Rand Paul

Rand Paul vs. the Libertarians

Is libertarian-ish good enough?


James Hohmann at Politico last week quotes me and some other people publicly associated with libertarianism to discuss where Rand Paul the presidential candidate stands in libertarian terms. His central thesis is that Paul is, in his own self-framing, declaring himself at best (in libertarian terms) merely libertarian-ish.

Hohmann sums up where Rand differs from the more steadfastly libertarian Ron Paul well:

here's no talk from the Kentuckian about ending the Federal Reserve, no quoting Friedrich Hayek and no laments about how the U.S. deserves a share of blame for terrorism – all hallmarks of Ron Paul presidential campaign rallies. Doom-and-gloom has been replaced by sunny optimism; the language of revolution has been supplanted by something that sounds a lot more incremental and a lot less edgy.

The Federal Reserve reads less vital as an issue in a time a few years past what legitimately read as an economic crisis to which they could be convincingly blamed. Talking of Austrian economists and American foreign policy crimes just doesn't sell to a mass audience, Rand Paul's campaign doubtless believes.

Daily Beast

Libertarian Party politicians quoted in Hohmann's article understandably push back against this GOP guy edging on their turf, like Gary Johnson the L.P.'s 2012 and could-be 2016 candidate for president, or in the case of 2008 L.P. presidential candidate and former Republican congressman Bob Barr, recognize that libertarian ideas might do a lot better in politics not weighed down with a third party label.

My quotes Hohmann used, which I'll present without further comment:

"The balanced budget stuff goes back to the '80s, and the term limits stuff was big in the '90s," said Brian Doherty, a senior editor at the libertarian magazine Reason. "None of that's fresh. None of that's a new vision … It's not really distinctly libertarian."

Doherty, author of the book "Ron Paul's Revolution," said Rand is determined to avoid a repeat of his problematic 2010 appearance on Rachel Maddow's show, during which he suggested that portions of the Civil Rights Act might be unconstitutional because they restricted the freedom of segregationist business owners.

Doherty said Rand, unlike his father, does not want to get burdened with theoretical debates about what happens when his philosophy is applied in full. "He doesn't want moments like that," the editor said. "I think that's the root of the prickliness…If you're a typical party hack of whatever sort, everyone understands you're just a politician … No one expects intellectual coherence from you."

I'll expand a bit on that last point, which might not be fully coherent as quoted: I believe that Rand Paul is just libertarian-ish enough, and came up from the movement as Son of Paul enough, that he has the libertarian's frustration with a world in which nearly everyone he meets rejects some of his core guiding principles and beliefs about important political matters, a frustration that comes out especially when challenged in a way a "normal politician" never is about the roots or implications of the philosophy that people dimly note you have. No one expects a normal politician to have principles that have implications or roots. They just have a set of attitudes that are roughly associated with their party coalition.

Libertarian-ish can feel great to a libertarian not used to seeing any respect or regard for his or her ideas in national politics. But it can also be aggravating—especially to the extent that a major candidate is saddled with the label and any given libertarian is asked/expected to justify or explain his every pronouncement. But that's a petty cavil about social and conversational awkwardness, while what a libertarian-ish politician could accomplish as president could be something actually important.

Nick Gillespie has recently written here about Paul's superiority compared to major party alternatives both on criminal justice and the drug war and overall.