Rand Paul’s Problem, and Ours

Ambushed by Rachel “Tail-gunner Jane” Maddow, Rand Paul – son of Ron – is at the center of a ever-escalating controversy, one that underscores the complete emptiness of political discourse in this country. It was a “gotcha” moment that will go down in the history books, under “dirty tricks,” along with the daisy-picking ad run by Democrats against Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. Indeed, Rachel took us all the way back to 1964, the year the Democrats dropped their longstanding opposition and passed the first Civil Rights Act, which outlawed segregation of the races in public schools and other taxpayer-funded institutions, as well as in private housing and employment.

Rand, revealed Rachel, had told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he opposed this landmark legislation: he wants to re-segregate those lunch counters, she screeched, and take us back to the days of Jim Crow! After a ten minute tirade to that effect, she finally let Rand on the air to rebut – and it went downhill from there.

Now the General Electric/MSNBC wing of the Democratic party – or do I repeat myself? – has seized on Rand as the purported symbol of the “racist” Tea Party movement, and the evil of all libertarians, who are supposedly so wrapped up in their “utopian” theories that they don’t know or care that they’re aiding and abetting the Ku Klux Klan. Rachel, they crow, has exposed libertarians as “white supremacists! This confirms, in their own minds, at least, the narrative they’ve been pushing since the election of Barack Obama: administration critics are right-wing dingbats who aren’t even trying to hide the fact that they’re unrepentant raaaaa-cists.

Outside of the self-referential world of cable entertainment, this alleged unmasking of the deep dark secret bigotry at the heart of libertarian darkness isn’t very convincing. After all, what has the passage of the 1964 Act and its successors actually accomplished in terms of ending segregation in housing and increasing black employment? When Rand defended his stance, albeit not very articulately, Maddow responded with “unless it’s illegal, there’s nothing to stop that—there’s nothing under your world view to stop the country from re-segregating like we were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

What an odd view of America – a country that, you’ll recall, has recently elected an American of African descent to the highest office in the land. In Rachel’s world, the nation is teeming with KKKers, who are just waiting to restore the bad old days of Jim Crow. Yet can you imagine what would happen to the first store that dared post a sign saying “No blacks”? The uproar would drive them out of business within hours.

Paul opined that we’ve had a lot of re-segregation in the past thirty years, but most of his arguments – irrelevant diversions into the second and first amendments – completely missed the point: there has been no re-segregation in private housing and employment, because there was no significant desegregation to begin with. We still have black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods, and as a general rule the old aphorism “last hired, first fired” still applies to blacks. What world are these people living in?

The reason the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its numerous successors haven’t made any real dent in the stubborn racial exclusiveness that persists in housing and employment is because the Act was never about the victims of racism: it was, instead, all about white liberals like Ms. Maddow (and her fan club) making themselves feel good – about themselves.

Aren’t we virtuous! Aren’t we righteous! Who cares if civil rights legislation has actually resulted in negligible gains for blacks: we can fix that with affirmative action. So who’s being the “utopian” now? More thoughtful types might wonder, however: why didn’t it work?

The reason is because human beings aren’t mind-readers. Unless someone puts up a sign saying “No blacks need apply,” it’s impossible to know when discrimination has occurred. Until and unless the US Justice Department can get a hold of those “telepathic helmetsI hear the Pentagon is developing, the task of outing corporate racists is likely to prove insurmountable.

Without going into the libertarian ins and outs of what is an interesting but politically irrelevant issue, however, the controversy surrounding Rand Paul gives me the opportunity to point out what I thought should have been all too obvious by now.

Maddow didn’t expose Rand Paul’s alleged “racism” – what she revealed is his inability to function, like his father, as a spokesman for libertarianism. After all, he isn’t his father – unfortunately, I would add. Wouldn’t it be great to have Ron in the Senate? He’s certainly more than earned it. One can only dream. Yet the advent of Paul, the son, is turning into my personal nightmare.

I have to say that I’ve held off commenting on the subject of Rand’s candidacy quite deliberately, because I wanted to give him the benefit of every doubt. I wasn’t too alarmed, at first, when he differed from his father on the subject of Guantanamo and the question of whether to give “enemy combatants” a trial before we lock them up forever – I didn’t and don’t agree, but plenty of anti-interventionists I respect, such as Pat Buchanan, would take Rand’s side in that debate, and so I gave him a pass.

