"I think Republicans could only win in general if they become more live and let live," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tells Reason TV at Lincoln Labs' Reboot Conference, which was held July 18-20 in San Francisco.
Paul sat down with Nick Gillespie to talk about the future of the GOP, the need to reach the 80-million-strong Millennial Generation, why having a strong national defense doesn't mean constant military interventions, and what Washington, D.C. can learn from the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley.
When asked whether he would vote to end the taxpayer-funded Export-Import Bank, which helps foreign companies buy U.S. products, is widely seen as a leading example of corporate welfare, and is coming up for a vote in September, Paul replied:
Absolutely. If I'm a Republican and I'm going out and saying, "We have limited resources and we can't have everyone on food stamps," by golly I need to be a Republican who says "we're not giving one penny of corporate welfare."
About 13 minutes.
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Below is a rush transcript of the conversation. All quotes should be checked against the video.
REASON: Hi I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason TV, we're at the reboot 2014 Conference and we're talking with Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky. Senator, thanks for talking with us.
RAND PAUL: Glad to be with you, Nick.
REASON: What can the rest of the country learn from Silicon Valley?
PAUL: Y'know I think the amazing thing out here, is the relentless energy and drive to move forward, and they don't wait to say "Hey, how can government fix this, or how can even somebody else fix it?" They fix it themselves or they find a niche, like they find taxi cabs have a monopoly and they ask "how are we going to stop a monopoly?" and they start Uber. So I think it's just the amazing ingenuity and amazing that they're not going to wait for somebody else to do it.
REASON: They're not even thinking about government, they're getting on with their business and then dealing with it afterwards.
REASON: What can Silicon Valley learn from other parts of the country?
PAUL: Well I think one of the things is that Silicon Valley went pretty Democrat, they supported the president. I think they just need to reevaluate and say, "All the things we do here, the success of Silicon valley, would that happen if we had a big government that had internet taxes and internet regulation? Would Silicon Valley have ever developed if big government got in the way of the development of the internet?" In fact, people say that the beauty of the internet and why it's developed so phenomenally is that every other industry we have in the country is heavily regulated. It's one of the few industries that really has very little regulation.
REASON: Why do you think Silicon Valley has gotten more politicized, at least since the Microsoft anti-trust case in the early 2000s? Why has it gone so Democratic then?
PAUL: I don't think they're complete comfortable in either party. And I know you and Matt [Welch] have written about the demographics of where people are, and I truly believe the conclusion that a plurality of people are no longer Republican or Democrat. Silicon Valley I would put right in that demographic. If you ask people out here, "Are you more fiscally conservative? Less taxes than the president? Less regulations?" they'll say, "Yeah, I'm more conservative than the president." "Are you more moderate, more liberal than the Republicans on social issues?" They'll say, "yes." They don't fit neatly in either category. I think they're primed for someone who would come to them with a message that's not entirely Republican and not entirely Democrat.
REASON: You gave a speech here at the Reboot Conference and you were talking about how a company like Uber, or many internet services, they create their own regulation where even the drivers and the riders are being regulated. Does that new model of regulation work in, say, the coal industry? Can you do that new form of regulation in old industries?
PAUL: I don't know, that's a good question. But there is a question of externalities that in a way the two parties regulate but a third party is affected like air pollution and things. Many libertarians over time have written over how property rights should be able to stop pollution, or limit pollution, although it's fairly complicated in the sense that it's not an all or none. Sometimes society will tolerate somewhat. We all drive cars. We all have electricity. So there's some emissions and we have to, as a society, develop what is acceptable. Could that be done by the crowd responding to pollution? I'm not positive, but I do think that there are many things where government becomes overzealous in regulations, whereas the crowd, the people who buy stuff and judge as you sell it to me, they want a good product, but they also want an honest product that's fair and without safety concerns. It's a better role for the crowd to regulate things than the government because the government only knows the downside of regulation, they don't look at the upside of employment and distribution of products.
REASON: Talk a little bit about benefit corporations. You've been speaking a lot about that, and that seems to be pretty much in tune with Silicon Valley or the tech community. What is a benefit corporation and why do you think they're important?
PAUL: A benefit corporation allows a corporation to do something they think is good for the environment or good for people and they don't have to look as strictly at their bottom line. To me it goes along with the freedom argument that if you own your business, you tell your shareholders what you're going to do. You either always maximize profit or you're gonna mostly maximize profit and sometimes do things for the environment. I think businesses should have that freedom. I've supported something called a B-Corporation that allows you to file and say "Y'know what? Sometimes we're going to do something that's a bit more expensive when we get rid of our waste because we believe in keeping the environment clean."
REASON: This seems to be part of a broader social movement where work is a form of self-expression in a way that it may not have been 50 or 60 years ago.
PAUL: To me, if you talk about the health of the psyche, or the health of the soul, I think work's an amazing thing. It's a lot like what [Cato Institute president] John Allison says is "earned self esteem." No one can give you self esteem. Self esteem's important, and we've got a culture that loves self esteem so we want to give it to everybody. It's like "2+2=5" and "oh Johnny, we want you to feel good about that." Johnny needs to learn that 2+2=4 and then he can feel good about it and then he'll earn his self-esteem. It's also that, really our culture, we need to really reinforce with people how important work is, not as punishment, but as reward. And so, from a governmental point of view, that I want everybody to work. I will have plans that will have everybody work, not as punishment but as reward.
