The rise of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) as an alternative to Bush era GOP dead-enders has the two principal anti-libertarian factions in American politics snarling and spitting in fury – and real fear.
The progressives – in the drivers’ seat at the moment – are especially miffed that this upstart ophthalmologist, and son of Ron Paul, has become a pole of attraction not only for libertarians and their conservative fellow-travelers, but for a growing number of their own liberal-leftie base. Disappointed – outraged would be a better word – by the serial betrayal of their fondest hopes, cosmopolitan urban liberals of the sort who join the ACLU and remember Hillary Clinton’s fulsome support for the Iraq war have found in the country boy from Kentucky an unlikely hero. Sen. Paul’s famous anti-drone filibuster enraged the Obama administration, which could hardly conceal its contempt for the Senator’s concerns – but was finally forced to respond. They and their Praetorian Guards among the punditocracy complained it was just plain silly – an indication of Black Helicopter Syndrome – to contend the US government is targeting Americans in its endless "war on terrorism." Then along came Edward Snowden to prove him right.
This was too much for the neocons, whose response to the Paul filibuster was best expressed by their chief Senatorial sock puppet, who sputtered that Paul and the rest of the "wacko birds" who took to the floor in support of the libertarian insurgent had better get the heck off his lawn. Paul had done much to console and "reach out" to the emerging anti-Paul faction of the GOP, even earning a few tentative plaudits from such hardcore neocons as the Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin: his visit to Israel helped. Rubin opined that he might not be his father’s son after all – no one in contemporary political life ratchets up their ire more than the elder Paul – but for some people it’s never enough, and Paul was soon out of Jenn’s good graces. After all that flirty prose about how Rand just might be the future of the Republican party, in a Bizarro World inversion of the original tale the handsome prince suddenly turned into the loathsome frog, and jilted Jenn turned on her sometime prince in a fury:
"Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has strenuously insisted that he is not the ideological twin of his father. But recent events – his paranoia about drones; his praise of Edward Snowden; his defense of his aide, the "Southern Avenger" Jack Hunter; and his lashing out at "neocons" – suggest he’s not far enough from his father to achieve respectability with a substantial segment of the GOP."
In the neocon lexicon, "respectability" means meeting the approval of Rubin and her fellow neocons, among whom there had been a debate on the Rand Paul Question. Softies likes Rubin had been willing to give the newbie a chance, while the hardcore folks over at Commentary, notably Jonathan Tobin, detected disturbing signs of "isolationist" deviationism, and other politically incorrect notions that All Serious People reject out of hand. The hardliners are now crowing about how right they were, with poor Jenn abashedly chiming in as Jonah Goldberg lays down the law in National Review.
With the original "conservative pope" dead, buried, and largely forgotten, and with David Frum absent from his role as Chief Enforcer after having himself been purged for deviationism, the conservative papacy is apparently embodied by a public figure who owes his elevation to having direct access to the semen stains on Monica Lewinsky’s dress. With such impeccable credentials as a moral arbiter, Goldberg comes down hard on Sen. Paul for not only hiring one Jack Hunter, aka the "Southern Avenger," who allegedly made racist remarks as a “shock jock” radio host, but for the pursuit of a "sinful strategy." Goldberg’s interdict cites the neocon cheat sheet the Washington Free Beacon, which ran a superficial piece attacking Hunter as a racist – without quoting a single racist statement the poor guy ever made! Hunter’s major sin appears to be raising a glass to John Wilkes Booth on the infamous assassin’s birthday – a cardinal sin in the neocon theology, and a mortal one in the progressive church, where the Big O’s supposed resemblance to the Great Emancipator is a favorite conceit of the Obama cult.
