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“Libertarian-ish, Not A Libertarian”: Rand Paul Becomes Less Of A Libertarian Every Day

On Tuesday in Louisville, Kentucky, Senator Rand Paul will officially kick off his campaign for president. As the New York Times reported Monday, his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, will be right by his son’s side for the campaign announcement. But don’t expect to see much of the elder Paul throughout the campaign—or hear much from him. While Rand and Ron both consider themselves libertarians, their positions on multiple issues have diverged in recent months as Rand has attempted to make himself a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination. In the process, that has alienated many libertarian supporters of Ron.

While Ron Paul was always an outsider candidate with no real shot of becoming president, Rand has much larger national ambitions. That has required him to make compromises on some of his positions, compromises that many libertarians find unacceptable. Retaining their support will almost certainly be a necessity for Rand to win the GOP nomination. But will they look past his heresies?

Rand Paul has been a savvy political operator during his time in the Senate and has always sought to leverage his libertarian support on issues that had broad acceptance within the GOP. For instance, Paul expertly seized on the issues of criminal justice reform and the overreach of the National Security Agency (NSA). These were long-held libertarian positions that, partially thanks to Paul’s advocacy, suddenly found renewed interest among mainstream Republicans. The issues garnered support among conservatives because they would shrink the size of government. They were the perfect issues for him to retain his libertarian credibility while earning greater support among traditional Republican voters.

But recent issues have demonstrated where traditional Republicans differ from libertarians, and that has put Paul in an uncomfortable position. Libertarians like Ron Paul set a very high bar for military conflict. Often, they are called isolationists, a term that has sometimes been used to describe the younger Paul, much to his chagrin. In the early parts of his time in the Senate, Paul displayed many of those leanings. In 2011, for instance, he called for ending all military aid to Israel. As late as June 2014, Paul wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq. “Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?” he asked in the piece. Just a few months later, after the Islamic State murdered two American journalists, Paul condemned President Barack Obama for not doing more to stop the terrorist group.

Over the following nine months, Paul’s remarks about the military and his policy positions have seemed to become more and more hawkish. Last October, he gave a speech on military intervention that you could never imagine his dad giving. “The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world,” he said. “To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.” It was quite a rhetorical change from a man who just 20 months earlier performed a 13-hour talking filibuster over U.S. drone use.

In January, Paul made news at a forum hosted by the Koch Brothers when he challenged the traditional Republican line on military action. “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops?” he asked senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who had criticized the Iran negotiations. “I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.” That was music to the ears of libertarians everywhere. Maybe, they thought, Paul would actually stick to his libertarian roots on foreign policy.

Nope. In early March, Paul signed on to Senator Tom Cotton’s letters to the leaders of Iran, explaining why the American political system effectively prohibited Obama from making any lasting commitments in the negotiations. The letter received widespread condemnation, including from many within the Republican Party. But in libertarian circles, Paul’s signature was treated as almost an act of treason. At the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi reported on a number of libertarian leaders who declared Paul’s signature the final straw; they would no longer support him for president.

At the end of March, Paul proposed a massive increase in defense spending, raising it more than $190 billion over the next two years and offsetting those increases with cuts elsewhere. As Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel reported at the time, this doesn’t quite represent a flip-flop. But it’s still quite a change from Paul’s 2011 budget which would have reduced defense spending to $542 billion in 2016, including additional war funding. Under his new plan, defense spending would be nearly $700 billion in 2016.

As his 2016 officially kicks off, Paul will have to strike a balance between appeasing the defense hawks and libertarians within the Republican Party, both of whom view him suspiciously. To some extent, his movement back and forth between the factions has made it unclear what his foreign policy views actually are. Last week, for instance, as Republican candidates criticized the president’s deal with Iran, Paul stayed noticeably quiet. When his staff finally responded to questions to Bloomberg on Monday, they offered little insight into Rand’s actual position on the deal. That tactic—sidestepping the question—will work for now. But eventually it’s going to fail as Republican voters and donors will demand his position on different foreign policy issues.

