Rand Paul Speaks on Culture of Dependency, Hemp and the Farm Bill, the Racial Aspect of Drug War, and the Burdens of Being a Libertarian Poster Boy

I chatted with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this morning via phone about his State of the Union response, the farm bill, and bearing the burden of presumed political spokesman for all libertarianism.

His speech last night, released independently via the Internet rather than being an official Republican or even "Tea Party" branded response, stressed a theme that hasn't been a particularly big deal in American politics since the Reagan years--and indeed Paul summoned Reagan's spirit right at the start.

That's the dangers of a culture of dependency, how government efforts to supposedly help can trap the poor while ignoring the real, free-market ways of lifting people up the economic ladder. (And it is worth noting, and you'll read more about this from Ronald Bailey in the forthcoming April issue of Reason [subscribe now!] that American economic mobility has not actually been particularly worse lately than historically.)

"People feel trapped and it's not their fault, the government doesn't provide them an exit," Paul said. "They don't have an easy way to get out of dependency and if we are trying to fight long term dependency or long term unemployment we have to figure a way out. And that has to be the creation of a vast numbers of jobs."

Paul believes that government attempts to target its (really, our) money to the places where jobs can or should be created will tend to be ill-aimed. "The marketplace sorts through  who are the good job creators," Paul says, through a process of creative destruction that weeds out many, many failures.

So it's better, Paul says, to "give money back in the form of tax reductions" since "the marketplace, consumers have already voted who are the good job creators" rather than funnelling money to Washington to take its skim and than back to local communities in the hopes good things happen. That generally just leads to cronyism and government trying to shape outcomes it, rather than consumers and citizens, choose.

Paul in his SOTU response sounded very Reaganesque when he told the story of Star Parker, a former welfare user--welfare abuser, in her own telling--who decided to eschew dependency on government and became a successful writer, pundit, and even congressional candidate. She is black, and Paul has talked in the past of the importance of the Republicans reaching out to black constituencies. Does he think talking "culture of dependence" can help with that?

"I think the message has to be there is a way out," Paul says. "People who have been on welfare are not bad people, they are not wanting to be there" so Republicans need to promote "a way to get out from under that and into the middle class. It is a message you haven't necessarily heard from Republicans," Paul says. "It's not that anyone is condemning anyone for being poor, but we have to have a debate" about the best ways to lift people from poverty, rather than "saying 'Hey, we are Democrats and we are against poverty, we are the Party to go for if you want alleviation of poverty.'"

"They had a chance in Detroit and Detroit is a disaster," Paul says. "For many years [Democratic policies] have run many cities" and those policies "aren't good for cities and aren't good for the poor."

Given that he said in his SOTU response that "I believe in an America with a strong safety net," what are more specifics about the sort of government aid programs that need to be changed, curtailed, or killed?

"There needs to be a gateway back into the job market," Paul says. "Things that are permanent need to be made temporary, things that are duplicative need to be gotten rid of." And his vision of a basic safety net from government, Paul says, "should be closer to home, state vs. federal" and should be "transitional to getting into the work force, not lifelong or even, many times, multigenerational."

Thus, Paul along with Sen. Mitch McConnell last month introduced his "Economic Freedom Zones" Act which would lower tax and regulatory burdens in areas that are particularly economically troubled, with Detroit as his leading example of an area that could use it. How's that going politically?

"It's tough," Paul says. His colleagues from Michigan, Paul says, even though his plan would likely leave $1.3 billion in the Detroit economy, aren't showing much interest in the plan. "We are at odds. Democrats tend to believe midnight basketball or afterschool programs or education grants" will be enough to ensure that "jobs will be better, and they tend not to understand money needs to get back in the hands of people in private marketplace," especially "those already voted upon by consumers as succeeding in business."

The farm bill up for consideration this week has a provision to allow limited experimentation with hemp, a cause dear to Paul's heart. What's he think of that?

"It's a step in the right direction," Paul says. His own state of Kentucky has "tried to normalize and regulate hemp, let farmers do it. But people are still worried about getting prosecuted by the federal government," so he's "afraid we have not as ambitious a program" as he'd like. "l have legislation to completely legalize [industrial] hemp across America" and he's asked the attorney general's office to issue a letter saying that they officially will not federally prosecute people on state level farming industrial hemp.

As for the farm bill as a whole, "it's hard to vote for a bill with $800 billion of food stamps, even with belief in some safety net, it's not a belief in a safety net that goes on and on and is not paid for by corresponding cuts somewhere else."

Obama avoided the drug issue in his SOTU, though he's publicly mellowed considerably on the issue. Do the changing politics of the issue allow Paul to openly advocate things like full legalization or targeting the DEA as a government agency we could do without for fiscal sanity reasons?

