Rand Paul’s Oedipal Drama

Every time Rand Paul opens his mouth, he seems to put both feet and a couple of other appendages in it. There was that unfortunate interview with Rachel Maddow, there was the “couldn’t get any gayer” quip – and now this.

In an alternately opaque and all-too-revealing interview with the Daily Paul web site, in which he tried to explain why he endorsed Mitt Romney, Sen. Paul actually said “It doesn’t mean anything.” I’m sure the Romney campaign will be quite glad to hear that.

However, a few minutes later he was infusing the endorsement with historic significance, telling his no doubt baffled and increasingly skeptical listeners it would open all kinds of doors for the “liberty movement,” among them the promise that “we are going to have a big influence over what happens with the platform.” Citing a laundry list of his own personal legislative goals – legalizing hemp, ending mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes, auditing the Fed – he declared “we need to look beyond politics.”

To those Ron Paulians still fighting in the trenches – in Iowa, for example, where they won a hard-fought victory, or in Louisiana, where the Romneyites called the cops and shut down the delegate-selection process – hearing this must be absolutely infuriating. While the establishment Republican leadership is using every dirty trick in the book – and a few new ones – to stop Ron Paul’s duly-elected delegates from being seated, their candidate’s son is going over to the enemy!

Psychoanalysts of the Freudian school are sure to have fun with this case – a classic Oedipal conflict, as only a high dramatist like Freud might have imagined it, acted out on the public stage. All that’s missing is the Greek chorus.

But wait – I think I hear them now….

While Rand is not his own best defender, there are plenty of paid apparatchiks willing to do the job for him. Jack Hunter, the “Southern Avenger,” has apparently been assigned this task, and I can’t say I envy him. How do you rationalize such an enormous betrayal? After all, Rand didn’t even have the decency to wait for the national convention: he’s a man in a hurry, a very junior Senator with presidential pretensions, vice-presidential aspirations – and no time for old-fashioned formalities.

In a piece posted on the official Paul for President web site, Hunter makes the claim that the late Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul’s friend and mentor, “endorsed” George H. W. Bush in 1992, citing a Los Angeles Times op ed presciently describing the horrors that would befall us under the coming Clinton regime. The thesis of Rothbard’s article is succinctly summarized by the author, who isn’t here to defend himself. “First and foremost, “ Rothbard writes, “Bush ain’t Clinton.” If only Rand had said something with similar pizzazz!

Hunter knows better than to claim Rothbard ever endorsed Bush, because the public record clearly shows otherwise. In a piece published in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, the man most responsible for cohering what Rand refers to as the “liberty movement” explains he is by no means endorsing, in the sense of advising anyone to vote for any particular candidate. In an exchange of views with this author, Rothbard distinguished voting for someone or otherwise actively supporting them and rooting for a candidate. The former impels a moral and political sanction, while the latter involves looking at politics as a spectator sport. If the good Senator from Kentucky will revise and extend his remarks to make the distinction between rooting for Romney and actually voting for him, I’d be delighted to hear it. Otherwise, I would remind the Southern Avenger that Rothbard has his own avengers, and they don’t like it when his name and reputation are sullied in the service of the sort of shameless opportunism he would have hated.

The sheer superficiality of the promises Rand and his defenders are making – “influence” over a platform no one will read, support for Rand’s personal political career, and the legalization of hemp (!) – is insulting. Doubly so in the context of the real issue to be decided in Tampa, which is: will they even let Ron Paul’s name be formally placed in nomination? Given the timing, Rand’s embrace of Romney can fairly be described as treachery. Or was that the price the son paid for the honor due his father?

We’ll see. In the meantime, this controversy underscores two major yet interrelated obstacles in the path of the Paulian movement, post-Tampa. The first is the politics and character of Senator Paul, who owes his political career to support from all over the country. Up until this point, he has lived in the house his father built on foundations set down by such giants as Rothbard. If this is his political coming of age, his idea of striking out on his own, we don’t have much to look forward to. I have had many letters and comments from readers reminding me of my previous column on this subject, which asked the question “Can Ron Paul be Tamed?” All I can add is: don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The masks are off, and for the first time the junior Senator from Kentucky is showing his nasty side: in the Daily Paul interview he characterizes his critics as anarchists “ranting and raving on the internet,” and claims to have received death threats from his father’s supporters.

This is quite an explosive charge to make on the eve of what will probably be the most heavily-policed national convention in history, with uniformed and covert law enforcement agents swarming over Tampa like … well, each to their own analogies. Suffice to say that Rand’s comments endanger what will undoubtedly be a beleaguered and harassed Paul contingent in Tampa: for him to violence-bait the movement he claims to support – and that put him in office – defies belief, and I can think of no precedent in the history of any political movement anywhere, unless we’re talking about the role played by someone like this guy.

I wouldn’t go that far, but the effect is the same. In politics, timing is everything, and the time to concede is not before the battle. If the Greeks had adopted Rand’s “strategy” at Thermopylae, we might all be speaking Persian today.

Sen. Paul says that after a personal meeting with Romney

I came away from it feeling he would be a very responsible commander-in-chief. I don’t think he’ll be reckless. I don’t think he’ll be rash. And I think that he realizes and believes as I do that war is a last resort and something we don’t rush willy-nilly into. And I came away feeling that he’ll have mature attitude and beliefs towards foreign policy.”

