Commentary Magazine


RE: Rand Paul’s Rocky Start

Jen, when you say of Rand Paul, “here’s some free advice: don’t trot out his father, Ron Paul, to defend him — it will give voters the sense that Rand is as wacky as his dad,” I am uncertain whether the advice goes far enough. Some of Ron Paul’s ideas and pronouncements are so disturbing and extremist that it may be incumbent upon Rand Paul not only to evade his father’s endorsement but also to distance himself from his unacceptable positions publicly.

Not only the Tea Party protests but also the silent rancor of the public at large seems fueled by outrage at this administration’s fiscal abandon — which tends to overshadow considerations of foreign policy or social issues. It is therefore unfortunate and possibly dangerous that some of the most ardent and sincere champions of fiscal sobriety hail from the Paulian circle and thus carry a lot of undesirable baggage. Voters must take or leave these controversial candidates as a whole — the good along with the bad and the ugly.

During the 2008 presidential race, I came across a great number of well-meaning people so taken with Ron Paul’s promises of fiscal constraint and economic laissez faire — as sorely wanting then as today — that they ignored, denied, or rationalized his noxious standpoint on social matters, his ridiculous prescriptions on foreign policy, his illiberal writings on race relations, and even his connections with anti-Semites. It is possible for the reverse of this phenomenon — that is, wholesale acceptance or rejection — to backfire now for Rand Paul: natural antipathy to his social conservatism (e.g., his advocacy for a complete ban on abortion), his isolationist foreign policy, and his controversial comments on the Civil Rights Act, might, by association, extend in the minds of undecided voters to his agenda of limited government and fiscal conservatism.

If the baby is thus thrown out with the bathwater, not only Rand Paul but also other staunch fiscal conservatives might incur political damage. Not fair, not logically sound, but nonetheless plausible. Voters often apply political sentiment with a broad brush. The spread of sympathies or antipathies by contagion or by association happens every day — in life as well as in politics. It is not in the interest of libertarians and fiscal conservatives to allow their views to be publicly championed by politicians compromised in other areas.

The question should be whether Rand Paul is a watered-down version of his father — more than that, watered down in all the right places. Or is he, rather, undistinguishable in substance from his father but a more diplomatic politician, thus able to hide or equivocate his wacky views better and longer? The burden of proof lies with Rand Paul himself, but so far the clues are very troubling.