The good news for Paul is that his positions on the NSA and criminal justice reform, among other issues, still play well within the party. More than any other candidate, he has made a concerted effort to reach African Americans. These are all libertarian positions that will play well for him during the primary. But it will still be hard for many Ron Paul followers to overlook—or brush off—Rand’s turn to hawkishness on foreign policy, assuming he goes in that direction. For instance, Nick Gillepsie, the editor in chief of the libertarian magazine Reason, calls Paul “libertarian-ish,” not a libertarian.

Do Republican primary voters want a “liberatarian-ish” candidate? We’ll find out soon enough.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Product Of A Fringe Movement”: The Crazy Is A Resume Item For Rand Paul

At the Prospect today, Paul Waldman manages to remind us of two important things to keep in mind in contemplating the Rand Paul presidential campaign: first, some of the crazy things he’s said in the not-too-distant past (example: ruminations on the North American Superhighway Conspiracy in 2008), and second, why that matters more in his case than in others. The crazy stuff will drib and drab into public view for the next few months, and some people will notice and others won’t. So it’s the second issue most interests me, because it explains why we should notice:

[M]ost politicians who get to where Paul is work their way up by climbing the political ladder: they run for city council in their town, then maybe mayor, then they become a state rep, then a state senator or congressman, and finally run for the Senate. That experience makes you a creature of the place where you come from and party that nurtured you. Along the way your views will come to reflect their concerns and their consensus about policy.

But that’s not the path Rand Paul followed. Whatever his talents, he’s a United States senator because he’s Ron Paul’s son. Over his time in Congress, Ron Paul developed a small but fervent national constituency, made up of some ordinary libertarians and a whole lot of outright wackos. That constituency was greatly expanded by his 2008 presidential campaign. Despite the fact that Paul had plenty of interesting and reasonable things to say, it’s also the case that if you were building a bunker to prepare for the coming world financial crash and ensuring societal breakdown (and possible zombie apocalypse), there was only one presidential candidate for you. When Rand Paul decided to run for Senate in 2010, having never run for anything before, the Ron Paul Army mobilized for him, showering him with money and volunteers. He also had the good fortune to be running in a year when Republicans everywhere were looking for outsider, tea party candidates, so he easily beat the choice of the Kentucky GOP establishment in the primary.

In other words, Senator Rand Paul is the product of a fringe movement that has embraced all sorts of nuttiness from the theocratic urges of the Constitution Party to Agenda 21 to the North American Superhighway, in addition to its better-known eccentric obsessions with crank monetary policy. That’s his resume. You have to examine it the same way you examine what other candidates did just before becoming national political celebrities. Otherwise you buy into the idea that he sprang fully developed from the brow of his father before running for president himself.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, February 6, 2015

February 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Parents Own The Children”: Libertarians Have A History Of Horrifying Views On Parenting

In a recent CNBC interview, Senator Rand Paul tempered some of his recent remarks about the alleged horrors of vaccination by claiming that he only opposes vaccine mandates because they infringe upon parents’ freedom. When confronted with the question of whether or not discouraging vaccination is a threat to children’s health, Paul launched into a meandering consideration of public health and liberty that concluded with the assertion that “the state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children.”

Paul’s bizarre rendering of the parent-child relationship as unilateral ownership is not the most unhinged thing a well-regarded libertarian has ever said about children. In fact, libertarians exhibit a historical inability to adequately explain how parents should relate to their children, why parents are obligated (if at all) to care for their children, and whether or not moral nations should require that parents feed, clothe, and shelter their children within a libertarian frame.

Consider Lew Rockwell, former congressional chief of staff for Rand’s father, Ron. Rockwell, who may or may not have had a hand in composing the now infamously racist and homophobic slew of newsletters sent out to Ron Paul fans between the late ’70s and early ’90s, is a professed fan of child labor. Complaining of laws that prevent, among other things, second-graders from operating forklifts, Rockwell opines that “we are still saddled with anti-work laws that stunt young people’s lives.” Like Rand Paul on vaccine mandates, Rockwell sees child labor laws as government overreach. “In a free and decent society, decisions about these matters are for parents, not bureaucrats,” Rockwell writes, referring to whether or not schoolchildren should be breadwinners. The type of society Rockwell envisions here hardly seems “decent,” but it would certainly be “free” in the way Paul imagines, and in that sense it is perfectly libertarian.

