Rand Paul

The Earl Weaver Case for Rand Paul's Libertarianism

Instead of dwelling on how the candidate falls short on foreign policy, it's worth imagining what a President Paul might do


It's too early for alt-text. |||

Since even before his primary victory against GOP establishment senatorial pick Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Rand Paul, arguably the most libertarian senator since Barry Goldwater, has been subject to a perhaps-surprising level of criticism from libertarians, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

In a May 2010 Reason profile of Paul, W. James Antle, III, found some fans of Paul's father who were already worried about the son:

"Rand is terrified of the foreign policy his father has supported," opines a libertarian activist who says he was rebuffed when he tried to arrange a meeting between Rand Paul staffers and J Street, an organization that bills itself as a more dovish Israel lobby. […]

"All of the signs I've seen so far are bad," the activist says. "And politicians usually get worse rather than better once they're in office. But we're still trying to be hopeful." Another professional libertarian declares that the candidate will "either be exactly the kind of thing we need, someone who is reliable on the most important things but willing to be tactical when he needs to be, or he'll turn out to be so pragmatic that he's indistinguishable from other Republicans."

More recently, in Tuesday's New York Times, Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty criticized Paul for not campaigning as a more hardcore libertarian, a charge that has been echoed with some frequency lately in publications sympathetic to the foreign policy views of Ron Paul. With respect to the diversity of opinion out there, and with the intimate knowledge that libertarians are more difficult to herd than wet cats during a catnip binge, allow me to suggest a different tool for thinking about the issue: Earl Weaver. 

It was a simpler time. ||| Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun

Who was Earl Weaver? One of the greatest managers in baseball history, a Hall of Famer who won one World Series (though it shoulda been more), four pennants, and six division crowns with the Baltimore Orioles from 1968-1986. While known by the casual fan as being the most comical of the 1970s' many umpire-hating rageaholics, and steward of arguably the best defensive units of all time, Weaver is also famous among non-baseball managers for his singular, utilitarian approach to appreciating and managing talent.

Here's how Jeff Burd put it in the Baseball Research Journal:

Weaver credits his ability to evaluate talent with the epiphany he experienced when he realized he would never play in the majors. In [a 1979] Time article, he said, "Right then I started becoming a good baseball person, because when I came to recognize, and more important, accept my own deficiencies, then I could recognize other players' inabilities and learn to accept them, not for what they can't do, but for what they can do." 

Italics mine. As Bill James elaborated in his eponymous guide to baseball managers:

If [a player] can't hit a breaking pitch, you don't play him against Bert Blyleven [who had the best curveball in the game]. If he can't run, you pinch-run for him—but you don't let that stop you from developing what that player can do. It's the things that players can do that will win games for you.

Now, managing baseball players and evaluating politicians are not quite the same thing, and being too quick with embracing a least-worst strategy in electoral politics can quickly get you to unhelpfully anti-libertarian places like enthusiastic support for George W. Bush or Richard Nixon. But for all of Sen. Paul's real and postulated deviations from the libertarian script (pretending for the moment that such a fixed thing exists), when you focus instead on the libertarian-friendly things a President Paul still might plausibly accomplish, it's pretty easy to turn that frown upside-down.

That goes first of all to the area that Ron Paul fans hit the son hardest: foreign policy. Here's what Paul said in New Hampshire last week:

"The other Republicans will criticize the president and Hillary Clinton for their foreign policy, but they would just have done the same thing — just 10 times over," Paul said on the closing day of a New Hampshire GOP conference that brought about 20 presidential prospects to the first-in-the-nation primary state.

"There's a group of folks in our party who would have troops in six countries right now, maybe more," Paul said.

I predict that after 10 more months of that kind of talk, quite a few currently disillusioned anti-war libertarians will be singing a somewhat different tune. Of the 19 potential GOP candidates who visited New Hampshire this weekend, there were basically 18 hawks and one Rand Paul. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), arguably the most knowledgeable and qualified of the interventionists currently showing a pulse at the GOP polls, was even more gung-ho about bombing Libya than Hillary Clinton; Rand Paul might be the only major-party candidate able to convincingly make the opposite case.

The president of the United States has unusually wide latitude to make decisions about foreign policy and war. Even with Paul's refreshing emphasis on Congress's constitutional responsibility for the war-making power (which itself would mark an executive-branch restraint not seen in my lifetime), he would certainly be the least interventionist president since at least Ronald Reagan, and perhaps since Herbert Hoover.

