Thursday, February 3, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote from a Smart Person: “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Thomas Jefferson
Welcome to the American Singularity
The first time I saw Senator Rand Paul speak was during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2014. He was one of many prospective presidential contenders that spoke that weekend, but he was the only one who a) quoted lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and b) truly brought the house down. The crowd, made up of conservative activists, but also hundreds of college students, roared when he told the NSA they had no damn business listening to calls on your cell phone. I was impressed. I was intrigued. I thought, here’s the kind of guy we need.
And as I watched Paul’s presidential campaign over the past year, I hoped for better news. But running for president is no mean feat – let alone for a first term Senator. The trials and tribulations of the campaign trail erode a candidate’s patience, stamina and will, day by day. Speaking at a conference in Washington, DC last winter that I’d helped organize, even by then, Paul admitted that running for president was “not a lot of fun.”
But during the debates, I was glad he was on the stage. He never wavered from his thoughtful, dare I say, intellectual view on the Constitution and its central role in governance in the American Republic. For the rest of the candidates, they appear to discuss what the Constitution means largely in terms of the 2nd Amendment or talking points. Rand knows his stuff and he let his opponent have it when he saw them cross a line. He made no apologies for believing in the civil liberties of American citizens, even as the rest of the field called for more domestic surveillance.
All By Myself
Like his father before him, Rand Paul was willing to stand up for his beliefs even at the expense of electoral success and in the face of an increasingly hawkish GOP in the face of ISIS and the fear of increased terrorism at home and abroad. He was unafraid to point out to Senator Marco Rubio that being a conservative on spending means ALL spending, both domestic and military.
So for most of the debates in which he participated, Paul was relegated to the far wings of the stage. He endured the slings and arrows of the likes of Donald Trump with bemused disbelief that he (or any of them) were losing to that guy.
(Not) A Governing Ethos
Libertarianism is a belief system that doesn’t translate well to governance. By definition, it espouses as small a government as possible and as much individual freedom as can be obtained. I, for one, am an adherent to many libertarian beliefs and philosophies; but I am not a capital “L” Libertarian.
Rand Paul staked out solid positions within the Liberty movement and swept to office in 2010. But running for President as a Republican with a libertarian background and platform is difficult. The coalition one must build to be nominated and ultimately elected must allow for some flexibility. Social conservatives and libertarians don’t live together all that often.
Paul was disqualified almost from the beginning by many Republican primary voters who saw national security and terrorism as the biggest issues the country faced. And then his own base, the rock-ribbed libertarians believed he’d sold them out in favor of electability. It’s great to believe that we should end The War on Drugs and legalize everything but it’s an unrealistic position for a presidential candidate to espouse.
The good news for Rand Paul, however, is that time and the direction of the country may well be on his side. The Millennial generation, the largest American cohort, is more in line ideologically with Rand Paul than many of his (now former) opponents. They are less inclined to self-identify as a Republican or Democrat and believe in less foreign intervention. Rand rose the roof at CPAC and did so again when he spoke in front of students at Berkeley. He may be a man out of time at the moment, but that’s because his time may not yet have arrived.
For now, Paul should work hard to ensure he’s reelected to the US Senate. While many of his Republican colleagues may disagree with him on things, he’s an important voice and one of the few able and willing to work across the aisle on important issues, such as his work with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) on sentencing and criminal justice reform.
We need more voices like Rand Paul in Washington willing to stand up for what they believe in the face of difficult odds. As he prepares for reelection and his political future, he should take no small measure of pride in the American statesmen the United States Senate has produced. One doesn’t have to be President of the United States to make a marked difference. Rand Paul has already shown that, and will likely continue to do so well into the future.