I get lots of junk email, perhaps more than most, and I ignore 99.9 percent of it, but the other day I got one from the Rand Paul campaign that for some reason stood out, and in an idle moment I opened it, and read:
"Can you help our campaign fight back, today and in the coming weeks, against the libelous attacks of the leftist media?"
Libelous? Hmmm, I thought, that’s a strange way for a libertarian to phrase it.
Libertarians are not exactly fans of libel laws: aside from being an infringement on the First Amendment, the whole idea of "libel" is based on a nonsensical premise: that you somehow "own" your reputation, which, if damaged, must be repaired with a nice fat check from the libeler. Yet one’s reputation exists solely in the minds of other people, and no way do your rights of ownership extend that far.
Now the ins-and-outs of libel law are a relatively arcane aspect of libertarian theory, and not everyone in the movement "gets it," not even the son of Ron Paul, so we’ll give him a pass, I thought. However, in the next moment it occurred to me that to call something "libelous" is, by definition, to assert that it’s somehow untrue. For example: the statement "Rand Paul is a murderer" would be genuinely libelous, because as far as I know it’s demonstrably false. But are the attacks on Rand Paul in the "leftist media" based on the facts, or did Rachel Maddow make up that interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, in which he came out against the 1964 Civil Rights Act?
Well, no, she didn’t make it up: she simply quoted his own words back at him – and he ran away from them (and her) as fast as he possibly could. Then there was that piece in Gentlemen’s Quarterly, which no one took very seriously, detailing Rand Paul’s college hijinks, including one episode where he and his friends supposedly "kidnapped" one of their female classmates, "forced" her to take some bong hits, and demanded she worship at the altar of "Aqua Buddha." Ha ha, very funny – although, to be sure, author Jason Zengerle took this a whole lot more seriously than anybody else. In any case, it turned out that the woman wasn’t really "kidnapped," although the incident as described did indeed take place – so here’s another case of non-libel. And now we have Zengerle making another go of it, a lot more successfully this time, with yet another piece in GQ in which he writes:
"Ron Paul, in addition to his extreme views on the federal government, has been a harsh critic of the Republican Party’s ‘military adventurism,’ and in the past Rand has faithfully echoed his father’s views. He opposed the war in Iraq, once characterized the September 11 attacks as ‘blowback for our foreign policy,’ and scoffed at the threat of Iranian nukes. And yet here he was in Washington, seeking out a secret meeting with some of the Ron Paul Revolutionaries’ biggest bogeymen. At a private office in Dupont Circle, he talked foreign policy with Bill Kristol, Dan Senor, and Tom Donnelly, three prominent neocons who’d been part of an effort to defeat him during the primary. ‘He struck me as genuinely interested in trying to understand why people like us were so apoplectic,’ Senor says of their two-hour encounter. ‘He wanted to get educated about our problem with him. He wasn’t confrontational, and he wasn’t disagreeable. He didn’t seem cemented in his views. He was really in absorption mode.’"
Let’s unpack this bit of news, and mine its implications – which are many, and not at all favorable to Rand. First, it wasn’t the neocons who were courting Rand: Zengerle explicitly says it was Rand who was "seeking out" the meeting, and he wanted it "secret." So he was slinking around drumming up support, like any ordinary run-of-the-mill politician – so what?
Sure, he’s a politician, and they all (with one exception, as far as I know) suck up to everyone and anyone, but these three – Kristol, Senor, and Donnelly – aren’t just anyone. They are the three most anti-libertarian figures on the American Right, with King Kristol being the godfather of the neocons – a position he inherited from his father — and the other two his consiglieri. Not only that, but Kristol has a long history of not only attacking libertarians, but of smearing Rand’s father as an extremist who represents the "wooly fringe," a "crank," and, if not an outright anti-Semite, certainly the sort of candidate who welcomes and naturally attracts them.
This is the man Rand sought out, which raises a question: if the Rand Paul campaign wants us to give them money to fight the "libelous" attacks of the "leftist media," then why in the name of all that’s holy is Rand chasing after someone who libeled his own father?
Yes, this is about Rand’s foreign policy views, but it’s also about his character. The GOP is supposed to be committed to "family values": it’s been their shtick for years. Yet what kind of family values is it when a Republican candidate has no compunctions about stabbing his own father in the back? Faced with the crew that relentlessly slandered Ron Paul at every opportunity, Rand, we are told, went into "absorption mode."
