Will Rand Paul Mainstream Libertarianism on the Way to White House?


Updated with Meet the Press clips! Scroll to bottom.

The Sunday morning talk shows are abuzz with disussion about a long and interesting article about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in The New York Times written by Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg. I'm not particularly familiar with Rutenberg's work, but Tanenhaus is a really sharp historian of ideology in American life and longtime respectful watcher of libertarianism (his bio of Whittaker Chambers is excellent; watch an interview Reason did with him here).

The Times profile is required reading for anybody interested in knowing more about Paul and, arguably as important, how the mainstream views him and will likely view him over the next couple of years.

Some snippets and commentary:

As Rand Paul test-markets a presidential candidacy and tries to broaden his appeal, he is also trying to take libertarianism, an ideology long on the fringes of American politics, into the mainstream. Midway through his freshman term, he has become a prominent voice in Washington's biggest debates — on government surveillance, spending and Middle East policy.

Ah, those furry, fabulous, freak-flag-flying fringes of American politics! As Matt Welch and I have been putting it, the U.S. of A. has been in the throes of ongoing Libertarian Moment for quite some time now, especially if you take a big-picture snapshot about attitudes toward government power (a record number think feds have too much power), about government "doing too much" (also at record levels), and broad acceptance of social tolerance (record highs for acceptance of things such as marriage equality and pot legalization).

In the piece, which includes interviews with Paul, he refuses to take the bait about "paleolibertarians" and apologias for the Confederacy that tripped up his father. Write Tanenhaus and Rutenberg:

Some scholars affiliated with the Mises Institute have combined dark biblical prophecy with apocalyptic warnings that the nation is plunging toward economic collapse and cultural ruin. Others have championed the Confederacy. One economist, while faulting slavery because it was involuntary, suggested in an interview that the daily life of the enslaved was "not so bad — you pick cotton and sing songs."…

Mr. Paul says he abhors racism, has never visited the institute and should not have to answer for the more extreme views of all of those in the libertarian orbit.

"If you were to say to someone, 'Well, you're a conservative Republican or you are a Christian conservative Republican, does that mean that you think when the earthquake happened in Haiti that was God's punishment for homosexuality?' Well, no," he said in an earlier interview. "It loses its sense of proportion if you have to go through and defend every single person about whom someone says is associated with you."

There's a lot in the piece about the rise of Ron Paul and the libertarian world from which he sprang (Reason's Brian Doherty is quoted). And there's this about Rand Paul's successful Senate run, in which he first fought off the GOP establishment's pick and then trounced his Democratic opponent in the general election:

His calls for slashing the budget and eliminating the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve resonated with Tea Party followers. And his criticism of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Patriot Act and detentions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had broad appeal.

"We underestimated Rand's ability as a political maneuverer," Mr. Skaggs, the former local [GOP] party chairman, said later.

Yeah, maybe. The implication here is that Paul is somehow pulling a fast one, as opposed to proceeding from basic libertarian principles which—mother of pearl!—have "broad appeal" with voters. Which they do.

The article ends with a scene from last fall's Liberty Political Action Conference, where Paul pere followed Paul fils on stage.

"I want a tiny revolution," said Dave Wahlstedt, from Minnesota, selling T-shirts that read, "Don't Drone Me Bro!" At a booth nearby, Matt DeVries, from Iowa, complained about the growing infringements of traffic cameras and speed traps. Other tables were sponsored by the Young Americans for Liberty, an outgrowth of Ron Paul's presidential bids.

"We exist to maintain the infrastructure to mobilize young people willing to work on a Rand Paul campaign," Jeff Frazee, the organization's leader and a former Ron Paul aide, said in an interview.

Read the whole thing.

Reason on Rand Paul.

Here are some clips of Paul talking and being talked about on Meet The Press:

Rand Paul Discusses RNC, NSA, Chris Christie and the GOP: Kentucky Sen Rand Paul discusses his opinion on NSA leaker Edward Snowden's actions, remarks on women made by Mike Huckabee at the RNC winter meeting and the future of the GOP. Watch here.

Rand Paul Talks Bipartisanship: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul discusses cooperation between political parties. Watch here.

Rand Paul on Hillary Run: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul talks about Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 run for president and whether her husband's transgressions will impact the race. Watch here.