“The most interesting man in politics” is what Politico Magazine crowned Rand Paul in September, when it placed him at the top of a list of 50 people to keep an eye on. And Time magazine used those exact six words, in that exact order, next to a photograph of Paul on its cover last month.
The adjective bears notice. Interesting. Not powerful. Not popular. Not even influential.
They’re saying that he’s a great character.
And that’s not the same as a great candidate.
You could easily lose sight of that, given the bonanza of media coverage that he has received, much of it over the past week and a half, as journalists eagerly slough off the midterms, exuberantly handicap the coming presidential race and no longer digress to apologize for getting into the game too soon. The game’s on, folks. From here forward, it’s all 2016 all the time.
And in order to keep the story varied and vivid, those of us chronicling it will insist on stocking it with players who break the rules and the mold, who present the possibility of twists and surprises, whose surnames aren’t Bush or Clinton, whose faces are somewhat fresh.
Cue Rand Paul. He gives good narrative.
He’s an ophthalmologist who never held office before his successful 2010 Senate race. He’s got that sporadically kooky dad. He’s a dove in a party aflutter with hawks. And he’s a gleeful nuisance, which he demonstrated when he commandeered the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours and filled Ted Cruz with filibuster envy.
All of that has made him a media sensation. But none of it would necessarily serve a quest for the Republican presidential nomination. At this point Paul is as much a political fable as a political reality, and his supposed strengths — a libertarian streak that appeals to some young people, an apparent comfort with reaching out to minorities and expanding the Republican base — pale beside his weaknesses. They’re many.
And they’re potentially ruinous.
The dovish statements and reputation are no small hurdle. No Republican nominee in recent decades has had a perspective on foreign policy and military intervention quite like Paul’s, and there’s little evidence that the party’s establishment or a majority of its voters would endorse it.
Nor is there any compelling sign that the party is moving in his direction. In the wake of Russia’s provocations and Islamic militants’ butchery, Americans just elected a raft of new Republican senators — including the military veterans Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa and Dan Sullivan in Alaska — who are more aligned with John McCain’s worldview than with Paul’s, and that raises serious questions about the currency of his ideas and his ability to promote them. He gets attention. But does he have any real sway?
He himself seems to doubt some of his positions and has managed in his four short years in the Senate to flip and flop enough to give opponents a storehouse of ammunition.
Adopting a stark, absolutist stance, he initially said that he opposed all foreign aid. Then he carved out an exception for Israel.
First he expressed grave skepticism about taking on the Islamic State. Then he blasted President Obama for not taking it on forcefully enough.
His language about Russia went from pacific to truculent. His distaste for Medicare went from robust to tentative.
These adjustments suggest not just political calculation but, in some instances, amateurism. He’s a work in remarkably clumsy progress, with glimmers of recklessness and arrogance, and he often seems woefully unprepared for the national stage.
The most striking example was his assertion in an interview with Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast in September that John McCain had met and been photographed with members of the Islamic State. Paul was parroting a patently suspicious story that had pinged around the Internet, and the problem wasn’t simply that he accepted it at face value. He failed to notice that it had been thoroughly debunked, including in The Times.
At best he looked foolish. At worst he looked like someone “too easily captivated by the kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories that excite many of his and his father’s supporters,” as Mark Salter, a longtime McCain aide, wrote on the Real Clear Politics website.
Paul can be prickly and defensive to an inappropriate, counterproductive degree, as he was when dealing with accusations last year that he had used plagiarized material in speeches, an opinion article and a book.
In a story in The Times by Jim Rutenberg and Ashley Parker, Paul conceded “mistakes” of inadequate attribution. But he hardly sounded contrite. He lashed out at the people who had exposed the problem, grousing, “This is coming from haters.” And in promising to have his aides use footnotes in future materials, he said, “What we are going to do from here forward, if it will make people leave me the hell alone, is we’re going to do them like college papers.”
People are not going to leave him the hell alone, not when he’s being tagged in some quarters as the Republican front-runner, and his struggle to make peace with that is another liability.
But why the front-runner designation in the first place?
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, 21 percent of voters who lean Republican named Mitt Romney as their preferred candidate in a primary or caucus, while 11 percent named Jeb Bush, 9 percent Mike Huckabee and 9 percent Paul. Two other national polls don’t show any growth in support for Paul over the course of 2014, despite all the coverage of him.
In one survey of Iowa Republicans in October, he trailed not only Huckabee and Paul Ryan but also Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon. And in a survey of New Hampshire Republicans, he trailed not only Huckabee and Bush but also Chris Christie.
