They’re in a tizzy about Rand Paul. They don’t like his views on abortion, on gay marriage, on civil rights or foreign policy.
Given Mr. Paul’s likelihood of being a credible contender for the Republican presidential nomination, you might expect these criticisms to be coming from liberals. But in fact, they’re coming from conservatives, as exemplified by my colleagues on these very pages who have the long knives out for the Kentucky senator.
Jed Babbin is my friend and mentor. Disagreeing with Jed is rarely a profitable enterprise. A former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, Jed takes his national security (and other things) very seriously — as do I, not least because both of my parents were officers in the U.S Navy. And so, Jed set out last week to “pop the Rand Paul bubble.”
But with the preceding caveat in mind, I must push back.
Jed begins by attacking Rand Paul’s libertarian approach to civil rights in which Sen. Paul argues that discrimination should be permissible in the private sector while not permissible in the public sector.
Rand Paul’s view is neither, as my friend suggests, an example of “fundamentally conflicting beliefs” nor “cognitive dissonance” nor is it “intellectually lazy.” Indeed, it is fairly standard libertarian fare: Just because a behavior is repugnant (but non-violent) does not mean it should be illegal when it involves private citizens determining whom to associate (or not associate) with.
I have made the same point on the radio repeatedly: Private citizens should be able to discriminate; government should not. I say this even knowing that it means someone may tell me “No Jews allowed.” When conservatives argue that discrimination should be permitted in some aspect of private life but not some other aspect, that is cognitive dissonance.
Conservatives may disagree with Rand Paul’s libertarian approach, but saying that his views are “simplistic” or that they are mutually contradictory is false. They may contradict with your views but that doesn’t mean that they are intellectually incoherent. What is really intellectually lazy is to say that someone is “naïve” just because he is more consistently pro-liberty than you are.
Jed says, “There is absolutely no chance that a man with this record on civil rights will ever be elected president. Nor should there be.”
I disagree on both counts. Rand Paul went to speak to the NAACP. He is appealing to young voters in liberal enclaves by appealing on civil rights issues (not just race and discrimination, but the drug war, education, NSA spying, etc.) that people care about.
Unusually in a Republican Party famous for giving the presidential nomination to the guy whose “turn” is next, there is no clear front-runner going into 2016. Rand Paul has as good a chance as anyone at this point. I’m not making a prediction or endorsement, but it’s ridiculous to rule him out.
Jed has a more valid point when criticizing Rand Paul’s recent and not-so-recent statements about Iran, including the rather confusing, “I am unequivocally not for containing Iran. I am also not for announcing that the United States should never contain Iran.”
Sen. Paul says his critics (fairly numerous on the right, such as the influential blogger Allahpundit) are ignoring the fact that “foreign policy is complicated and doesn’t fit neatly within a bumper sticker, headline or tweet.” Jed offers a reminder to Paul that “the political world is round and when you go far enough to the right, you end up on the left. Rand Paul’s foreign policy would have the same effect as Obama’s because they are different only in names and labels.”
To be fair, part of Mr. Babbin’s instinctive refusal to give Sen. Paul the benefit of the doubt comes from his having interviewed the senator’s father, former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), during the elder Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign — a discussion which led Jed to make comments (which I agree with wholeheartedly) such as, “I’m not Ron Paul, so I don’t confuse America’s pursuit of its own legitimate interests with justification for terrorists attacking us.”
But Rand Paul is manifestly not Ron Paul, and is a better retail politician than his father. Just because Sen. Paul is not a neocon (and neither is Jed), just because he aims to be “non-interventionist,” does not mean he would not be sufficiently aggressive in the face of a nuclear-armed or near-nuclear Iran if he were in a position to do anything about it.
In the meantime, and meeting Jed’s reluctant approval, Senator Paul is introducing a bill to end U.S. aid to the Palestinians after the formation of a “unity government” between Fatah and the terrorist organization Hamas (not that Fatah is a bunch of nice guys either). Again, unlike his father, Rand Paul knows who our enemies are.
Given the war-weariness of the nation as a whole, and since most voters won’t parse the language as carefully as someone with Jed Babbin’s expertise will, Sen. Paul’s foreign policy cocktail of occasional ambiguity blended with strong overtones of “let’s just try to stay out of it” will have tremendous appeal to young voters and moderates, whom the next Republican candidate must do better with than the last GOP failures did. (Romney won independents in swing states but not by enough to overcome reduced turnout among the GOP base and high turnout for Democrats among minorities and young adults.)
