Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky threw his hat in the ring today, vowing to compete for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination with a sneering speech that used the word “liberty” eleven times. And by “liberty,” Paul means that he wants to liberate billionaire-Americans from having to pay taxes. If elected, he’ll achieve this goal by getting rid of public schools and the US Department of Education, squeezing “socialist” Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps into ‘block grants,’ and generally taking America back to the 19th Century.
Because there was so much liberty in America until unions, weekends, worker safety regulations, child labor laws, a minimum wage, civil rights laws, fair housing acts, and other godless liberal innovations stifled the ‘freedom’ of unbridled capitalists to stomp their boots all over humanity’s face. See how that works?
Of course, Sen. Paul isn’t saying anything new; this has been his stated platform for years. But now that he’s running for president, Paul has to balance his Alex Jones-friendly libertarianism with a more mainstream conservative orthodoxy so as not to offend the culture warriors who actually make up the majority of the Republican Party. To this end, much of his campaign verbiage is dual-use material: “The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped!” is an applause-line that works equally well for (A) right wing conservatives who hate federal intrusion on their state-level voter ID and minority vote suppression bills, or (B) goldbug opponents of the Federal Reserve.
According to the reigning conventional wisdom, by adopting a more militant defense posture and extreme social views, Paul risks losing the interest of younger, energetic voters who don’t care for their grandparents’ bigoted conservatism. In order to keep his coalition as intact as possible, Paul has decided to appeal to the ‘Facebook generation’ by promising to shut down an unpopular bulk metadata-gathering program at the National Security Agency. Look! Shiny!
Warrantless searches of Americans’ phones and computer records are un-American and a threat to our civil liberties. I say that your phone records are yours. I say the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business. The president created this vast dragnet by executive order. And as president on day one, I will immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance. I believe we can have liberty and security and I will not compromise your liberty for a false sense of security, not now, not ever.
Get that? “The” president “created” this “dragnet.” It was Paul’s single biggest applause line of the day, and it carries the unstated, but completely false implication that Barack Obama personally constructed the NSA program in question because he hates liberty. This false framing allows Paul to avoid speaking to the messy, uncomfortable reality that bulk metadata surveillance is actually a Bush/Cheney-era creation which has been authorized and renewed by Congress several times.
While it’s not clear that this strategy will win the nomination — Paul will need to do much more than accept campaign donations in Bitcoins to win the young, tech-savvy voters who care about these issues — it does put rhetorical daylight between Paul and fellow Republican candidate Jeb Bush, who wants to restore the unitary executive his brother created. And Paul needs to draw some sort of distinction more than ever before, because whereas he used to be known for principled opposition to increased defense spending, now he wants vast increases in the Pentagon budget — making him just another Republican running for the White House.
“We need a National Defense robust enough to defend against all attack, modern enough to deter all enemies, and nimble enough to defend our vital interests,” he declared today, ignoring the fact that America already spends more on defense than all of her potential adversaries combined. And to the utter delight of neoconservatives and Islamophobes, Paul promises to focus all this expensive firepower on the nebulous threat of Islamic radicalism: “Not only will I name the enemy, I will do what ever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind.” Best of all, he’ll take on these evildoers without any of that silly ‘nation-building’ stuff; he’ll just kill them all and let God sort them out. (Presumably, this means that Paul intends to rely on those drones he once pretended to hate.)
It’s easy to see why Rand Paul would embrace “the war on terror” — an existential crisis that Republicans love — rather than the existential crisis that Republicans reject, namely climate change. Despite the fact that his cherished Millennials are very interested in their long-term futures, Paul is no shrinking moderate on global warming: he utterly rejects the issue and all proposed solutions, just like a well-behaved corporate tool of the Republican Party should. Who cares about drowning polar bears? Let’s discuss the scary Muslims who live on top of our oil!
From inside the Beltway, Paul’s speech today was about the party’s awkward relationship with its own libertarian wing. To the actual libertarians, Paul’s candidacy is a sign that conservatives will never allow a true libertarian to rise within the party. To those of us who find the conservatives to be a bunch of warmongering control freaks and the libertarians to be a pack of juvenile apologists for corporate fascism, Rand Paul’s words are further evidence that sanity will not return to the GOP anytime soon.