Jason Lewis wrote an opinion piece in the Star Tribunereminding readers that the foreign policy approach of Rand Paul (and even more so, his father Ron Paul) has more in common with 20th century Republicans than his contemporary rivals. Lewis opened his article with anti-war quotes from Ronald Regan, Robert Taft, Dwight Eisenhower contrasting with quotes of neocons Sen. John McCain, Sen. Tom Cotton, and Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The backlash against the Kentucky senator has been swift and unanimous — at least from the ranks of fellow would-be nominees for president. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s over-the-top rhetoric, suggesting Paul is “unsuited to be the commander in chief,” is only the beginning. The Cheneys (Dick and Liz, that is) have said Paul is “out to lunch” on foreign affairs. […]
But the neoconservatives who have taken over the GOP are also running against party tradition. Indeed, the defining characteristic of 20th-century Republicanism could be defined as a wariness of war-minded leaders — from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson. […]
Perhaps it’s time for all of today’s gung-ho Republican candidates and commentators criticizing Sen. Paul to explain once and for all why the GOP heroes of the past were wrong and how it is that big government abroad can ever lead to small government at home.
Traditionally speaking, I think Lewis is right: Rand Paul is the only Conservative Republican running for president so far.
Even if Rand Paul is not elected president, he has already performed the country a great service. No, I’m not talking about the pending expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It will likely be a temporary victory at best. What Rand Paul is accomplishing is that he’s exposing some of the contradictions of the Republican Party’s establishment wing.
What Paul is doing is exposing the same GOP establishsment types who support every shift to the left and support every big government program in the name of “moving to the center” as frauds and liars. All Paul is simply doing is letting them go hysterical.
Take for example former New Hampshire Governor and Chief of Staff to George H.W. Bush John Sununu comments:
Once the primary is over, Sununu said it’s “stupid” for Republican voters to not back whomever wins the primary, with one exception, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Sununu said while he is tired of “stupid conservatives giving Democrats the election,” After Paul’s comments blaming Republican hawks for creating ISIS this week he now believes Paul’s national security positions are too extreme “isolationist,” and “to the left of Barack Obama.”
He added, “Frankly, I can not imagine Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as commander in chief.”
If Rand Paul accomplishes nothing else this campaign cycle, he exposed the self-described “big tent” Republicans as nothing more than a bunch of hypocrites. Most of these same guys are the ones who criticize conservatives who support primaring more moderate Republicans.
I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
First, with respect to abortion, Rand Paul believes that from the point of conception, human life is entitled to state protection. Sullum concludes that this position “can be defended on libertarian grounds” once one “accept[s] the premise that a fetus is a person with a right to life.”
Rand Paul is correct (and Sullum is right to implicitly recognize) that abortion is not self-evidently beyond the purview of government. To the contrary, conflicts between rights-bearing individuals are quintessentially within that purview.
Government is the repository of collective force, the monopolistic holder of the privilege to enforce conformance to the collective will. According to most libertarians, that power is legitimately wielded to protect individual liberty, such as through the punishment and prevention of crimes like assault, battery, murder, rape, robbery, etc.
As an aside, from what I understand, even most anarchists endorse some sort of protocol for dealing with violence. One of my disagreements with anarchists is that I have never found anything semantically useful about calling those protocols anything other than “government.”
In any case, Paul and Sullum are therefore further correct that, if one accepts the unborn have rights, abortion is an issue that falls well within the purview of the state—because it involves a conflict between individual rights most of us readily acknowledge (the right to control one’s body versus the right to continue living).
As far as I know, however, nothing in libertarian doctrine answers the underlying, fundamental question of whether and when the unborn become rights-bearing. Only philosophy can tell us what attributes entitle a living entity to rights, and only medical science can tell us when the unborn develop those attributes.
I therefore disagree with Sullum in this very narrow respect: It would be better to say there is nothing inherently unlibertarian about Paul’s position on abortion than to say that libertarianism provides a basis for defending that position. Perhaps I am being pedantic. Perhaps it is an issue purely of semantics.
But it is one that matters to libertarians and non-libertarians alike.
Paul has some treacherous political terrain to navigate if he hopes to win both the GOP primary and a general election. If he wants the libertarian base to cross that terrain with him, he will probably need to articulate his positions with that level of finesse.