Rockwell’s mentor, Murray Rothbard, one of the twentieth century’s more famous libertarians, was similarly fond of kids in the workplace. Rothbard imagined that laws against child labor were passed in order to artificially inflate the wages of adults, who viewed children as competition capable of underbidding them. “Supposedly ‘humanitarian’ child labor laws,” Rothbard remarks in his book The Ethics of Liberty, “have systematically forcibly prevented children from entering the labor force, thereby privileging their adult competitors.” While the real impetus behind child labor laws was child welfare, it is telling that Rothbard tended to look upon kids with a suspicious eye, and his ethics bear out this cold approach. Later in The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard, in keeping with the libertarian exaltation of personal freedom, argues that “no man can therefore have a ‘right’ to compel someone to do a positive act”that is, because all people are free, by his account, your rights cannot impose positive actions on others. This means, Rothbard goes on, that a parent “may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.” He concludes that “the law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.” To do so, for Rothbard, would be pure government overreach.

Such dark fantasies are not restricted to the weird world of libertarian academia. Williamson “Bill” Evers, formerly a libertarian candidate for congress and advisor to the McCain 2008 campaign, also argues that there should be no laws preventing a parent from, say, starving an infant to death. In an article published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Evers concludes, “We have considered the hypothesis that there should be an enforced legal duty of parents to support their minor children. Having found the various reasons advanced in support of this duty inadequate, we can only conclude that no such duty exists … one has to regard the notion of a legal duty of parents to support their children as without merit.” Evers allows that parents might be morally obligated to do something for their children, but also that morals should not be legally enforced. Therefore, vaccination, labor, and finally whether or not to give one’s children the necessities of life ultimately comes down, for these classic libertarian thinkers, to the free will of the parents.

Libertarianism rests on the whimsical notion that all people are isolated, entirely free agents with no claims on others except those that they can negotiate through consensual contracts. The very existence of children flatly disproves this; any moral intuition indicates that children come into the world with claims on their parents at the very least, and their entire societies considered broadly. To avoid a hellish death spiral of infectious disease and neglect, we would all do well to reject Paul and his cohort on the subject of child rearing.

 

By: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic, February 4, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Libertarians, Public Health, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Highly Situational Principles”: How The Vaccine Controversy Shows The Limits Of GOP Libertarianism

As a demonstration that anything can become political and you never know what issue is going to take over a campaign, every potential presidential candidate is now thinking very carefully about what they should say on the topic of childhood immunizations. Chris Christie kicked things off when he answered a question about a spreading measles outbreak with some comments about parental choice that he sort-of walked back, but the real news came when Rand Paul — a graduate of Duke University medical school, which I’m fairly certain is a real thing — gave an interview to CNBC in which he said, “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

Needless to say, this is utterly bogus. What Paul should have noted was that this question has been studied exhaustively, and there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism or any other “mental disorder.”

But if you thought that every GOP candidate would be rushing to pander to people’s fears about big government forcing them to stick needles in their kids, you’d be wrong. In fact, the ones we’ve heard from so far have been clearly pro-vaccine. And this shows just where the limits of libertarianism within the Republican Party are.

As the New York Times noted this morning, Mike Huckabee has in the past advocated that vaccines be widely used, and specifically dismissed the debunked connection to autism, while Rick Perry has also touted his administration’s efforts to increase vaccination. You’ll recall that Perry was criticized by his Republican opponents in 2012 for mandating that girls in Texas public schools receive the HPV vaccine (though he eventually reversed himself when he was convinced by other Texas conservatives that giving a 10-year-old girl a shot to prevent her from getting cervical cancer after she becomes an adult would obviously turn her into a sex maniac). Ben Carson also made clear that mandatory vaccination is critical to preventing disease, no matter what religious or philosophical objections people might have. John Boehner too said that every child should be vaccinated.

While there are a few candidates we haven’t yet heard from, it may be surprising that Paul isn’t getting more company; indeed, he’s probably surprised, given how much Republicans have talked about individual liberty in the last few years. Paul doesn’t deny that there are risks to not vaccinating children, but he says that it’s a matter of personal freedom: parents, not the government, should make the choice. However, it turns out that other Republicans don’t agree. In this case they believe that the welfare of the community trumps the individual’s right to decide.