Who was the most influential opponent to U.S. intervention into Syria in the fall of 2013? Rand Paul. I may not fully understand, let alone agree with, the senator's position supporting a limited bombing campaign against ISIS (see an extended foreign policy Q&A I conducted with Paul from our January issue), but he has managed to mainstream intervention-skepticism within the GOP in a way that was just not conceivable before he came along. 

As for resisting the post-9/11 encroachment on American civil liberties, Paul has no real peer in either party. This exchange on civil liberties between the senator and I, from September 2013 but published here for the first time, depicts someone knowledgeably concerned not just with the underlying issue, but with how political power corrupts even libertarian instincts:

Rand Paul: People are amazed when I tell them that their visa records are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. And frankly that's the other thing that the FBI said in their drone thing, the NSA thing, when I went and asked about this. No records—this is really probably consistent with where the court is—no third-party records are protected by the Fourth Amendment at all. And that's wrong; we made the wrong decision, and I think because of technology, when the Supreme Court revisits it, I think they're going to restrain. They may not go as far as I want to go, but I tell people all the time, your visa records can tell whether you gamble, you smoke, whether you drink, whether you go to a psychiatrist, what medicines you take, because a lot of us put everything on our Visa cards. You can tell probably what medicines I take because I probably put it on my Visa card. You can probably figure out the pricing, and you can probably backtrack and figure out what medicines I take.

And that is an invasion of privacy, a huge invasion of privacy, and it's not any less mine because I let Visa hold my records. In fact, it's one of the biggest problems of the PATRIOT Act, and where people get confused is, they gave liability protection to all the telephone companies; it was a huge mistake. Even though I don't like lawsuits, and I don't like all the stuff that goes on that inhibits doing business, you should never give them liability [protection], because now they don't care about my privacy, they don't care about my contract.

Q: Which Obama flipped on in early 2008.

RP: Um, as president—he actually voted the other way, right, as a Senator?

Q: Yeah, but he changed position before the election after he'd already sort of secured the nomination against Hillary, he was like "Well, maybe I've changed my mind."

RP: It worries you because then you think, gosh, people really voted for something so diametrically opposite of what they got. And did he really change or was he always just sort of this person who didn't have that much respect for civil liberties and he voted that way because he thought that's what people wanted in his district?

Q: It's a great question. Because he did speak convincingly about this stuff.

RP: I think it would be the exception rather than the rule, and I'm not sure I could tell you which president actually stayed true to believing, that power corrupts and that it needs to be limited. I use the Lincoln quote, where he says if you want to test a man's adversity give him power, you know. Many men can stand adversity, but few can stand the test of power. And that's, I think, really what happens. It's that, and they believe in their own goodness.

If Rand Paul were to somehow wind up as president, and then conduct a 180 on civil liberties, it would be one of the biggest and most surprising con jobs in the modern history of American politics.

The libertarian tendency in American life and politics continues to grow in ways that frequently outpace even the biggest optimist's expectations. The 2nd Amendment was finally enshrined as an individual right. Recreational marijuana has been legalized in four states and the District of Columbia, with many more to come. Gay-marriage recognition from government is all but codified. And at long last, criminal justice reform has come tantalizingly within grasp, thanks in no small part to the leadership of Rand Paul. On the latter point especially, the amount of potential good that having a libertarian-friendly executive atop the federal law enforcement apparatus is vast.

There is no single right way to look at politics, or a politician, or an election. It's also important to remember, as Jeffrey A. Tucker reminds us here, that "People who invest themselves in the presidency somehow never come to terms with the reality that under the democratic nation state, no man or woman is a dictator." In other words, on that still-largely-unthinkable chance that someone genuinely influenced by libertarian views ascends to the White House, it's just not gonna be Libertarian Christmas every day. There's a deep state, a bureaucracy, and a country, that still requires constant convincing.

For the next 15 months at least, that project of persuasion will, in my judgment, be advanced by having a libertarianish "constitutional conservative" in the news every day campaigning for president against the likes of Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton. At least I think Earl Weaver would have thought so.

Read Reason's Rand Paul reader here.