As a final note on the abortion issue, since non-libertarians often ask how we come down on this, I will go ahead and state my own position for the record. My own personal criteria for recognizing a living being’s entitlement to rights include some combination of the following: the ability to prefer existence over non-existence, the potential for high level sentience and the capacity to experience pain. I do not support interfering with a woman’s bodily autonomy from the moment of conception. I agree with Rand Paul, however, that fetuses become rights-bearing before the end of pregnancy and even before the end of the first trimester.
Second, on the issue of gay marriage, Sullum quotes Paul as lamenting that:
Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people…
From a libertarian perspective, there is no “we” here. There is no group properly endowed with the power to decide for everyone else what relationships get to be called “marriages.” It is for individuals to decide whether their relationship constitutes a “marriage,” and it is for other individuals to decide whether they agree with that characterization.
The issue is increasingly a litmus test precisely because it is so revealing of a candidate’s feelings about the relationship between individuals and government. It will be hard to sell a message of small government and liberty while simultaneously insisting that government should be so deeply involved in our lives as to define relationships and dictate how words are to be used.
In the past, Paul has indicated that he supports leaving it to the states to decide whether to recognize gay marriage. That position might solve Paul’s political problems as a federal candidate. But it is not inherently libertarian. Libertarians are, generally speaking, concerned with defining and limiting the exercise of force. That concern is not limited to federal government exercises of force.
Without more, Paul’s reliance on federalism requires libertarians to accept the following compromise: that while Paul believes state governments can interfere with private marriage, since he is not running for state office, we ought not worry overmuch about it. The argument is not without its merits. But it is also not libertarian.
On the other hand, Paul’s comments last year that “I don’t really think the government needs to be too involved with” marriage were decidedly libertarian in nature. Perhaps that is even his true position, and his more recent remarks have been more about rallying another wing of the GOP base. Whether he can get past the primary without clarifying remains to be seen.
As a final note, sophisticated social conservatives will argue that state maintenance of traditional marriage does not constitute an exercise of force, but merely an expression of what relationships the majority choose to recognize as “married” within the meaning of the law. The distinction is worthy of recognition and merits debate. However, states use force to collect taxpayer money to run their marriage licensing programs, and most libertarians intuitively support some version of “equal protection” doctrine.
In summary, to answer Sullum’s question, Paul’s position on when life becomes entitled to state protection is neither supported by nor contradicted by libertarian doctrine. If he thinks state legislatures can define marriage for individuals, however, Paul is far afield from basic libertarian tenets.
Does that mean I won’t vote for him?
No. I fully intend to vote for Rand Paul in the GOP primary. If he actually gets the nomination—and I hope he does—I may vote for him in the general as well. For one thing, I suspect that his true position on gay marriage is largely libertarian. Even if I am wrong about that, Rand Paul is still leagues more libertarian than any candidate the two major parties has run in my adult life.
I have never been lucky enough to be offered a candidate who both satisfies my politics and has a chance of winning. His imperfections notwithstanding, it would be nice if Rand Paul could change that.
Does Doctor Rand Paul believe vaccines cause autism? Well, let’s see exactly what he said on the topic (video after the fold):
I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.
Really, Rand? You’ve heard of cases. Seems like you and my wife have something in common. As I like to say, I believe in evidence-based medicine, while she believes in anecdote-based medicine.
Of course, it’s not all that dangerous that my wife has this blind spot. She’s neither a doctor NOR a US Senator. You, however, should think before you open that hole on the front of your face and let words fall out. The world holds you to higher standard.
90% of your interview was extolling the virtues of vaccines. You make a great point about freedom. Vaccines ARE voluntary, which seemed to be a surprise to the anchor. We as parents must carefully weigh evidence and do what we believe is right for our children. I’ve argued as such here on this blog.
But this one sentence is going to be used as evidence that vaccines cause autism. Your position as a Senator and as a doctor are going to be used to give this idea credibility. Oh, and if you now come out and publicly try to distance yourself from this, the conspiracy-minded anti-vaxxers out there will view that as only damning you further.
And you base this on what? Anecdotes? Anecdotes from parents who are reeling from the emotional sting of realizing their perfect little child is facing a neurological disorder and the terror of what that will mean? Parents who wonder “why” life is unfair–and who is to blame? These parents are vulnerable, and some of the subcultures in the autism community will have them quickly believing that vaccines, antibiotics, and frankly anything sold by a pharmaceutical company is evil, and delivering them into the hands of pseudoscience hucksters selling hyperbaric oxygen treatments, chelation, and homeopathy as the solution. As the father of a child with autism, I’ve watched it happen. I don’t tend towards hyperbole in this area, but the behavior of many of these groups is remarkably cultlike.