What that tells us is that the broader Republican commitment to libertarian principles is highly situational. Libertarians laud themselves for their philosophical consistency (though Rand Paul is a quasi-libertarian at most), but ordinary conservatives are picking and choosing based on who’s getting what and who’s paying what. In the case of something like guns, where there’s an analogous situation (individuals want to make a choice that potentially endangers others), conservatives see the gun owner getting a benefit, and one many of them enjoy. When they say that companies should be released from environmental regulations, they’re thinking about people and organizations they admire getting the benefit of unconstrained market freedom, and the cost (environmental degradation) is something they’re only marginally concerned about.

But in the case of vaccines, the beneficiaries are a bunch of wackos and conspiracy theorists who are gaining nothing more than the ability to endanger their own children, at the cost of endangering everybody else’s children. And I’m guessing it also matters that a lot of the vaccine truthers who get attention are liberals, the Marin County types who think that because they feed their children organic food that the kids will have super-charged immune systems and therefore can’t become sick. (It should be noted that vaccine trutherism is a non-partisan affliction: liberals are no more likely than conservatives to think vaccines cause autism.)

What’s more, while it’s also true that advocating for vaccines requires conservatives to agree with Science, this issue isn’t like climate change, where many on the right think the entire scientific community is engaged in a vast conspiracy of deception. On climate, people fear that they’ll lose something (like their SUVs) and have to change their lifestyle in order to address the problem; the issue also threatens their traditional allies in the energy industry. There are few such considerations in the vaccine issue.

So the vaccine issue demonstrates that while nearly every Republican agrees with libertarian ideas on some issues, this doesn’t necessarily reflect just an inviolable philosophical commitment to individual liberty. When being a libertarian means getting something they want without having to give up anything they like, they’re happy to wave the anti-government flag. But if it means their kids might get sick because some people are dumb enough to take their medical advice from Jenny McCarthy, the needs of the many begin to look much more pressing than the delusions of the few.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 3, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Communicable Diseases, GOP, Libertarians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Eminently Stupid”: Libertarianism’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea

Ideas have consequences — and bad ideas have bad consequences.

Just how bad the consequences turn out to be depends to a large extent on the precise character of the bad idea. A bad idea that influences no one isn’t really that bad. It’s just stupid, and instantly forgettable. But a bad idea that lodges in people’s minds, fires their imaginations, inspires them to persuade others of its wisdom, and motivates them to make bad decisions in the world — that idea is truly bad.

Some bad ideas inspire world-historical acts of evil. “The Jews are subhuman parasites that deserve to be exterminated” may be the worst idea ever conceived. Compared with such a grotesquely awful idea, other bad ideas may appear trivial. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them and their pernicious consequences.

Into this category I would place the extraordinarily influential libertarian idea of “spontaneous order.”

Now, regular readers will know that I believe we’re living through something of a “libertarian moment,” culturally speaking, and that I don’t think this is all bad. On most of the conflicts wrapped up with the sexual revolution and its aftermath, for example, I’m on the libertarian side of the argument — though I also think libertarians too often ignore or skirt over the moral dilemmas that arise in a culture of sexual autonomy.

On economic issues, I have far less sympathy for libertarian arguments, but I’m happy that someone is making them. Libertarians can be obnoxiously fixated on one moral-political principle to the exclusion of all others. But their single-minded focus on the liberation of the individual from all forms of coercion makes them very useful to have around. Whether we’re arguing about taxes and government regulations or the soft social coercion associated with received norms, practices, and traditions, it’s a good thing overall for those in positions of political and cultural authority to have to justify themselves before the bar of individual liberty.

But that doesn’t mean libertarians are always right — or even that they always avoid staking out manifestly silly and occasionally harmful positions.

The idea of spontaneous order might be the silliest and most harmful of all.

Simply stated, the idea holds that when groups of individuals are left alone, without government oversight or regulation, they will spontaneously form a social and economic order that is superior in organization, efficiency, and the conveyance of information than an order arranged from the top down through centralized planning.