What is this "sinful strategy" Pope Jonah speaks of? Raising tired old accusations of racism-anti-Semitism-etc. against the elder Paul, Goldberg pontificates:
"Both controversies stem from the same sinful strategy adopted by so-called paleolibertarians in the 1980s. The idea was that libertarians needed to attract followers from outside the ranks of both the mainstream GOP and the libertarian movement – by trying to fuse the struggle for individual liberty with nostalgia for white supremacy. Thinkers such as Murray Rothbard hated the cultural liberalism of libertarians like the Koch brothers (yes, you read that right) and sought to build a movement fueled by white resentment. This sect of libertarianism played into the left-wing view of conservatism as racist. The newsletters, probably ghostwritten by Rothbard and former Ron Paul chief of staff Lew Rockwell, were the main organ for this effort."
Goldberg is a liar, and not a very good one at that: unlike the conservatives at National Review, no libertarians I have ever heard of have defended white supremacy, and there is nothing in the newsletters that validates this charge. That he thinks Rothbard wrote them is on a par with his prediction that those "weapons of mass destruction" would be found in Iraq: toward the end of Rothbard’s life, when the newsletters were published, the great libertarian theorist was too busy writing his magisterial An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (in two volumes) to do work normally assigned to Paul’s aides. As for the newsletters themselves, if you actually read them instead of just reading about them, the gravity of the charge quickly dissipates. In the present atmosphere of "anti-racist" witch-hunting, however, it is enough to know that the "neo-Confederate" sympathies of Hunter, and of "this sect of libertarianism" supposedly brand them as Beyond the Pale.
The "sinful" strategy advanced by Rothbard was based on his critique of the libertarian movement as it existed in the late 1980s and early 90s: it was, he thought, too oriented to would-be "hipsters" who cared only about legalizing drugs, endorsing "alternative lifestyles," and played down the harder edges of a philosophy that opposes not only affirmative action and the welfare state but also "civil rights" laws that violate the rights of free association and property. Rothbard certainly hoped libertarians would be able to make gains by championing the entirely justified resentment of Americans, whatever their color, who oppose racial set asides and question the utility of "anti-discrimination" legislation designed to make white liberals feel good about themselves. You may disagree with this orientation, but for Goldberg to smear it as promoting “white supremacy” makes him look less attentive to the facts than Al Sharpton.
Goldberg goes on to cite one Steve Horwitz, a "libertarian economist," who makes all the appropriately sanctimonious noises:
"The paleo strategy was a horrific mistake, though it apparently made some folks (such as Rockwell and Paul) pretty rich selling newsletters predicting the collapse of Western civilization at the hands of the blacks, gays, and multiculturalists."
If the "paleo" strategy was such a big mistake, how does Horwitz explain the Ron Paul phenomenon, which propelled a formerly marginal congressman from a rural district in Texas to the leadership of a national movement that today threatens the Republican establishment – and the Democratic establishment as well? The enormously successful Paul for President movement was the direct outgrowth of the very "sect" of libertarianism Horwitz and his buddy Goldberg disdain.
The reality is that the only "sect" in this equation is the tiny but vocal and well-connected group of Beltway libertarians who have always hated Ron Paul – and are now projecting their hostility on his son. Horwitz, as one of the founders of the "Bleeding Heart Libertarian" movement – which spends much of its energy proving how politically correct libertarians can be if they really try – represents the extreme "left" wing of this anti-Paulian grouplet. I put "left" in scare quotes because any left-winger worth his salt would not have written or published the embarrassing defense of Israel’s vicious attack on Gaza penned by Horwitz, whose heart apparently doesn’t bleed for the Palestinians. The Bleeders even have room for a "libertarian" foreign affairs commentator who supported the Iraq war.
Horwitz represents nothing and no one but himself: neither does one Jason Kuznicki, cited in a Washington Post piece on the "libertarian war over the civil war." Bemoaning the fact that "it’s difficult to police any political movement – but especially one that prides itself on championing freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas," the WaPo goes on to cite Kuznicki, a low-level apparatchik at the Cato Institute, who complains: "We don’t have a pope. It’s very hard to excommunicate anyone and make it stick." I suppose Pope Jonah will have to do for the moment.