He didn't address that issue specifically--perhaps as part of his general lack of desire to be the public spokesman for radical libertarianism that some want him to be, more on which below--but did say that we need to "acknowledge the war on drugs had a racial outcome, it may be inadvertent but it's hard to argue there hasn't been a racial outcome with three out of four in jail for non-violent drug crimes being black or brown."

"My goal," Paul says, has been "to figure out a way to get rid of that racial outcome" and stress that "penalties have been too harsh for nonviolent crimes." He's trying to "do everything I can to lessen mandatory minimums and allow people to have rights restored" if imprisoned for non violent drug crimes, so he's chosen to stress "the criminal justice angle rather than the legalization angle."

Many reporters try to press Paul to publicly speak up for purist libertarian stances, as I did, as CNN tried about the minimum wage last night, or to link everything any libertarian has ever said about anything to Paul, as the New York Times tried in its big profile on him Sunday.

"I've got half the libertarians on the Internet beating up on me for not being pure enough," Paul says, "and the rest of the mainstream beating up on me for being too libertarian. It's a box they put me in."

"But I'm in the business of trying to advance a philosophy and advance an economic program that's better for the country. And I'm also in the business of winning elections and trying to convince people to come in the direction of smaller government and more individual liberty," Paul says. "I sometimes wish for a little more forebearance among the purists, but I'm trying to do the best I can to advance a philosophy and program that is more individual liberty for everyone and is pulling in the direction of what some of the purists might want" even if they "might not see it as pure as they'd like."

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  • wareagle||

    of course, there is no easy way to get out dependency. That's the whole point, which I get that Rand understands but you have to wonder how many folks hearing or reading that speech do. Too many folks think govt help programs are well-intended means of giving a hand up, which they are not. They provide just enough that, often times, recipients actually take a step backward by going to work.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    "I've got half the libertarians on the Internet beating up on me for not being pure enough," Paul says,


    That LP Purity Test is a bitch!

  • Jeff||

    It really is. I mean, just because a guy shows up here every day and sucks King Barack I's dick like it's going out of style (and judging by his poll numbers, it is), everyone calls him a Team Blue shill, and all because of that stupid, stupid purity test.

  • Duke||

    Why does your handle link to a NAZI sympathizer? Are you a NAZI sympathizer too? And why do you call yourself a "buttplug?” You should show yourself more respect than that.

  • Jeff||

    You should show yourself more respect than that.

    No, he really shouldn't.

  • Juice||

    "They thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross, but I'm not a libertarian."

    We know.

  • Capo||

    Yep, and we should remember not to make perfect the enemy of good.

  • Spoonman.||

    There is a lot I am willing to forgive for an end to murderdroning.

  • Cytotoxic||

    No one is going to end something that's guaranteed to (rightly) get them in trouble when terrorists kill again. Reduced frequency, yes, but it must never be ruled out.

  • creech||

    Look, I can pass "the pure enough test" but I'd be happy for my kids and grandkids if a solid and irreversible 20 year gradualist plan could be put in place to get out of this "punish the achievers" mentality that this country wallows in.

  • Duke||

    I hear you. But I think the main problem is that government picks and chooses the winners. If you are politically connected, or are in a politically favored industry, you can have all the success you can stand.

    But if you’re in a disfavored industry, or you are not politically connected, you will always be punished.

  • SusanM||

    I think the mentalities at work in the US are more a general disdain for work, education and self-improvement. That's all stuff that no legislation or amount of money can change. Oh, there are plenty of graduates out there but I'd guess that to most of them their time in school was just half-assedly checking things off a list rather than any real achievement - with the expectations that going through the motions was itself a guarantee for success.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    I don't sense much of a cult of personality toward Rand here. Not that there are never any libertarian personality cults, just that this isn't one. Rand will need to be careful not selling out his base. Although I would hope he isn't inclined to do this in the first place.

  • John||

    But Paul never mentions how bad Bush was when he says these things. Ted Cruz is expected to do that. Why isn't Paul?

  • Christophe||

    Because Cruz is perceived as more closely aligned to Bush-era policies? I won't comment on whether that perception if fair or not.

  • Duke||

    Democrats tend to believe midnight basketball or afterschool programs or education grants" will be enough to ensure that "jobs will be better, and they tend not to understand money needs to get back in the hands of people in private marketplace...

    I don’t know if they really believe that, but that’s precisely what the Democrats have done to inner cities across this land. My former city of NOLA has plenty of b-ball courts and govt programs. It also has plenty of taxes, regulations, crime and poverty.

  • american socialist||

    Hi Brian, did you ask Rand how much he liked the Gore Vidal vehicle movie "Gattaca?" i've heard some things on the internet and apparently the answer is that he likes it alot.

    so, no, he doesn't support marijuana legalization, is a gay marriage bigot, and a pro-life authoritarian. a true blue libertarian if you ask me.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    You really should just change your name to "Democrat." It's shorter.