What I would ask Jed Babbin — and I honestly don’t know his answer — is whether on this specific question (a nuclear or near-nuclear Iran) he would sooner trust Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton to do what needs to be done. To me, the answer is obvious: we have several years of demonstrated Clinton incompetence on the world stage, not least Benghazi, to disqualify her from the presidency. For Jed to imply that Rand Paul is equally disqualified is both unfair and unwise. (Initially on the Rand vs. Hillary question, Jed would certainly say “neither”; but he and other conservatives may face this very question.)
Jed says that “Paul is a libertarian first, a Republican second, and a conservative only when his libertarianism accidentally intersects with conservative values.” Apparently Mr. Babbin means this as an insult, but Mr. Paul would probably take it as a compliment. I know I would. What politician today would proudly claim “Party before principle!”? And to the extent my view is shared by the broader electorate, it is the reason that Rand Paul may appeal to voters who have been out of reach to Republican candidates in recent elections.
That leaves one political question: If conservatives find Rand Paul more libertarian than they would prefer, will they react by staying home on Election Day, voting for another four years of Democratic rule by default? Frankly, I think there is almost no chance that even Babbin, despite all protestations to the contrary, would refuse to vote for Rand Paul knowing that he would be doing his own small part to elect Hillary Clinton or whoever else the Democrat nominee might be. I could be wrong.
Unfortunately, Jed isn’t the only Spectator critic of Rand Paul.
Our very own Natalie deMacedo, a student at Hillsdale College, offers frequent opinions at the Spectacle blog. A recent contribution was entitled “What’s the Matter With Rand Paul?” It excoriated the senator for not promising to push for a federal ban on abortion. (She also assails him for saying that Republicans may be going too far in trying to eliminate all early voting in order to minimize voter fraud while she jumps to an erroneous conclusion that Sen. Paul opposes voter ID laws.)
Natalie didn’t mention, though other conservatives have, being displeased with Rand Paul’s recent statement that while he is a supporter of traditional marriage he would prefer to leave questions of marriage to the states rather than injecting the federal government into the debate, a position he has held consistently.
Natalie is concerned that Rand Paul is chasing “young libertarians and minorities” while somehow not sufficiently recognizing that “24 percent of the U.S. population is Catholic and 26 percent is evangelical protestant Christian.” It’s probably a mistake to cite Catholics in this realm; they are a consistently pro-choice force in the United States, much to the bishops’ dismay. Hispanic Catholics more anti-abortion than white non-Hispanic Catholics, but those in the latter group are more likely to vote. And one shouldn’t assume that evangelicals are in a hurry to increase federal involvement in abortion policy or anything else.
There’s no doubt that the country has been steadily drifting toward a more pro-life position; it’s now about a 50/50 issue in the country, depending on which poll you read, a substantial change from a clear pro-choice majority not too many years ago. But what Natalie misses in pushing Senator Paul to be more aggressively anti-abortion is that the same 2012 Gallup poll which reports “’Pro-Choice’ Americans at Record-Low” also shows that only 20 percent of Americans think it should be illegal in all circumstances; more than half believe it should be legal under some circumstances. Why should a Republican who actually cares about winning elections jump into this morass at the federal level?
Leading with social issues has much to do with the GOP’s persistent gender gap and allows the bogus but effective charges of a “war on women” — an accusation that has unfortunately seemed to be confirmed by boneheaded Republican candidates making unconscionable statements like “legitimate rape.” Conservatives routinely claim that deemphasizing a federal government role in morality is some sort of cave-in or surrender. If recent elections prove anything, it is the massive damage to the country — not just when it comes to social issues but also on issues of economics and national security which most people care more about than abortion — that results from losing.
Ms. deMacedo suggests that “Paul’s new chatter is risky and perhaps better suited for a third-party political candidate.” Again, I disagree with this “he’s all but disqualified” conclusion. Rand Paul is pro-life but not going to hit the extreme edge of that position. The same with marriage. And probably the same with any other social issue you might name. His personal views are conservative; his politics are, in true keeping with the nation’s Founding, constitution-oriented and federalist. Republican fear and loathing of this approach is historically bizarre and politically foolish.
Rand Paul’s approach is smart policy and smart politics. Those who want to move the country in a socially conservative direction should heed the words of evangelical Christian author Kevin Miller who prescribes “freedom nationally, virtue locally, or socialism.”
Senator Paul is the embodiment of this sentiment, or at least as close as we’ll get to it in a high-profile impactful Republican.
It is one thing to have an honest disagreement. It is another thing entirely for conservatives (who should know better) to engage in poorly thought out name-calling against a man who, albeit more libertarian than many on the right would like, has Millennials and moderates listening to a Republican more attentively than at any other time during Natalie deMacedo’s young life.