REASON: Foreign policy is an issue that you're at loggerheads a lot with, not just with establishment Democrats like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton but with members of the Republican party like Chris Christie, John McCain, recently Rick Perry. What is your foreign policy vision and how do you answer people who say you're a "namby pamby isolationist" who just wants to lock everything into a Fortress America?
PAUL: I think anytime anyone uses the world "namby pamby" we all fight so if you say that again that'll probably lead to fisticuffs.
Seriously, the number one priority of the federal government is to defend the country. It's in the constitution, it's constitutional, it's a priority. And for me, if you ask me, when tax dollars are sent by the people to Washington, where's the priority? To me the priority is in defending the country. Now when we get beyond that, then we would say, "How often should we be involved with a civil war in Syria?" I think there's a spectrum from, "we're never involved anywhere in the world" or, "we're always involved everywhere in the world." I think for many years, particularly the last dozen or so, we've been very close to everywhere all the time. I think there have been times in our history (Eisenhower, Reagan, the first George Bush) where we were much more towards the middle where we said "y'know what? War's the last resort. When we go, we vote on it in Congress, the people's representatives have to vote. That's what the constitution says. We go reluctantly." Or as Reagan said in one of his first inaugurals which I really like, he said, "Don't mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve." I think that's a good way of putting it. We should be reluctant for war and I think America wants is someone who will defend the country, someone who's wise, and someone who's not eager for war.
REASON: How can this be a hard sell to Republicans? To the establishment they're like, "No, this is all wrong." I mean Dick Cheney is having his fifth or 10th heart attack every time you say something like that.
PAUL: I think a few people in Washington don't really represent even the Republican movement. If you ask people right now, "Should we send American GIs back into Iraq," a majority of Republicans will say "no." In fact, what I would allege is that if we had 100 American soldiers who were volunteers and they were sitting here in the audience, and you were to ask them, "Do you think that we should go back, do you think you should be sent back?" I think they'd say "no" now. So I think really the opinion has shifted but I think the policy-makers are, a lot of the time, a decade behind the public.
REASON: Do you think it's going to be hard to untangle the military industrial complex that Eisenhower and other people warned about because when you start to say, "Y'know what?" And with the budget plans you put out it's not like you increase the baseline defense spending either by much or if at all. But the contractors, all the people who are one the tip for military industrial work, that's a lot of money.
PAUL: Today I ran into a guy who says, "I was military, my son's military," and he worried about a strong national defense. Even this gentlemen when I say that I believe it's a priority, but then I say, "You know what? We should audit the pentagon because we can't have a strong national defense if we're paying 1000 dollars for a hammer or 1000 for a toilet seat. So even if you do believe national defense, which I do, is a priority, you can't write unlimited checks because you'll bankrupt the country. The quickest way to decline and fall of America is bankruptcy. People have said that the biggest threat to our national security is bankruptcy. So really, I think believing in reasonable spending, even in military is a strong national defense position.
REASON: Reason recently did a poll of millennials, a national poll. Only 22% called themselves Republicans or leaned that way. Millennials, there's 80 million of them, they're the future demographically. They overwhelmingly identify in favor of gay marriage, in favor of pot legalizing, in favor of vaping and online gambling. Can the Republican party shed the social conservative issues which seem very central to its concerns? How is that going to work? Can they win millennials without becoming more libertarian?
PAUL: I think Republicans can only win in general if they become more "live and let live." Grover Norquist will talk about this sometimes, this "leave me alone" coalition. But in order [for the party to] work—and this is what a lot of people don't realize this and they say "oh well we want the Republicans to be the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage party—it may not be that but it may be that there are people in the Republican party that have those positions and some who don't, and that we all get along because we believe in limited government and we acknowledge that the federal government isn't going to be involved in some of these issues anyways. And I think that "live and live, agree to disagree" kind of amalgamation of people in the party will allow us to be big enough to win. I agree with you a lot on young people but I think also some other libertarian issues like right to privacy, the NSA overzealousness. Young people are concerned about their cell phone, that's the main thing they do with every hour of every day. I think if we became the party that's going to protect their privacy, you could get a large switch of Republican vote.
REASON: Final question: The Export-Import Bank is coming up for reauthorization. This is an FDR program from the mid-1930s; it helped subsidize purchases of American goods and the Soviet Union, it is one of the clear cases of crony capitalism. You voted against reauthorization in 2012. Are you going to vote against reauthorization again, yes or no?
PAUL: Absolutely. If I'm a Republican and I'm going out and saying, "We have limited resources and we can't have everyone on food stamps," by golly I need to be a Republican who says "we're not giving one penny of corporate welfare." I'm not for giving corporate welfare and I think a lot of people, if they knew that we had to cut all the corporate welfare in order to have a more reasonable government that can pay for itself, I think all of a sudden people would say, "that's an honest Republican." What they don't like is a Republican who says "I'm cutting the food stamps but by golly I'm keeping the corporate welfare." It's an untenable position and Republicans need to cast that off.
REASON: Alright, we'll leave it there. Thank you Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for talking to Reason TV at the Reboot 2014 Conference. I'm Nick Gillespie.