    Can you tell me why Barry says the rich don't pay their fair share and then claims every deduction he can on his taxes? How he favors immigration reform while setting records for deportations. Or perhaps you could explain how the most transparent administration EVAH just can't get enough NSA.

  • SusanM||

    So, a movie about someone who defies society to achieve his goals is bad how?

  • PH2050||

    SusanM, it's a snide reference to the accusation that he plagiarized the Wikipedia description of the move for a speech he gave.

  • SusanM||

    Oh, I see. It's a good thing Joe Biden never plagiarized a prominent British politician because then we wouldn't be able to get mad at Rand for getting information from a free, open source and barely reliable website.

  • american socialist||

    i see-- so its wrong when joe biden does it, but ok when someone you agree with politically does it. there's alot of that around here on this website.

    two things... first, i would start to question someone's intellect if they feel the need to copy, without attribution, someone else's work in general. second, maybe this is just me, but i'm a stickler for source. plagarizing from the great dissenter from the odious Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock, has more gravitas than copying from a wikipedia entry from a claustrophobic and muddled 1990s science fiction movie, no?

  • SusanM||

    "i see-- so its wrong when joe biden does it, but ok when someone you agree with politically does it. there's alot of that around here on this website."

    Pots and kettles, AmSo?

    "i would start to question someone's intellect if they feel the need to copy, without attribution, someone else's work in general." Unless it's Ol' Joe, obviously "second, maybe this is just me, but i'm a stickler for source. plagarizing from the great dissenter from the odious Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock, has more gravitas than copying from a wikipedia entry from a claustrophobic and muddled 1990s science fiction movie, no?"

    Picking up a snatch of trivia versus Heavy Political Speech...hmm. So you're saying that stealing something important is better than something trivial?

  • american socialist||

    Trivial to you maybe, but maybe not to the Heavy Political Thinker himself who, near as I can tell, challenged Rachel Maddow to a duel over the matter

  • Bobarian||

    Did you annotate the source for that, ie

    ibid. My ass

  • Will Nonya||

    Correct me if I'm wrong here but Paul uses references close to an article about a movie in a speech he gave.

    Who ever stops mid speech to cite a reference?

    Biden on the other hand blatantly plagiarized his own biography for no reason other than he thought he could.

  • american socialist||

    if by "accusation" you mean something that is completely and certifiably true. i agree with your characterization of the meaning "snide."

  • SusanM||

    If by "completely and certifiably true" you mean: "No one gives a shit because it's Wikipedia" then you're right.

  • PH2050||

    doesn't support marijuana legalization, is a gay marriage bigot, and a pro-life authoritarian. a true blue libertarian

    If that's the case then that means Obama at one time was pretty libertarian. I mean, he doesn't support mj legalization, he *was* a gay marriage bigot, and now he's an authoritarian forcing people to purchase medical insurance products.

    Obama used to be a libertarian. Mind. Blown.

    However, I wasn't aware that libertarians were really into the whole war and bombing children thing.

  • Jonathan G||

    #StandWithRand 2016. Just go ahead announce already! We're itching for it!

  • Tony||

    "It's not that anyone is condemning anyone for being poor, but we have to have a debate" about the best ways to lift people from poverty, rather than "saying 'Hey, we are Democrats and we are against poverty, we are the Party to go for if you want alleviation of poverty.'"

    This is a welcome evolution from the prior method of condemning people for being poor. Next step: stop advocating policies that make more poor people by design.

  • american socialist||

    God, you freaking liberals don't get it. we need to tell grandma that its time she stopped mooching by cashing those social security checks and move to rand paul's libertopian economic freedom zones. why can't you understand the wisdom of the latest in pop-austrian economic mumbo-gumbo explained by the Most Interesting Man in the Senate

  • PH2050||

    Lol Team Blue statist is mad he tried to read Human Action and couldn't understand it.

  • RishJoMo||

    Sorry man that dude jsut makes no sense at all.

    www.Anon-VPN.com

  • IT||

    Paul is more electable than ANY libertarian out there, and he isn't electable ... probably. When we are steaming the wrong direction with respect to personal liberty it helps to have someone turn the boat around, even if he will never take you up river as far as you would like to go.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Agreed, maybe paul isnt the purist we want him to be, but he can be the spearhead that eventually brought down the colossus, which is what we need direly.
    One man will not save the republic, he needs all of us, and he needs others like him and willing to push past him to get the more pure freedom we all seek.
    #standwithrand2016

  • NewTexian||

    If this dude is "the libertarian poster boy" I don't think "libertarian" means what you think it means.

  • BigT||

    "acknowledge the war on drugs had a racial outcome, it may be inadvertent but it's hard to argue there hasn't been a racial outcome with three out of four in jail for non-violent drug crimes being black or brown."

    Obummer and the Dems are pursuing a war on people of color. (Many Elephants are as well.)

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