Will Rand Paul Mainstream Libertarianism on the Way to White House?

The Sunday morning talk
shows are abuzz with disussion about
a long and interesting article
about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in
The New York Times written by Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg. I’m
not particularly familiar with Rutenberg’s work, but Tanenhaus is a
really sharp historian of ideology in American life and longtime
respectful watcher of libertarianism (his bio of Whittaker Chambers
is excellent; watch an interview Reason did with him here).

The Times profile is required reading for anybody interested in
knowing more about Paul and, arguably as important, how the
mainstream views him and will likely view him over the next couple
of years.

Some snippets and commentary:

As Rand Paul test-markets a presidential candidacy and tries to
broaden his appeal, he is also trying to take libertarianism, an
ideology long on the fringes of American politics, into the
mainstream. Midway through his freshman term, he has become a
prominent voice in Washington’s biggest debates — on government
surveillance, spending and Middle East policy.

Ah, those furry, fabulous, freak-flag-flying fringes of American
politics! As Matt Welch and I have been putting it, the U.S. of A.
has been in the throes of ongoing Libertarian
for quite some time now, especially if you take a
big-picture snapshot about attitudes toward government power
think feds have too much power), about government
too much
” (also at record levels), and broad acceptance of
social tolerance (record highs for acceptance of things such as
marriage equality and pot legalization).

In the piece, which includes
interviews with Paul, he refuses to take the bait about
“paleolibertarians” and apologias for the Confederacy that tripped
up his father. Write Tanenhaus and Rutenberg:

Some scholars affiliated with the Mises Institute have combined
dark biblical prophecy with apocalyptic warnings that the nation is
plunging toward economic collapse and cultural ruin. Others have
championed the Confederacy. One economist, while faulting slavery
because it was involuntary, suggested in an interview that the
daily life of the enslaved was “not so bad — you pick cotton and
sing songs.”…

Mr. Paul says he abhors racism, has never visited the institute
and should not have to answer for the more extreme views of all of
those in the libertarian orbit.

“If you were to say to someone, ‘Well, you’re a conservative
Republican or you are a Christian conservative Republican, does
that mean that you think when the earthquake happened in Haiti that
was God’s punishment for homosexuality?’ Well, no,” he said in an
earlier interview. “It loses its sense of proportion if you have to
go through and defend every single person about whom someone says
is associated with you.”

There’s a lot in the piece about the rise of Ron Paul and the
libertarian world from which he sprang (Reason’s Brian Doherty is
quoted). And there’s this about Rand Paul’s successful Senate run,
in which he first fought off the GOP establishment’s pick and then
trounced his Democratic opponent in the general election:

His calls for slashing the budget and eliminating the Department
of Education and the Federal Reserve resonated with Tea Party
followers. And his criticism of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,
as well as the Patriot
 and detentions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had broad

“We underestimated Rand’s ability as a political maneuverer,”
Mr. Skaggs, the former local [GOP] party chairman, said later.

Yeah, maybe. The
implication here is that Paul is somehow pulling a fast one, as
opposed to proceeding from basic libertarian principles which –
mother of pearl! – have “broad appeal” with voters. Which they

The article ends with a scene from last fall’s Liberty Political
Action Conference, where Paul pere followed Paul fils on stage.

“I want a tiny revolution,” said Dave Wahlstedt, from Minnesota,
selling T-shirts that read, “Don’t Drone Me Bro!” At a booth
nearby, Matt DeVries, from Iowa, complained about the growing
infringements of traffic cameras and speed traps. Other tables were
sponsored by the Young
Americans for Liberty
, an outgrowth of Ron Paul’s presidential

“We exist to maintain the infrastructure to mobilize young
people willing to work on a Rand Paul campaign,” Jeff Frazee, the
organization’s leader and a former Ron Paul aide, said in an

Read the whole thing.

Reason on Rand

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