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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 Republican Quasi-Isolationists Change Their Tune”: America Can Solve All The Worlds Problems Again!

It looks like the debate over what to do about ISIS has given Republicans one fewer thing to argue about:

A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party.

The change is evident on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections and in recent appearances by the GOP’s prospective 2016 presidential candidates, with a near-universal embrace of stronger military actions against the group that has beheaded two American journalists.

A hawkish tone has become integral to several key Republican Senate campaigns, with a group of candidates running in battleground states calling attention to their ties to veterans and their support for the U.S. military at every turn.

The most notable shift has come from Rand Paul, who used to talk a lot about the dangers of interventionism and foreign entanglements, but is now ready for war. “If I were president,” he told the AP, “I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

This follows on a recent Pew Research poll which found that while last November only 18 percent of Republicans said the U.S. does too little to solve the world’s problems and 52 percent said we do too much, today 46 percent say we’re doing too little and only 37 percent say we’re doing too much.

It’s possible that all those Republicans have changed their perspective because circumstances have changed. ISIS in particular certainly looks much stronger and more threatening than it did a few months ago. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that what has changed is Barack Obama. Once the old conservative narrative that he’s a weak weakling endangering us with his weakness reasserted itself, most of those alleged quasi-isolationists, including the one who wants to be president, scuttled back to the fold.

This highlights a simple fact about today’s Republicans: After six years of the Obama presidency, they define themselves almost entirely by being the opposite of whatever the guy in the White House is. I guarantee you that if Barack Obama did exactly what Rand Paul seems to be recommending—a full-scale war against ISIS—he and millions of other Republicans would change their tune in short order, now claiming that he was pulling us into another quagmire, and America can’t solve all the world’s problems. And they’d be completely sincere.

This is an extension of the way Republicans have been thinking throughout his presidency. As we know, whenever Obama has embraced one of their ideas, like the cap-and-trade carbon-reduction plan, or the conservative health-care plan that became the basis of the Affordable Care Act, they immediately decide that not only is it the soul of evil, but that they’ve always believed that, like the Party in “1984” declaring that we have always been at war with Eastasia.

To a degree, that’s natural. When the other side’s guy is president for two terms, he shapes the whole debate and even how you wind up thinking of yourself. But Republicans have been unusually reactive, I think in part because their abhorrence of Obama is so intense. He could say that he enjoys ice cream, and a million conservatives would swear never to let the vile frozen sludge pass their lips again.

Of course, there’s a core of conservatism that is unchanging, no matter who the president is—taxes and regulations are bad, the rich are noble job creators, the safety net is for leeches, and so on. But on all those other issues that don’t necessarily occupy their ideological core, it does make you wonder if they’ll be able to figure out who they are once Obama is gone come 2017. I guess then they’ll define themselves as against whatever President Clinton is for.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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