What really distinguishes him, apart from some contrarian positions that are red meat for ravenous journalists, is that he’s been so obvious and unabashed about his potential interest in the presidency. He’s taken more pains than perhaps anyone other than Ted Cruz to get publicity. He’s had less competition for the Republican spotlight than he’ll have in the months to come.
And that’s given him a stature disproportionate to his likely fate. It has made him, in the words of a Washington Post headline last June, “the most interesting man in the (political) world.” There it is again, that one overused superlative. Makes you wonder if he’s less a thoroughbred with stamina than a one-adjective pony.
By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 15, 2014
“Executive Orders To Undo Executive Orders”: Does Rand Paul Want To Repeal All Executive Orders? Depends When You Ask
Does Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation? It depends on when you ask him.
Senator Paul raised the subject during a Thursday night appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire. During a question-and-answer session with Republican activists, a young man reportedly asked Paul, “If you were to receive the presidency, would you repeal previous executive orders and actually restrain the power of the presidency?”
“I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders,” Paul replied, as quoted by Real Clear Politics.
This would be problematic for a number of reasons. Although Republicans would presumably love to do away with President Obama’s executive order protecting some young immigrants from deportation, for example, repealing others would be a tougher sell. Would Paul really want to reverse President Lincoln’s order freeing the slaves, President Truman’s order desegregating the armed forces, or President Kennedy’s order barring discrimination in the federal government?
Well, not when you put it that way.
“Well, I mean, I think those are good points, and it was an offhand comment, so obviously, I don’t want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation and things like that,” Paul told Real Clear Politics when questioned on the broader impact of his plan. “Technically, you’d have to look and see exactly what that would mean, but the bottom line is it’s a generalized statement that I think too much is done by executive order, particularly under this president. Too much power has gravitated to the executive.”
In reality, President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president since Franklin Roosevelt. But still, Paul’s point is clear: He was speaking extemporaneously, and doesn’t actually want to repeal all executive orders.
That excuse would be easier to swallow if Paul hadn’t made the same promise to the Louisville Chamber of Commerce in August:
Asked directly if he would issue executive orders as president, Paul said the only circumstance would be to overturn the ones made by his predecessors.
“Only to undo executive orders. There’s thousands of them that can be undone,” said Paul. “And I would use executive orders to undo executive orders that have encroached on our jurisprudence, our ability to defend ourselves, the right to a trial, all of those I would undo through executive order.”
Paul later backed away from that comment in much the same way, telling reporters that “It wasn’t sort of a response of exactness.”
In fairness to Senator Paul, it seems highly unlikely that he really wants to resegregate the military in an effort to roll back executive overreach. But his clunky attempt to get on both sides of the issue has become a theme for him, which has repeated itself on Medicare, immigration, foreign aid, and a multitude of other topics.
His Democratic rivals have taken notice.
“Rand Paul’s problem isn’t that he changes positions — it’s that he insists that he can simultaneously hold multiple, contradictory positions on a litany of key issues,” Democratic National Committee press secretary Michael Czin said in a statement. “As Paul gears up for a presidential run, he changes positions to suit the moment or to match the views of the group in front of him. From confronting ISIL to ending aid to Israel to whether he supports the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, Rand Paul disingenuously tries to have it every way.”
Paul may be able to get away with clunky flip-flopping in the Senate, but it will become a major liability for him if he pursues the presidency in 2016. Clearly, Democrats are ready and eager to attack his lack of consistency. If Paul isn’t careful, they could set the narrative for him long before the first votes are cast.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, September 15, 2014
“Cheney’s Iraq Facts Are Still All Wrong”: Factual Errors, Misleading Statements, A Continuation Of His Eight Years As Vice President
Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s September 10, 2014 speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was particularly bad from both a timing and protocol perspective given that the President was going to lay out his strategy to confront ISIS that same day. But more importantly, the many factual errors and misleading statements about the Obama administration in his speech did not contribute to a “fair and balanced” debate about the foreign policy challenges facing this country. The abundant factual errors and misleading statements in Cheney’s speech are very serious. Jarring to the ear, they should remind us of Cheney’s lack of foreign policy skill and his poisonous decisions over the past decades. Let me mention but a few.