Popularized by Friedrich Hayek and his fellow Austrian economists in the mid-20th century, the idea actually has its roots in the classical liberal writings of John Locke and Adam Smith.

Locke famously argued that government originates from a prepolitical state of nature in which groups of farmers establish a night-watchman state to protect their natural rights to life, liberty, and property. In this archetypal statement of classical liberal mythology, civilizational order (including the formation of stable families and the institution of private property) emerges spontaneously, prior to the formation of government, which is instituted for the sole purpose of protecting and preserving it.

Adam Smith expanded on this idea, applying it to the market economy, which he famously described as working its wonders as if it were governed by an “invisible hand.” Set millions of people free to pursue their economic self-interest, Smith claimed, and they will spontaneously generate an economic order marked by wealth and growth that benefits nearly everyone lucky enough to reside within it.

Careful readers of Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government and Smith’s The Wealth of Nations will find much subtler views than the positions I’ve presented here. But it is the bowdlerized versions of their thought that have captured the American — and libertarian — imagination.

Populated by generations of immigrants from foreign lands who came to the New World in search of new lives with fresh starts, the United States quickly developed a civil religion predicated on the presumption that it’s possible to “begin the world over again.” Raised to recite that civic catechism, Americans have found it all too easy to believe that the achievements of American civilization flow from the spontaneous efforts of scrappy individuals toiling away in a state of natural freedom, with government either doing nothing significant to help or else standing obstinately in the way of even greater accomplishments.

No wonder so many Americans in the postwar period gravitated to the writings of Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist who warned that central government planning was bound to put us on “the road to serfdom.” Rather than looking to the state to guide us — a goal that inevitably ends with it trying to enslave us — we would be better to recognize that the market economy and even civil society as a whole formed spontaneously, as the outcome of countless unregulated acts and decisions by millions of individuals over time. Going forward, Hayek concluded, individual liberty and prosperity depends upon allowing the spontaneous ordering of our collective lives to continue uninterrupted and uncontrolled by the state.

From Locke to Smith to Hayek, the lesson seems clear: Leave people alone, and a coherent civil order will spontaneously emerge and perpetuate itself.

This is utter fiction. A fairy tale. A just-so story that has as much historical veracity as Locke’s happy talk about a prepolitical state of nature filled with spontaneously formed families and settled plots of legitimately gotten farmland.

The fact is that aside from certain very rare cases (see below), it’s impossible to find human beings acting with perfect freedom outside of an already existing political order that shapes their decisions and determines to a considerable extent their behavior and range of possible choices.

President Obama got a lot of flack during his 2012 campaign for re-election for saying that wealthy business owners “didn’t build that” all by themselves, but his point was indisputable. The president mentioned the internet, roads and bridges, firefighting, and other public works that make it possible for the market economy to function and thrive. He could have said far more. How about the culture of general law-abidingness that we call the rule of law? The Federal Reserve’s regulation of the money supply? An independent judiciary for the settlement of civil disputes? Law enforcement at local, state, and federal levels that fights violent crime, fraud, corruption, monopolistic business practices, and a host of other behaviors that would otherwise scuttle the working of markets? And on and on and on.

The order we see at work in the United States and in other advanced democracies is anything but spontaneous.

But there is one situation where it’s possible to see genuine spontaneity in action: when an established political order is overthrown. Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.

In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.

In response, some libertarian-minded critics have claimed that this just goes to show the damage that tyranny does to individuals, robbing them of the capacity to govern themselves once they’ve finally been granted their freedom.

Quite so. But then that would seem to imply that postwar Iraq and Libya could have spontaneously produced a liberal democratic order only if its citizens had acted as if they’d already been enjoying life in a liberal democratic order.

That sounds awful unspontaneous.

Order doesn’t just happen, and it isn’t the product of individual freedom. It needs to be established, and it needs to be established first (sometimes by force), before individuals can be granted civic, economic, and social freedom.

The libertarian prophets of “spontaneous order” get things exactly backward, sometimes with catastrophic real-world consequences. Which is why it’s a particularly bad idea.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Libertarians, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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