Recently Steve Deace, a man for whom I have tremendous respect and admiration, had some very poignant questions as to Rand Paul’s commitment to upholding liberty principles. As a person in the liberty movement who supported Ron Paul and now Stands with Rand with conviction that runs just as deep, I had some immediate thoughts on how to answer the questions posed.
Deace asks of the liberty movement “Is it a movement to advance a slate of issues/principles, or is it a movement intended to get Rand Paul elected the next president of the United States? The truth is if it’s the latter, that’s precisely how Rand will never win—as the civil rights and Religious Right movements of yesteryear can now attest. Once the acquisition of power replaces the mission the vision becomes compromised, and so does the movement.”
I would start by stating, unequivocally, that the liberty movement is not about one man nor has it ever been, despite how the media attempted to portray us as the “cult of Ron Paul” for so long. That being said, the greater point here is that advancing our most prominent champions political chances does not have to come at the expense of principle. There will always be the question of how much progress is enough, and that is a hotly debated topic in the liberty movement, but in every policy initiative Rand Paul has put forth he has called for a gain in liberty and not a reduction. The minute that changes, I am off board and so are most other libertarians. Does he moderate his rhetoric? Yes, but has he moderated his positions? No. The moderation of rhetoric gives me hope that Rand can broaden our reach, which brings us to Steve’s second question.
“While the movement is making inroads with younger voters, it has also shown it has electoral limitations in its current form. So how do you cast a wider net without betraying your first principles? What are the right hills to die on? Is this about building on Ron Paul’s legacy to expand it, or do you have to diminish Ron Paul’s legacy in order to mainstream it?”
I think this is the most important question for the liberty movement to answer, and I think that Rand’s responses to this have been nothing short of brilliant in 2013. For example, in the case of Rand Paul’s March filibuster we saw a bold, principled maneuver which caused a massive shift in public opinion and launched Rand to the national prominence he enjoys today. In a more recent example of this, Rand Paul’s economic freedom zone act (which include a 5 percent flat tax and suspension of Davis-Bacon wages among other things) has even won the support of the man Steve so appropriately refers to as Ditch McConnell. This has not been nearly as prominent in the eyes of the public as the filibuster, but it does represent a very important part of Rand Paul’s strategy, which is making liberty ideas attractive to opportunist politicians. I think anybody who looks at his record knows McConnell is not conservative enough to push for a plan as principled as Paul’s free market stimulus on its merits, so why does he do it? He does it because it is a huge success with the Republican base.
By using rhetoric that appeals to a wider audience Rand is actually making libertarian policy popular to non-libertarian politicians and voters. In Rand Paul’s crusade against NSA spying he has taken a program which once had overwhelming Republican support and (along with the fact that we have a Democrat president) turned it into something Republicans overwhelmingly oppose. This culminated in a vote to stop NSA spying that got the support of 94 Republicans and lost by only 12 votes. Almost everything Rand has done in the past year has made the libertarian position more attractive to Republicans, which will continue to grow our movement.
On the flip side, Rand has avoided some serious landmines that appeared tempting to engage in, but ultimately would not have benefited the movement. Though his voting record and public statements have consistently demonstrated he is personally in favor of defunding Obamacare, Rand consistently voiced that he did not want to shut down the government, which had major public opposition. Seeing the outcome of this shutdown deliver a major hit to the popularity of both the GOP and Ted Cruz made me glad that this was not the hill Rand chose to die on, as there are several examples of liberty issues (such as Audit the Fed) that have a high level of support and will broaden our movement. Picking our battles is indeed a huge question, and I would argue it’s the one Rand has done best with, of all the questions Steve asks.
Steve goes on to ask “Who are the movement’s shepherds? Is it a grassroots-led effort that speaks for itself, or is it in the name of “Paul” the movement lives and breathes? Since you need champions to advance your cause in our representative republic, and the movement really had no modern champion before Ron Paul, does the movement now take its cues top-down from his son as successor, or does the movement anoint and select its own champions? Is it an aristocracy or a meritocracy?”
I don’t think this is a situation where either Rand Paul is the successor to Ron Paul or the liberty movement anoints its own champions. The truth is that the liberty movement has anointed its own champions, and the leader of them is Rand Paul. I am not so naive as to believe that this has nothing to do with his last name, but being the only libertarian senator also makes Rand the most nationally recognizable libertarian in the country right now. He has used this influence to push a budget that balances in 5 years, cuts 4 departments, literally cuts the EPA in half, cuts corporate and personal income taxes to a 17 percent flat rate, repeals Obamacare and repeals Dodd-Frank. If that does not make you a champion of liberty, I do not know what does. The liberty movement is a meritocracy, and Rand Paul has demonstrated tremendous merit in his time as a senator.
Steve’s final question posed was “As a successor to his father’s throne, is Rand Paul another Reheboam or another Solomon?”. Now, I am not a Christian, so I am not too familiar with the bible, but the way I understand this is that Solomon was the son of King David who built the first temple in Jerusalem and Reheboam was the son of Solomon who caused a civil war between Israel and Judah. So the fundamental question behind the metaphor is “is Rand Paul building up the liberty movement, or is he splitting it apart?” I think that the answer to that question can be found in the explosive growth of Young Americans for Liberty (or YAL) and Campaign for Liberty, groups founded by Ron Paul and supported heavily by Rand Paul. YAL now has over 500 chapters on college campuses all over the country (compared to just 150 before Rand was elected), and has utilized Rand heavily as an instrument to promote their organization.
At CPAC 2013, Young Americans for Liberty may have been the most visible organization in attendance, handing out “Stand with Rand” signs and T-shirts for hours leading up to Rand’s speech. They were instrumental in his straw poll victory. Rand has also sent fundraising letters for YAL, spoken at their national convention twice and been at the heart of their organization for a long time. The relationship of Rand Paul and a pro-liberty group helping each other rise in stature has also existed with Campaign for Liberty, who have used Rand as a major source of funds on a myriad of issues. Rand has written enough emails for Campaign for Liberty to fill my inbox 10 times. In return, Campaign for Liberty uses their resources to advocate for many of the bills Rand has proposed.
Through this emphasis on movement building via promotion of these organizations, Rand Paul’s legacy is cemented. He could leave politics tomorrow forever and still have made a major impact on the liberty movement by helping these organizations grow into the large, well funded pro liberty groups they are today. Young Americans for Liberty has trained literally thousands of activists at becoming effective advocates for our ideas, and Campaign for Liberty is the major pro liberty group lobbying for our ideas in DC. Having them both grow as much as they have is nothing short of critical for our movement.
Have there been times when Rand has said something that I do not agree with? Yes. Has he misphrased things in interviews and caused it to appear he has contradicted himself? No doubt. Do these things concern me as someone who wants to see a united liberty movement defeat the establishment? Undoubtedly. But when you look at the things Rand has been questioned on, the common theme that arises is that he is always advocating a pro liberty position, even if he is taking a pragmatic approach towards advancing that issue. When the Snowden “few years in jail” controversy arose, it was in the midst of his NSA lawsuit. When the “thousands of exceptions” misstatement was made, it was because he was introducing the Life at Conception Act. When he said that an attack on Israel should be treated as an attack on the United States, he did so in a trip where he openly called to end foreign aid to Israel in Israel.
The point here is that Rand may have used moderate rhetoric at times, but at the end of the day the issues he is advocating for clearly demonstrate that his cause is liberty, and so long as that is the case, I will continue to Stand with Rand.