Isn’t it funny how often the media comes up with these cockamamie stories about all these alleged "splits" in our movement? First it was the alleged libertarian "split" over the Iraq war, with Reason magazine running dueling pro and con editorials at the outset of hostilities – as if 99.9 percent of libertarians weren’t unalterably opposed. Then there was that supposed intra-libertarian "debate" over the Snowden revelations, with Fox News talking head and corporate shill John Stossel coming out in support of universal surveillance – again, with the overwhelming majority of libertarians on the other side. Now we have yet another phony "libertarian split," this time over which side to take in the Civil War, no less. Before I go into the intricacies of this burning question, I would just note that in the process of smearing the only major politician to come out against the imminent prospect of another war in the Middle East, we are now being asked to refight the battle of Gettysburg.
Libertarians oppose all wars of aggression, and certainly the brutal military campaign by the North to forcibly reincorporate the South into the Union qualifies as such. While it would be an overstatement to say slavery had nothing to do with the outbreak of the war, it is certainly true that in the absence of other issues – the tariff, federalism, and the economic imperatives of the industrialized crony-capitalist North, which depended on government subsidies and taxes extracted from the South – war would never have come. The first congressional resolution on the war doesn’t so much as mention slavery, and the Lincoln administration pledged not to interfere with "local institutions" if the Confederates would simply return to the loving arms of the Great American Family. In anticipation of slavery’s end, Lincoln’s own state of Illinois even passed a law forbidding the emigration of blacks, and several other northern states followed suit. The ugly truth is that the Republican party, with the Great Emancipator at its head, did not demand the end of slavery because they feared the prospect of a mass black migration northward.
If it is now evidence of "racism" and "neo-Confederate" sympathies to hold that the Civil War was a horrific tragedy which might reasonably have been avoided – and slavery abolished peacefully, as it was in every other nation on earth – then we have truly entered Bizarro World, where up is down and opposition to mass murder by the State is a hate crime.
I’ve had my share on run ins with Jack Hunter, nor have I exactly been an uncritical fan of Rand Paul, but it’s not too hard to detect the pattern in all this. The Beltway’s anti-libertarian cabal has been extra busy this week, with no less than a baker’s dozen of anti-Rand Paul screeds, from Goldberg to Michael Gerson to every neocon known to man and then some, all of them hankering for Sen. Rand’s scalp. Why do you suppose that is?
Three reasons: 1) He’s ahead in the Iowa polls, and the buzz about his much anticipated presidential campaign is getting louder. 2) Sen. Paul and a small but vocal group in Congress have apparently succeeded in calling attention to the utter folly of getting involved in Syria’s civil war, and that crazy notion is now officially on hold, and 3) Alone among our presently serving elected officials, Paul has come out with some favorable comments about Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who exposed the government’s vast and highly secret spying program. This last is a major "sin" – as Pope Jonah puts it – as far as the political class is concerned, and there can be no forgiveness.
Worse, from the Golbergian-neocon-"progressive" perspective, Sen. Paul is introducing legislation, in coordination with co-thinkers in the House like Rep. Justin Amash, that would repeal legislation authorizing government spying on Americans and restore the Fourth Amendment. The neocon-"progressive" alliance is out to scotch that movement, along with burgeoning pro-Paul sentiment in the GOP.
To add a bit of comic relief to the scenario, the anti-Paulians have been joined by Rep. Peter King (R-IRA), who has opined that Hillary Clinton would "cream" Paul in a 2016 face-off, and is floating the idea of launching a presidential bid of his own. Just what the 2016 race needs – a highly mockable loudmouthed New Yorker who wants to prosecute journalists for reporting the news. Get out the popcorn, and pull up a chair: this is going to be fun. Bets are on as to whether he’ll get even less support than that other warmongering loudmouthed New Yorker of a GOP presidential candidate – who only got a single delegate. Perhaps King can hire Jonah Goldberg as his chief speechwriter, a position the former holder of the secret of Monica’ Dress is eminently qualified for.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.