It was a personal and ideological betrayal on a scale that’s painful to contemplate, and it was repeated the following month, when, we are told by Zengerle,
"He met with officials from the powerful lobbying group AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which has frequently clashed with Ron Paul over what the group views as his insufficient support of Israel. Paul, according to one person familiar with the AIPAC meeting, ‘told them what they wanted to hear: ‘I’m more reasonable than my father on the things you care about.’ He was very solicitous.’"
Does it get any slimier than this? I’m sure it does: after all, who knows how many other secret meetings he’s had with what sorts of creepy lobbyists, foreign or domestic? And I’ll bet he was just as solicitous as he was with the AIPAC crowd.
I can see that any politician, who is out there seeking support, would do well to neutralize his harshest critics, short of winning them over. That’s not what’s going on here.
You’ll notice that Paul the Lesser isn’t trimming his sails uniformly, that is, moderating his voice on all the issues: he’s still denouncing Obama’s economic program in rather strident terms, even comparing him to Hitler without mentioning the German dictator by name, and he’s still going strong on the tax-and-spend front, all of which comports with the views of his nation-wide network of libertarian supporters, who are largely funding his campaign. Where he consistently goes off the rails is on the crucial foreign policy front, and that’s what the meeting with Kristol entailed – reassuring the neocons that he’s not a chip off the old block when it comes to endless war and persecution of Muslims.
The New York City mosque issue came up, I’ll bet, and on that score Rand did not disappoint his newfound neocon friends. Indeed, the Weekly Standard has been crowing about the familial split on this question, mocking the elder Paul for the apostasy of his errant son. Noting that Ron had taken an unequivocal stand against the neocons’ anti-Muslim hate campaign, and that the Texas congressman specifically named the neoconservatives as the prime agitators, Michael Goldfarb jeered in Kristol’s rag:
"So, is Rand Paul just another neocon stooge to his father?"
Well, yes, it looks like Rand Paul is indeed a neocon stooge, although his father is hardly likely to say so.
So why – you ask — am I making such a big deal about this? After all, Rand Paul is just another opportunistic politician, who is maybe playing it "smart" by keeping his "real" opinions to himself and hoping to fly in to his target – a Senate seat – under the radar. What’s so wrong with that?
What’s wrong is that it eviscerates the moral core of libertarianism – opposition to mass murder by an ever-expanding State – and leaves only a hollow core, an "economic" shell that allows him to "pass" as just another right-wing Republican. Which is what Rand Paul will be if and when he’s elected.
When he assures AIPAC he’s more reasonable than his father about the things they care about, what exactly is he saying? That he’ll keep the billions in "aid" to Israel flowing? That he won’t make a fuss about Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and its endless provocations in Lebanon and the "settlements"? That, and much more: for what AIPAC cares most about, these days, is ginning up a war with Iran.
So we have to ask: how much "more reasonable" will Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) be about bombing Tehran than his "unreasonable" antiwar father? When it comes time to vote on going to war with Iran, libertarians have good reason to worry about the prospect of Senator Paul voting "aye."
What’s wrong with Rand Paul is what’s been historically wrong with an entire wing of the libertarian movement, one that seemed to have died off after being defeated in the internal battles of the Libertarian Party during the 1980s: the so-called "liberventionists," who oppose the expansion of the American state on the home front, but heartily endorse the "liberating" expansiveness of the American Empire overseas.
This retrograde trend was a holdover from the days when the libertarian movement was organizationally (and ideologically) bound hand and foot to the Goldwater-Buckley-National Review-generated conservative movement of the 1960s. Its influence largely diminished in the 1980s, after a determined struggle waged by Murray N. Rothbard and the Radical Caucus of the Libertarian Party, and due to the influence of the Kochtopus, which, by the end of the decade had become the dominant trend in our movement.
The liberventionists came back with a vengeance, however, in the wake of 9/11 – when all the worst aspects of everyone and everything came to the fore. "It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes," wrote "libertarian" columnist and Reason magazine contributing editor Cathy Young, "perhaps there are no true libertarians in times of terrorist attacks," in the course of advising us to not fight the "inevitable" post-9/11 attack on our civil liberties (thanks, Cathy: you should go back to Russia). It was then that Reason writer Ron Bailey invented libertarian Trotskyism in rationalizing the Iraq war, positing that the US government is the ideal agency for exporting "liberty" worldwide, and that we can’t have "liberty in one country." Over at Cato, foreign policy analyst Ted Galen Carpenter proposed that we get right to the heart of the problem and invade Pakistan – a suggestion taken up by President Barack Obama nearly a decade later – but, hey, better late than never, right? (Gee, how come Cato isn’t touting this as a victory in the policy wars?)