No doubt some clever fellow along the lines of the Southern Avenger will explain to us how this is really a devastating insult directed at the Romneyites, because it is implicitly accusing their candidate of keeping his real foreign policy views close to his vest. Yet that isn’t the case at all: Romney has repeatedly called for extending and escalating the war in Afghanistan, and criticized the Obama administration for even pretending we’re on the way out. Romney has called for regime change in Iran, and attacked the very idea of negotiating with Tehran, which is not all that surprising – his principal foreign policy spokesmen include the usual neoconservative suspects. Romney’s stated views, and the views attributed to him by Sen. Paul, are mutually exclusive: is Sen. Paul calling the candidate he just embraced a liar? I’ll leave it to Rand’s professional defenders to spin that one,

Sen. Paul is eager to explain to his father’s followers that the candidate who has pledged to expand the military budget, prepare for war with Iran, and now sees Russia as a rising threat is really somewhat less interventionist than he wants everyone to believe. This kind of argument is so weak that one wonders what is the real point of making it.

It’s clear that Sen. Paul is not a chip off the old block when it comes to foreign policy. There was that troubling vote in favor of draconian sanctions on Iran, which are the prelude to an actual military blockade of Iranian oil exports – and that means war. Rand confides in us Romney’s supposed real views on questions of war and peace, but what, I’d like to know is what are his own real views? What, exactly, is a “mature” foreign policy, as he puts it?

This dizzy buzzword trivializes the importance of foreign policy – a central pillar in the triad of issues that make up the credo of the “liberty movement,” the other two being economic freedom and the defense of civil liberties. In this he is so unlike his father, who underscores his opposition to foreign adventurism and empire-building at every opportunity. Indeed, Paul always said this would be the first thing to go if he ever got into the White House, before cuts in food stamps and aid to the truly down-and-out. His first-year trillion-dollar-cut in spending proposal is predicated on this.

Sen. Paul and his defenders are right when they say this is a strategic question, and what is clear is that the strategy they’ve chosen is to de-emphasize the foreign policy aspect of the Paulian credo. This, they believe, will give them access to the inner sanctum of the GOP’s power players, and, not coincidentally, advance Sen. Paul’s career as the hereditary leader of a thoroughly tamed Paulian movement. I’ve pointed out before the disparity between what Ron Paul continually says, and what the official campaign ads said, as far as emphasis on anti-interventionism: in the latter case, what was said was very little. Now this internal tension is coming to a head.

Every movement has organizational and ideological conflicts, but this one promises to be wide and deep. The endorsement was the equivalent of throwing a hand grenade into one of those amazing Ron Paul rallies, where thousands of college students are chanting “End the Fed! End the Wars!”

Rand Paul has a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong venue. From the Maddow disaster to the “couldn’t get any gayer” remark to this latest controversy, he just keeps stepping on land mines. By the time he reaches the end of his first term, he may have blown his presidential ambitions sky-high. And if he keeps alienating and attacking his own donor base, his reelection chances might not look so hot either.

There is a difference between compromise and surrender. Whether Sen. Paul will learn this before the end of his political career is an open question: his father learned it early on. While I’ve been critical of the Senator in this space, I’ve given him credit when it was his due, and I’ve always given him the benefit of a doubt. God knows we don’t have many libertarian Senators. Sadly, what this latest debacle indicates is that we may not even have one.

This is a major reason we here at Antiwar.com don’t get involved in political organizations or causes: we credit any and all politicians who show signs of understanding the centrality of the foreign policy issue to the fight for human freedom. Ron Paul and the movement his candidacy inspired made that connection, and that is why we have analyzed and critiqued it every step of the way – but no candidate, organization, or “movement” leader gets a blank check. As a chapter in the long and proud history of anti-imperialism in America, the full story of the Paulian movement is still being written. While the outcome is uncertain, the rapidly developing storyline is telling us important things about the leading characters.

In any case, that history will not be authored by campaign functionaries and would-be grand strategists, but by the grassroots movement that sprang up quite independently of the official campaign. The overwhelming response of that movement – which Sen. Paul derides as “ranting and raving on the internet” – to the Romney endorsement has been decidedly negative. In his Daily Paul interview, the Senator speculates that a good portion of the millions who voted for and supported his father will be influenced by his endorsement, and that the only ones dissenting are those freakish anarchists.

He is flattering himself – not unusual in a politician, but in this case he really is making a rather high jump and, as usual, stumbling over his own words. The number of actual votes Sen. Paul’s endorsement garners for the GOP may number as high as the dozens, although I doubt it. One anticipates the spectacle of Sen. Paul going out on the hustings and campaigning for Romney with growing horror, albeit not with disbelief.


There is a silver lining to this dark cloud: in his Daily Paul apologia, Sen. Paul throws cold water on the idea his father will ever endorse Romney.

On another note: it’s great to be back to work, but I really did need that vacation. Not that I spent it in Hawaii: I spent 99% of it working in my garden, and I’m looking at my handiwork even as I write. Ah, the joys of bringing order out of chaos! Now I’m back to making sense out of the seeming senselessness of our foreign policy: there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’ll spare my readers this one time and simply say: It’s great to be back. I am more appreciative than ever of the constant support and encouragement Antiwar.com’s readers give me, and I work hard to enjoy their confidence. Our recent fundraiser, while scary at times, was a success due to that support, and everyone on staff here does their utmost to earn that support every day.

It’s important that supporters of an anti-interventionist foreign policy maintain their own institutions and organs of opinion, outside the political process and the broader political movements. That is one of the lessons of the Rand Paul debacle, and why we have always insisted on the organizational independence and completely nonpartisan character of this web site. It’s important to keep the banner of liberty and peace flying, no matter what some quasi-“libertarian” politician-on-the-make says.

Yes, our quarterly fundraisers are always a little hairy, but one way you can make them less so is by becoming a monthly contributor – stretching out your total contribution over a year, and doing so effortlessly. This gives us a cushion and reduces the sense of crisis that has infused our recent fundraising effort. Go here to sign up.

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].