As the smoke wafted up into the already smoggy Los Angeles air, a group of young libertarians watched as Jayel Aheram burned his “Stand With Rand” t-shirts. He had two of them, a token of his former esteem for the “libertarian-ish” presidential candidate and Senator from Kentucky, whose father had inspired young Jayel to identify as a libertarian and become active in the movement. A former Marine and Iraq war veteran, the now 31-year-old Aheram had phone-banked for Rand, and enthusiastically retweeted the Senator’s pronouncements on Twitter. He had even forked out $35 for those T-shirts – and now they were going up in flames as he and a group of young libertarians sat on the roof of Jayel’s Los Angeles apartment, drinking beer and glumly contemplating what had brought them – all former supporters of Rand Paul’s presidential campaign – to this point. As Charles Davis writes over at MondoWeiss:
“So what prompted such a fiery stunt on a Saturday night? Simple: The son of Ron opposes the deal with Iran over its nuclear program, faulting the agreement for lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic before ‘evidence of compliance.’ Paul still insists he prefers peace to war – who doesn’t? – and that he favors a negotiated settlement to the West’s standoff with the Islamic Republic, he just doesn’t support the only one that will ever happen, functionally making him pro-war. Worst of all: He’s lying to do it.”
Aheram and his friends had stood by the Kentucky Senator for many months, even as Rand occasionally waffled and made some statements that didn’t sit well with them by any means: the military budget proposal that actually called for an increase in what is laughingly referred to as “defense” spending, and his signing of an “open letter” to the Iranian government authored by neoconservative warmonger Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Strauss), who made no bones about his determination to scotch the looming deal with Iran. These things had disturbed them, but not enough to extinguish all hope that Sen. Paul – who had, after all, been brought up by a father whose dedication to liberty and peace is unquestioned – could and would serve as an admirable spokesman for their cause.
But it was the lie that vanquished that hope.
In questioning Secretary of State John Kerry at a hearing on the Iran deal before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Sen. Paul cited what he said were the Ayatollah Khamenei’s words:
“The Americans say they stopped Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. They know it’s not true.”
Claiming that this contradicts the administration’s contention that the deal “would prevent [the Iranians] from getting a nuclear weapon,” Paul averred that “the Ayatollah is saying the opposite.”
But what did Khamenei really say? Here’s the entire quote:
“The Americans say they stopped Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. They know it’s not true. We had a fatwa, declaring nuclear weapons to be religiously forbidden. It had nothing to do with the nuclear talks.”
“I made a point that the ayatollah is now saying that the deal does not prevent them from having a nuclear weapon and I thought that’s precisely what the deal is supposed to do, so I don’t know how we can have an agreement that President Obama says means one thing, John Kerry says means one thing, but the ayatollah says doesn’t mean that at all.”
So Rand Paul is now repeating AIPAC’s dishonest talking points. This is reminiscent of the same sort of propaganda that led the US to invade Iraq: “factoids” ripped out of context and promulgated by the Bush administration and its pet neoconservative pundits to create an entirely false picture of an Iraq that was seeking nuclear weapons.
In short, the Rand Paul that we were all hoping for – someone who would stand up to the War Party and refute their propaganda – is no more, if he ever existed in the first place. Instead of refuting the lies he’s joining in the telling of them – and in doing so, he’s crossed the Rubicon as far as libertarians and all those who oppose war with Iran are concerned.
What makes a sad situation far worse is that Sen. Paul’s turn toward the neocons hasn’t helped him one bit: instead, it’s hurt him. In the past few months his support, once in the double digits, has been cut in half. The latest PPP poll has him down to a mere 4 percent. This dramatic drop coincides precisely with his efforts to appease people who are never going to support him. His campaign’s effort to “broaden the base” has in reality marked a turning away from the base of supporters who were brought into politics and the GOP by his father. Not a very smart strategy, but then again the know-it-all “professionals” running the campaign think they’re being “realistic.” And yet: what good is a self-described pragmatism that turns out to be not very pragmatic?
Sen. Paul’s strategy failed because in a field of 16 GOP presidential wannabes it’s absolutely imperative to stand out. Yet, after his attempt to filibuster the renewal of the Patriot Act, his efforts were directed at blending in with the crowd, especially on the vitally important foreign policy issue. There are numerous articles out there attributing Rand’s downfall to organizational issues, lack of money, and infighting in the campaign, but this confuses effects with the primary cause, which is that Rand Paul has sold out.
That is why he’s lost the Jayel Aherams of this world, and without the youthful energy that pushed the elder Paul into the national spotlight and made the Paul name a household word, the junior Senator from Kentucky has lost his principal asset. And in losing that, he’s effectively lost the race before it’s barely begun.
Oh, he may hold on for a good while, but word is out that campaign staff are already making inquiries about other employment – and who can blame them? He’s sinking in the polls, along with the morale in his own campaign headquarters, and it’s because standing with Rand doesn’t mean what it might have meant. Standing with Rand means standing with someone who openly lies in a Senate committee hearing and then repeats the lie on national television.
It’s sad, and even ugly, but libertarians must face the truth – and this writer is pledged to tell his readers the truth, no matter how bitter. Rand Paul has crossed a very bright line: he has gone from being a wavering and occasionally eloquent spokesman for the cause of liberty and peace to being a full blown renegade from the movement that brought him to where he is today. To be clear: he is an enemy of peace, and therefore of libertarianism. He is far worse than Tom Cotton, his co-signer on that “open letter” to the Iranian government, because at least with Sen. Cotton we know where he stands and why. With Rand Paul, we know only that he’ll say anything in order to advance what he wrongly sees as his own political advantage.
So what should libertarians do about Rand Paul? Aside from withdrawing their support, the task of libertarians in regard to his campaign is to protect the libertarian brand against the Senator. For what we are seeing here isn’t just the errors of a single individual but a full-blown major deviation from the libertarian philosophy of peace, civil liberties, and free market economics. Rand-ism, if I may coin a phrase, limns the “conservatarian” nonsense peddled by Charles Cooke in his book, The Conservatarian Manifesto, in which a noninterventionist foreign policy is downplayed in favor of “socially liberal, and economically conservative” policies – an anodyne phrase designed to convince people that libertarians are really just Republicans who smoke pot. This is a cliché that we’ve often had to refute, but Rand Paul is busy reinforcing it. Rand-ism sends the following message: We’re against “big government,” and even government spying on Americans, but don’t worry, all you Fox News enthusiasts out there, we’re not averse to bombing the shit out of helpless civilians when the occasion calls for it.
Rand Paul’s trajectory is no accident: I warned very early on that he had “advisors” around him eager to pull him in precisely the direction he’s gone. And, although I struggled mightily to give Sen. Paul every chance to prove me wrong – he even had me fooled there for a while – it is now clear beyond all doubt that he’s taken that road.
It is a road to abject failure, as the present condition of his campaign demonstrates, but we must make sure that route is forever blocked off, lest other libertarians make the mistake of taking it. Without making any concessions to an arid sectarianism that decries political action per se and abjures all efforts to truly broaden the libertarian movement, we must make it perfectly clear that Rand Paul is not one of us.
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.