NEXT: Seizing the Fort

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Instead of dwelling on how the candidate falls short on foreign policy, it’s worth imagining what a President Paul Obama might do

    /every hopeful prog circa 2008

    1. I’m just a liberal so I can’t speak for progs but Obama did exactly what he said he would do – get out of the quagmire in Iraq and find the real killers in Pakistan.

      No imagining needed.

      1. and find the real killers in Pakistan

        By droning wedding parties, using a secret kill list?

        Did I miss that quote by Senator Obama back in 2008? “If elected president, I will unilaterally declare wars without congressional approval in countries that posed no threat to the U.S., have a secret due process free kill list where I murder Americans without any oversight from the other branches of government, I will …”

        1. Come on prole, give the guy a break. He never said he wouldn’t do those things, now did he?

  2. Paraphrasing Earl Weaver here who said the best strategy in baseball was a three-run homer. Rand Paul doesn’t have one. NSA snooping is a single or double at best. Federal legalization of weed or getting completely out of the Middle East would be a three-run homer.

    1. The Giants and Royals both made the World Series last year without the huge bats. The teams that were expected to make the World Series in that fashion fell flat on their,face.

      I’d prefer a manager that uses defense, strategy on offense and gets the most out of his players. A “three run homer” as strategy is the political equivalent of invading every nation that would give us shit. And like your hero Obama and his understudy Clinton, whom you also appear to slobber over, that’s what they’ve proposed and done, which has led to the ever-growing shitshow in the Mediterranean.

      1. In fairness, Weaver said “pitching, defense, AND three-run homers.” His teams were as fundamentally sound as any that ever played.

        1. I was commenting at Captain Numbnuts (incomplete) paraphrasing. As usual, he’s wrong.

        2. What Weaver would do is get two flawed presidents, but with different flaws, then platoon them. The combo of Roenicke and Lowenstein was one of the best outfielders to ever play the game.

      2. In fairness, Weaver said “pitching, defense, AND three-run homers.” His teams were as fundamentally sound as any that ever played.

        1. OH NOZ! The squirrels are in trouble now!

      3. Remember that Weaver managed three teams with three or more 20-game-winning pitchers. He had eternal Golden Gloves like Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, and Davey Johnson. He had the deadly arm of Rick Dempsey to nail base-runners.

        1. Don’t miss this gem on team speed:


  3. One of my favorite Earl stories was from when he was managing in the minors. The organization had some lumbering slugger they wanted to play at third. But Earl put the guy at 1st base, because he was a such a leadglove and Earl wanted to win. He would fake game reports he sent the big club and lived in fear he would be found out and fired.

  4. “There’s a group of folks in our party who would have troops in six countries right now, maybe more,” Paul said.

    Umm, we have troops in about 100 countries right now.

    1. Fighting? (And I don’t mean drunkenly with the Frankfurt Polizei)

      I think that is implied(?)

      1. I’m pretty sure Special Ops forces killing people in other countries don’t hold press conferences telling about their kills.

        If he meant major wars, then sure.

  5. I appreciate your perspective, Matt. But if we’re going to propose electing Presidents like baseball managers, I’d suggest we get one like Lee Elia who will tell the American people what’s what.

    Or at least talk to the media the way they deserve.


    1. Reds manager yesterday did basically the same thing.

      1. Yeah, that was pretty epic. And from what I understand, it was completely directed at Rosencrans from the Enquirer. The rest of the media were there to witness the occasion. Lucky bastards.

      2. Also, anybody that goes on a tirade, whether after a baseball game to reporters or at the conclusion of a cocktail party for a foundation to one of their favorite writers while highly inebriated and waiting for the valet to bring their car, should be given a break.

        That’s my opinion anyway.

        1. Does video exist of the latter event?

          1. Jesus. I hope not.

  6. ” Rand Paul, arguably the most libertarian senator since Barry Goldwater, has been subject to a perhaps-surprising level of criticism from libertarians,”

    This is why we can’t have nice things. I swear it seems like half of all libertarians are more concerned with arguing about who the one true libertarian is than getting anything done.(Hihn, I know you’ll be here eventually. Fuck off in advance) Also, I think libertarian activist and journalists would do well to remember how broad a term libertarian is, and keep in mind that many (most?) libertarians approach subjects from a different angle.

    Good article Matt.

    1. I’ll go along with this. Good article on stepping back and seeing the big picture.

      Although Hihn I simply do not understand, literally. His vomit is like a stream of consciousness, interrupted. About as soon as I begin to make some sense out of a few words, his perspective jolts elsewhere. Like clouds in the sky distorted as if the jet stream had diverted course for a second or two. One minute you see a head, the next minute a horse’s ass.