The most obvious was Cheney’s praise of President’s Nixon for making the tough choice of “standing by Israel in the Six Day War,” and implying that Obama was not doing so. Unfortunately for Cheney, the Six Day War actually occurred two years before Nixon took office, in 1967. Nixon was president during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt in 1973, but Cheney’s recollection of staunch support for Israel is mistaken. Nixon’s National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger, persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir not to launch a preemptive strike against the Egyptian forces massing on Israelis’ border, as well as slowing our resupply of Israel during the battle. By contrast, Obama rushed extra funds to Israel for its Iron Dome anti-missile system during its recent conflict with Gaza.
Cheney is also wrong in trying to blame Obama for his “arbitrary and hasty withdrawal of residual forces from Iraq.” It was President Bush and Vice President Cheney himself, who in December 2008 signed the Framework Agreement with the Iraqi government, requiring all American troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Since this original agreement was ratified by the Iraqi Parliament, any modifications to the Bush-Cheney agreement would also have to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament — something US military lawyers also insisted on. Obama was willing to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq. But when Maliki told Obama that there were not enough votes in the Iraqi Parliament, all the troops had to leave.
Cheney is also wrong to blame Obama for the establishment of the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate in Iraq. It is Malikis dictatorial and narrow-minded governing style and politicization of the Iraqi security forces that created distrust among the Sunnis and weakened the Iraqi Army, allowing ISIL to seize the territory they now control. Maliki was Bush and Cheney’s handpicked candidate for Prime Minister.
Cheney’s comments about the defense budget are also way off the mark. According to him, the Nation’s Armed services constantly are being “subjected to irrational budget cuts having nothing to do with strategy.” However, this has nothing to do with Obama. The caps on the defense budget are mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, pushed by the Republicans after they took control of the House in 2010 in order to reduce the deficit. In fact for the past two years, Obama has sought to mitigate the impact of the cuts by proposing over $115 billion in additions to the regular defense budget over the next five years, and used the Overseas Contingency Budget (OCO) to fund about $30 billion in regular budget items.
But Cheney’s most egregious mistake is to ignore the fact that the chaos in the Middle East is a direct result of the mindless, needless, senseless invasion and occupation of Iraq that he helped engineer. He seems to forget that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003 he pushed for. There would be no ISIS without the U.S. invasion. Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, was a nobody until we imprisoned and tortured him.
Cheney is also wrong in arguing that Obama has a distrust of American power. I guess he missed the hundreds of drone strikes and Special Forces troops that Obama has launched against Al Qaeda and terrorist leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to Osama bin Laden, Obama’s use of American power and the American military took out the head of the Al-Shabab terrorist group behind the Kenyan mall shootings.
Cheney’s hypocrisy is best summed up in his comments about our Armed Forces. He credits them with maintaining the structure of our security that has been in place and defended by the United States since World War II. However, Cheney’s public support rings hollow. During the war in Vietnam — which claimed the lives of over 60,000 young Americans — Cheney dodged the draft, racking up five deferments. His praise for the armed forces now stands in contrast to his actions then.
Cheney’s factual errors, misleading statements and hypocrisy are a continuation of his eight years as vice president. Blaming Obama for everything that is not right in the world does not help this country deal with the challenges it faces in the Middle East. As a starting point, Cheney should have acknowledged his own errors in the Middle East that destabilized the region in the first place.
By: Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; The Huffington Post Blog, September 12, 2014
“Leading From Behind, And Proud Of It”: America May Just Need To Get Over Its Own Sense Of Paternalism
Egypt and the UAE went forward with air strikes against Islamists in Libya without informing the United States. They did this presumably because they are concerned with the growing influence of Islamist extremists in their region of the world. No doubt their concerns don’t exist in a vacuum; the whole world is watching as Islamists garner more control in Iraq and Syria. Apparently America is supposed to be upset about the move because we should have been informed. The thought is that we’ve provided some of the weaponry, so we should have a say. There’s also the uncomfortable truth that America may just need to get over its own sense of paternalism if we really want to stay out of conflict.
Poll after poll shows an American populace that does not favor intervention overseas. It’s become quite clear since the downturn of the economy that we have enough to work on here at home without getting into multibillion-dollar conflicts. So we don’t want to intervene, but we don’t want to be left out either. The favorite saying of what I would call war hawks is that this is what happens when America “leads from behind.”
Well, here’s my question: Why do we have to lead at all?
I would argue that at this point and time we are in no position to lead anyone. We have record -low unemployment, the middle class that once defined the American dream is dissipating, and we have social issues bubbling under the surface that we should probably start to address. We have serious infrastructure needs that need to be met, and plenty of ingrown homeland-security challenges I’m positive our military could focus on (not to mention millions of families who would be grateful not to send off their loved ones into dubious wars).