He did an interview with Antiwar.com, in which he stated some mildly anti-interventionist sentiments, coming out against the “long term” occupation of Afghanistan. As one commenter on the thread put it, however, “Not in favor of long-term occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan? What does he think the situation is right now?” That same perceptive commenter presciently added: “I’m not a Ron Paul fan, but from this interview, it seems like Rand Paul is no Ron Paul.”

In any case, Trey Grayson, his opponent in the Republican primary, made a big issue of his even appearing on the radio with those “leftist” radicals at Antiwar.com – Ha! If only they knew! – and ran television ads juxtaposing Rand’s comments to those of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. To no avail, however, and Rand smashed Grayson with a resounding 60 percent of the vote – a clear signal that the neocon foreign policy of invading the world has no resonance anymore, not even in a GOP primary in a solidly Republican state.

Yet Rand drew a different conclusion from the election results, because he began backtracking immediately, even before election day, even as the polls showed Grayson’s attacks were having no effect. Rand came out in favor of economic sanctions on Iran, and further opined:

“I do see Iran as a threat to the stability of the Middle East… Recently, President Obama took nuclear weapons off the table in certain circumstances, and I think that’s a mistake.  I think it’s reckless to take them out of the equation.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds to me like he’s in favor – given the right circumstances – of nuking Iran. This is something that not even the wildest-eyed neocon has seriously proposed. That an alleged “libertarian” could mouth those words is appalling, but hardly surprising: it just means that, in a world where even a loudmouthed statist like Bill Maher can claim to be a “libertarian,” the word has lost all meaning. No wonder Bill Kristol wants to give the kid a break.

I don’t even want to go into the rest of his symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease, but Rand’s characterization of the President as “anti-American” for holding BP responsible for the consequences of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cannot go unremarked. To begin with, as Chris Hayes pointed out in his excellent discussion of the issue while filling in for Maddow, the oil companies are one of the biggest examples of the sort of crony capitalism libertarians are supposed to abhor. As the recipients of numerous subsidies and government subventions, the oil companies are also the beneficiaries of a legislated cap [.pdf] on damages which limits their liability. In a free market, it’s likely they couldn’t drill off the Florida coast at all because they couldn’t afford the insurance.

As in the case of all the other governmental bodies and agencies we have that are supposed to “oversee” the activities of the corporate world, the overseers have been subjected to a strategy of “regulatory capture.” They’re in bed – literally – with the very companies they are supposed to be overseeing.

It’s true that Rand got his start in the libertarian movement, as a supporter of and spokesman for his father, but good sense may not be hereditary, and, in any case, Paul the younger seems not to have inherited his father’s backbone. Can you imagine Rand standing up to the bully Rudy Giuliani – or even daring to raise the issue that motivated Giuliani’s grandstanding outburst? I can’t.

Instead, what we have seen is a sustained attempt by Rand to transform libertarianism into “constitutional” conservatism: when asked to describe his politics, Rand regularly disdains the libertarian label and avers that he’s a “constitutional conservative.” You know, as opposed to those unconstitutional conservatives – the sort who want to give the President the power to suspend habeas corpus, lock up “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo, and throw away the key.

What we should do is simply take Rand at his word, in this instance, and recognize that he is indeed no libertarian. This will relieve him of being in the embarrassing position of having to explain and defend our arcane canons, and lift from his shoulders the burden of having to translate theory into a political program that makes sense for today. Clearly, he’s not up to the task, and, in any event – not being a libertarian – he’s even more clearly not interested in taking on the job.

He is interested, however, is gaining as much support for his candidacy nationwide as he can. That is how he got to where he is today, after all: by appealing to his father’s constituency for financial and other forms of support. If he hopes this support will be ongoing, he may be in for a shock: having the right last name will only get him so far with libertarians. He has got to learn to live up to his father’s good name, and I have a suggestion as to how he might make a good start.

Since he’s spent so much time apologizing for, and running away from, his own comments – now claiming that he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act – why doesn’t he spend a few moments backtracking from his morally reprehensible refusal to take nuking Iran “out of the equation”? Now that‘s something he really ought to get down on his hands and knees and beg forgiveness for – and maybe (just maybe!) libertarians will think about supporting him. Until that apology – or “clarification” – is forthcoming, I wouldn’t give Rand Paul the time of day.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].