America.

Senator Paul is a thoughtful guy. A nice guy. But if he is going to make the Obama foreign policy and old-fashioned McGovernism the centerpiece of a presidential campaign — and a Rand Paul presidency on racial issues a copy of Al Sharpton’s Big Government divide-by-groups strategy— then Republicans and conservatives will inevitably find themselves asking: Why bother voting if the GOP is being redesigned as the party of Obama-lite?

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.