      1. That’s because his sole purpose in coming here is to be an asshole. He’s not looking for a discussion.

  7. Do you want to legalize fruit-flavored, chewable, Flintstones PCP, Matt?

    1. Mmmm, fruit-flavored, chewable, Flintstones PCP!!

  8. Personally, I’m not bothered by him not advocating for overly controversial libertarian positions like legalizing prostitution or heroin. What does bother me is him not supporting issues that libertarians are finally winning on like gay marriage, marijuana legalization, and cutting military spending. In other words, it’s when he takes unlibertarian positions that are unpopular with the electorate that bug me.

    1. I thought he supported cutting military and at the very least supported states rights on pot? Gay marraige is a non issue as it’s moving forward regardless of who’s prez.

      1. He did, but the last budget he released showed an increase, with offsets by cutting various popular domestic programs. He is a federalist on marijuana, but the elephant in the room is the federal government. While states were the worst actors, the federal government also was causing problems for gays, and he made the same excuses when he voted against legislation for gay rights (this was before the marriage issue was settled). Saying that you are federalist on federal issues is just another way of punting.

  9. That Rand Paul is less than wholehearted in embracing the doctrines combining of “don’t worry, other countries have absolutely nothing to do with us and will work out their own issues” and, “the masses of people fleeing those problems won’t bring them along with mass immigration” isn’t exactly a liability imho.

  10. If it’s Rand vs Hillary, I vote Rand (not that I think he’ll get the nomination altough he has the best chance at getting independents of all the gop candidates thus far I would think). Otherwise, I’ll most likely vote for whatever libertarian can get on the ballot or not vote at all.

    1. What if it’s Bob Barr?

  11. My dear, the next five minutes can change your life!
    Give a chance to your good luck.
    Read this article, please!
    Move to a better life!
    We make profit on the Internet since 1998! ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  12. My dear, the next five minutes can change your life!
    Give a chance to your good luck.
    Read this article, please!
    Move to a better life!
    We make profit on the Internet since 1998! ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

    1. I thought squirrels liked nuts, not spam.

  13. So I read this and have failed to find the part where “it’s worth imagining what a President Paul might do”.

    Was it before or after the rambling baseball tangent? Did it mention anything about the executive ability to reschedule drugs listed on the CSA? Did it mention anything about positioning the AG to enforce civil rights violations by state, local and federal police? Did it cover the executive reshape of the ATFE’s, DEA’s, FBLM’s, USC&BP;’s & EPA’s missions and authority? No? Hmm.

    All I saw was some crap about how his shitty foreign policy stance hasn’t changed? Oh fucking well, Reason!

    1. Did you think Rand Paul would nominate an AG who would not reschedule or deschedule cannabis? Or do any of those other things?

      1. No, I have no confidence whatsoever that he will do any of those things. Nut even if he did you would think those things would be the focus of an article subtitled with, “…it’s worth imagining what a President Paul might do” – you know, cause those are things we would like to see him do.

  14. “I may not fully understand, let alone agree with, the senator’s position supporting a limited bombing campaign against ISIS.” ISIS was born in Syria, and it initially operated there. Rand Paul opposed intervention in Syria, and as far as I can tell, he still does. The neocons were hot to trot to go into Syria because it was an opportunity to take out Assad, and Assad is aligned with Russia. For any intervention in Syria, the neocons were well-positioned to make sure the military campaign quietly evolved into an anti-Assad campaign (i.e., targeting fewer ISIS targets and more Syrian regime targets over time). Indeed, all the talk about helping “moderate” rebels was a pretext. They wanted to help the rebels because the rebels were fighting to overthrow Assad, period.

    It was when ISIS unexpectedly broke out of that country and invaded neighboring Iraq that Rand Paul and others began to support war on ISIS. The U.S. had created the fundamental vulnerability in Iraq by invading it and causing a power vacuum, plus we had promised to support the Iraqi government over the years. Many felt there was a moral responsibility to act in this case, plus our reputation for living up to our word was at stake, even if there was little we could do in the way of effective action. It’s hard to begrudge Rand Paul over this. This is why we should not get involved with foreign countries’ internal affairs when the rights of Americans are not at stake.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.