The Rand Paul Rorschach Test

Two liberals and a neocon interpret a Rand Paul speech.


For the writers here at Reason, the differences between the Rand Paul and Marco Rubio responses to the State of the Union address seemed pretty clear. But how did they look to observers outside the libertarian world?

The half-visible man.

Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon seemed more interested in the Rand Paul speech's sponsor, Tea Party Express, than the speech itself. (And to be fair, the efforts of a centralized operation run by Republican consultants to present itself as "the Tea Party" is a significant story.) But at the end of his article he recognized that Paul took more libertarian positions than rival Rubio on military spending and immigration. The article's odd omission is Paul's defense of civil liberties -- the section of his remarks that begins with a pledge "to defend the entire Bill of Rights, from the right to trial by jury to the right to be free from unlawful searches," then goes on to denounce "secret lists of American citizens who can be killed without trial" and to urge Congress to "stand as a check to the power of the executive," among other points. That part of the talk doesn't seem to have made an impression on Seitz-Wald, who didn't mention it.

It certainly made an impression on Jennifer Rubin, the most reliably neoconservative voice at The Washington Post. In a blog post headlined "Rand Paul should get real," she attacked Paul's position on military spending (and, more positively, praised the senator's interest in immigration reform). But it's the civil liberties talk that really sent her over the edge:

Then, however, Paul seems to hint at another agenda, saying he is going to insist on trial by jury and search-and-seizure protection. Hmm. We have those things, right? Does he mean for Gitmo detainees? Terrorists on the battlefield? And he objects to "secret lists" of Americans to be killed "without trial." Does he think we can't kill an American-turned-jihadist on the battlefield?

Yes: Just what sort of stuff might Paul have been referring to with those words? Such a mystery!

And then there's Steve Benen at MSNBC's Maddow Blog, who doesn't seem to see any differences between Paul and Rubio at all. If you read his post about the Paul speech, you can search it in vain for a reference to drones, the Fourth Amendment, Pentagon spending, or any other area where Benen's liberal audience might prefer Paul's positions to Barack Obama's. Wouldn't want to complicate the narrative, I guess.