I’m not sure what Sen. Paul truly believes as it relates to vaccines and autism. But he’s now entered the debate, and on the wrong side. He did so without evidence; merely anecdote.
On Monday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a prospect for the 2016 Presidential Election, put forth his opinion on vaccinating children. It wasn’t Dr. Paul’s finest moment.
In light of the recent measles outbreak in California, Dr. Paul was asked about the disease, and the ant-vaccination movement, on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. He stated that while he felt vaccinations were a “good idea”, he felt that parents should have the option to decline them:
“I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing, but I think the parents should have some input,” he added. “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom.”
Dr. Paul noted to Ms. Ingraham in his interview that he believed vaccinations should be optional. In the same show, Ms. Ingraham stated that she didn’t believe measles was “that big of a deal“.
Later in the day, in a CNBC interview, Dr. Paul used anecdotal evidence to state that parents were justified in their skepticism:
“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview with CNBC anchor Kelly Evans.
This coincides with fellow GOP hopeful Chris Christie, who explained that while he vaccinates his children and believes they are a good thing, believes parents deserve more input:
He said that he and his wife had vaccinated their children, describing that decision as “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.” He said they believe doing so is an “important part of making sure we protect their health and the public health.”
“But,” Christie added, “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
Mr. Christie made greater input into vaccinations for parents part of his campaign for Governor of New Jersey in 2009.
Some of these public statements of support for anti-vaccination proponents can be explained as a matter of timing: earlier in the morning, an interview the Today Show did with President Obama made clear his thoughts on the matter: there are no reasons not to vaccinate:
“I understand that there are families that in some cases are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” the president explained.
Anti-vaccination proponents – often called “anti-vaxxers” – believe that vaccinations for many diseases once viewed as eradicated can cause mental defects, with autism being the most commonly referenced, due to the amount of mercury in the vaccinations. More fringe elements of the anti-vaxxer movement believe that the government intentionally puts mercury in vaccinations as a passive form of population control.
However, most anti-vaxxers, if I’m putting this bluntly, are not very smart. They read a few articles on Infowars, see Jenny McCarthy speak for twelve seconds, put on their finest tin-foil hats, and let loose their ridiculous, half baked ideas, just before their diatribe about chemtrails. These people are clearly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. But what’s truly harmful is to have people like Senator Paul – a DOCTOR, for heaven’s sake! – and Governor Christie (a successful lawyer) giving oxygen to these people by enabling their nonsense.
The argument being made is that parents should have the liberty to do whatever they want with their children. However, that argument ends at my child’s body. This isn’t something like school choice, or even a voucher program that would use tax dollars in religious schools against the wishes of secular parents. Not vaccinating a child against measles puts that child’s life in danger before they even know what measles are. They also put other children at risk, particularly other children who either are not vaccinated or can’t be vaccinated due to other health concerns.
It’s one thing to argue that a parent – or even a mature minor has the right to put a child at risk if they believe the treatment is worse than the disease; I’m sympathetic to that argument to an extent. But a measles epidemic has been cut loose for the first time since “Leave It To Beaver” was being taped, and it’s affected a lot of people. Parents affected who willingly did not vaccinate their children should be held liable for the damage they have personally caused.
It’s easy to call the anti-vaxxer issue a bipartisan one – thank the “Whole Foods crowd” for that – but this is a problem that is disproportionate among hardcore, anti-government right wingers, who have been raised into a froth into believing that anything involving the government, or Barack Obama, is a bad thing. Such constant pandering – particularly by grifters like Sarah Palin and others – replaces education with nonsense because to them, these “facts” are education. Due to this, they distrust anything that goes against their worldview. “The CDC!? Liberal media fascists!” If President Obama said the sky was blue in a speech, that would be the tinder that starts a purple sky movement.
We expect “I’ve heard it causes brain damage!” to come from the wingnuts. But coming from Doctor Paul, a very intelligent man, calls into question his sincerity, his respect for the American primary voter – part of me thinks “he can’t believe that shit, can he?” – and his qualification to hold the highest office in the country.1
1 – I’m not holding Governor Christie to so strong a flame because I feel his statements, and clarifications, exhibit more nuance than those of Dr. Paul, who is no stranger to some real whoppers in his time.
Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.