Return of the Aqua Buddha! Rand Paul Survives Another Long Magazine Feature


The New Yorker has published an 11,753-word article on Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and his political navigations on the way to a 2016 White House run. The tepid, conclusion-averse nature of Ryan Lizza's piece—as opposed to more bold profiles in recent years in the New York Times Magazine and The New Republic—is encapsulated in the subhed: "The Senator has fought to go mainstream with the ideology that he shares with his father. How far can that strategy take him?"

While the article ends with some late-breaking pessimism on that question, in the form of quotes from observers doubtful about the salability of Paul's positions on foreign policy, criminal justice, and abortion, the piece begins by hailing the potential breakthrough nature of his candidacy:

Like many Republicans speaking before a black audience, Paul quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., but he also invoked Malcolm X. He declared, "I support the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act." If enacted, Paul's agenda would arguably do more to address issues that are important to the black community than anything that other members of his party are currently proposing. […]

In some respects, Paul is to Republicans in 2014 what Barack Obama was to Democrats in 2006: the Party's most prized fund-raiser and its most discussed senator, willing to express opinions unpopular within his party, and capable of energizing younger voters.

Much of the rest of the article is what you've read before about Rand Paul, only with more detail. Aqua Buddha makes a comeback, only this time GQ's unnamed target of Paul's collegiate pranking gets named, and quoted (saying "I would not use that as a specific reason not to vote for him"). Lizza also provides some important new anecdotal evidence that Paul's best college buddy was fond of doing nitrous hits (whee!).

We hear more about Rand's interest in campaigning for his father, but we get some extra sauce about his talent for the job. Paul's history of making philosophically-based arguments against the government prohibiting private-sector discrimination gets a few more citations (sample bit of 1982 writing: While "eliminating racial and sexual prejudice" had "noble aspiration," such laws "necessarily utilize the ignoble means of coercive force"). And there is the requisite people-in-his-world-have-played-the-race-card angle, complete with references to Ron Paul's newsletters, Jack Hunter's past, and Lysander Spooner's fanclub. But as indicated by the article's lead anecdote of Paul speaking in front of the Urban League, Lizza seems much less convinced by this critique than New York Times writers Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg were in their dot-connecting exercise this January.

After the jump, some bits of particular interest to Reason readers.

* Rand Paul does not enjoy paying taxes, or suffering through regulations governing what he can't do with his property. He also was a Lysander Spooner fan in college.

* His views on criminal justice have been heavily influenced by Michelle Alexander's recent drug war book, The New Jim Crow, and also by his ongoing engagement with various African-American communities.

* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said (in August anyway), that he'd back Paul if he won the 2016 GOP nomination. Quote: "I've seen him grow and I've seen him mature and I've seen him become more centrist. I know that if he were President or a nominee I could influence him, particularly some of his views and positions on national security. He trusts me particularly on the military side of things, so I could easily work with him. It wouldn't be a problem."

* Here's a single, thin, pre-political-career anecdote about maybe wanting to legalize drugs, which Paul will likely never advocate in office:

In 2000, when a caller to "Kentucky Tonight" asked guests what they thought of a plan to legalize all drugs, release all nonviolent drug offenders, and use the savings to fix Social Security, Paul responded, "I would agree."


As with so many aspects of his personal history, Paul approaches the subject of his intellectual influences as though he were defusing a bomb. In his book, he wrote about several libertarian writers he had turned to since high school: Ayn Rand ("one of the most influential critics of government intervention and champions of individual free will"), Hayek ("'The Road to Serfdom' is a must-read for any serious conservative"), and the Mises disciple Murray Rothbard ("a great influence on my thinking"). In my conversation with him, he shrugged them off.

Ayn Rand was just "one of many authors I like," he said. "And it's, like, 'Oh, because I believe in Ayn Rand I must be an atheist, I must believe in everybody needs to be selfish all the time, and I must believe that Howard Roark is great and Ellsworth Toohey is evil,' but she's one of many authors I've read. I like Barbara Kingsolver, too."

Hayek? "I wouldn't say I'm like some great Hayek scholar."

Rothbard? "There are many people I'm sure who are more schooled."

Reason on Rand Paul here.