I understand that America has serious political interests in the Middle East beyond oil. I understand that leaving the area completely is a pipe dream, largely because leaving Israel to its own devices at this point would be like leaving a kid in the desert to fend for herself. That said, isn’t that kind of what Americans did when we declared independence? Or when we fought our incredibly deadly civil war? What if the superpower of the time got involved in our own now-infamous civil conflict? What if we were not allowed to fight it out but were forced to form ourselves under the influence of a foreign culture that no one understood?
That is what we have been doing in the Middle East, and it is time to stop. It is time to let regional powers figure out their own regional conflicts, and it is time for America to begin addressing our own. We have thousands of people trying to get into our country because the situation below our border is so dire, partially for reasons that are well within our control (e.g., the drug war). Maybe we don’t see that problem as just as much of a threat as those in the Middle East, but we should. As we have seen with the latest incident at the Texas border, we can only ignore our neighbors for so long as we toil along overseas.
The interests are strong, and the history is thick, but I, for one, am happy that Egypt and the UAE made a unilateral decision without us. I am happy that Egypt orchestrated the Israeli/Palestinian ceasefire. I am glad that we are starting to “lead from behind” in the rest of the world, because maybe that means we can lead our own country.
By: Courtney McKinney, The Huffington Post Blog, August 28, 2014
There are few things the political press loves more than an intra-party squabble, so it wasn’t surprising that when Hillary Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic about foreign policy that offered something less than fulsome support for everything Barack Obama has done, it got characterized as a stinging rebuke. The Post’s Chris Cillizza described her “slamming” Obama. The New York Times said the “veneer of unity…shattered.” “Hillary slams Obama for ‘stupid’ foreign policy,” said an absurdly misleading New York Post headline (she never called anything Obama did “stupid”).
If you actually read the interview, you’ll see that Clinton actually didn’t “slam” Obama (even Jeffrey Goldberg, who conducted the interview, overstates the disagreement in his report on it). She was careful not to explicitly criticize the administration, even when she was articulating positions that differed from what Barack Obama might believe. But there were clear indications that Clinton will be staking out a more hawkish foreign policy than the president she served as Secretary of State, on issues like Iran and Syria.
That isn’t because of some cynical calculation, or because she wants to “distance” herself from a president whose popularity is currently mediocre at best. It’s because that’s what she sincerely believes. If people didn’t have such short memories, they wouldn’t be surprised by it. Hillary Clinton has always been a liberal on social and economic issues, but much more of a moderate (or even a conservative) when it comes to foreign policy.
From the moment Clinton began forging her own distinct political identity in her run for Senate in 2000, it was clear she was a hawk on foreign affairs and defense, placing herself in the right-leaning half of the Democratic party. She wasn’t looking to slash military spending or avoid foreign interventions. Look at how the National Journal ranked her on foreign affairs during her time in the Senate (the NJ rankings are idiosyncratic, but they have the benefit of examining foreign affairs distinct from other issues):
- 2001: 28th most liberal senator
- 2002: 28th most liberal
- 2003: 15th most liberal
- 2004: 42nd most liberal
- 2005: 30th most liberal
- 2006: 36th most liberal
- 2007: 19th most liberal
- 2008: 40th most liberal
When Clinton ran for president in 2008, the primary issue distinction between her and Barack Obama was that she had supported the Iraq War, while he had opposed it. There was no issue that made more of a difference in the primaries. Even as Secretary of State, while carrying out the President’s policies, in private she counseled more aggressive moves. As Michael Crowley wrote in January, “As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action.”
As we move toward the campaign, it’s likely that liberals are going to start finding reasons to be displeased with Clinton on foreign policy. In the Atlantic interview, for instance, they discuss the Gaza situation at some length, and she practically sounds like a spokesperson for the Netanyahu government, putting all the blame for the conflict and all the casualties squarely on Hamas, while refusing repeated opportunities to say Israel has done anything wrong at all.
Over the next two years there will probably be more situations in which Clinton winds up to the right of the median Democratic voter. That would be more of a political problem if she had a strong primary opponent positioned to her left who could provide a vehicle for whatever dissatisfaction the Democratic base might be feeling. But at the moment, there is no such opponent. Her dominance of the field may give her more latitude on foreign affairs — not to move to the right, but to be where she always was. Neither Democrats nor anyone else can say they didn’t see it coming.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 12, 2014