In short, people fold under pressure. They give up their ideals, or, rather their professed ideals, and go with the flow. It’s too hard to stand up, virtually alone, and say what’s right. Let someone else do it. After all, the price truth-tellers pay is often quite steep – as steep as not being a US Senator.
That’s the argument Rand’s apologists will no doubt utilize in defense of his blatant betrayal. He has to do this to get elected. Everybody does. But do they really?
Ron Paul didn’t sell out, and yet still got elected to Congress – and reelected many times. Is Rand really unfamiliar with the elder Paul’s electoral history – how Ron triumphed over every effort to smear him and sideline him as a "kook," as Kristol would (and has) put it? Is it necessary to point to the example of his own father to disprove this facile and paper-thin rationalization for the worst sort of pandering?
What gets me mad is that it isn’t even pandering to a discernible purpose. Kristol and his gang are completely discredited, along with the neoconservative clique that dragged the GOP down to electoral defeat and ideological bankruptcy. Oh, and they bankrupted the country along the way.
These are the people Rand is turning to for help with his campaign?
Rand Paul has declared, from the start, that he’s the "tea party" candidate, and yet Kristol’s Weekly Standard has been viscerally hostile to the tea partiers from the very beginning, because anti-populism is a key plank in the neoconservative platform, unless – of course – it’s anti-Muslim populism. The very phrase "big government conservatism," which the tea partiers justifiably detest, was invented by the Weekly Standard, along with the fiscally imprudent variety of "national greatness conservatism" Kristol and Co. have been peddling for years. Why, if he’s riding the wave of tea party activism, is Rand forging an alliance with their worst enemies?
He’s way ahead in the polls. He doesn’t need Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard, he doesn’t need the neocons – who aren’t known to exist in any great numbers in Kentucky – and he doesn’t need AIPAC either. In short, there was no good reason for him to run after and appease his father’s nemeses. So why did he do it?
You can ask him, but I’ll save you the trouble. Rand Paul has no principles: he’ll do or say anything to get into that Senate seat – yes, even give up his faith in Aqua Buddha. Or his loyalty to whatever values he once pretended to hold. He’d even betray his own father – and, indeed, he has done precisely that, giving Kristol’s gremlin-bloggers a choice opportunity to once again mock the elder Paul.
Yes, but once he gets in office, he’ll stand up for principle and it’ll all be worth it: the kowtowing to the neocons, the groveling before AIPAC, the capitulation to religious and ethnic prejudices in the case of the mosque issue. Just you wait and see.
In Paul’s case we’re talking about a winning candidate, or at least one whose victory is highly likely: if he’s selling out at this point, one can only wonder what he’d do if he were behind in the polls. I shudder to think about it.
If he’s already selling out for no good reason, and this before he even gets into office, ask yourself what he’ll do to stay in office. There’s no end to this daisy chain of betrayal-and-rationalization, no logical cut off point for the "temporary" adjustments supposedly necessary for electoral success.
The great danger is that the election of Rand Paul to the US Senate will change the ideological complexion of libertarianism, as it is perceived by the public, and quite possibly succeed in derailing the ongoing work of his father and the Campaign for Liberty in challenging the neocons’ hegemony in the GOP when it comes to foreign policy. The recent release of the House GOP caucus "Pledge to America," which repeats this same neocon litany of endless war and extravagant "defense" expenditures, shows that this fight is far from over – and Rand Paul is on the wrong side.
Finally, I have to comment on the eerie similarities between the political and personal dynamics of the Paul family and those of the Bush family. In both cases, the son is determined to obliterate the legacy and influence of his father, with Bush Senior (and his aides) opposed to Junior’s unhinged militarism and hostile to his neocon advisors. Here we have Rand courting those very same advisors in secret meetings, in rebellion against his father. I don’t know what personal demons have gained possession of Rand Paul’s soul since his primary victory, but they bear a striking resemblance to those which drove George W. Bush and his administration over a cliff called Iraq. Indeed, Rand looks and often sounds like George W. – like a man in over his head, a hollow man with a sense of entitlement albeit without any moral or ideological core. The resemblance is eerie – and telling.
In spite of his youthful flirtation with the Aqua Buddha cult, Rand Paul today no doubt considers himself a Christian, and so he’s probably familiar with the story in the Bible wherein the Devil takes Jesus up to the mountain and shows him the cities of the world spread out as far as the eye can see: "All this can be yours," says the Evil One to the Son of God, "if only you will worship me." We all know what Jesus said in reply – "No waaaaaaay, dude!" – but Rand Paul, son of Ron, has apparently come up with a different answer.