One of the most fascinating aspects of the transition from the 2012 presidential campaign to the post-November political alignment is the seamless manner in which Kentucky Senator Rand Paul assumed the leadership of the libertarian movement from his father Ron. The elder Paul was a perennial presidential candidate as well as a Texas congressman. Last year marked his last futile run for the White House and he also decided not to run for reelection, formally ending his political career and informally passing the torch to his son. While Ron was widely regarded as something of a crank because of his extreme views about the Federal Reserve and foreign policy, albeit one with an impassioned following, Rand is a very different sort of politician. Though no less committed to libertarian ideology than his father, Rand has been careful to position himself within the mainstream on most issues and that strategy has paid off handsomely for him: two and a half years into his Senate career, he has become one of the darlings of the Republican base and a probable first-tier candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
That is something his father could never have dreamed of achieving. It is far from clear that Rand can make the next leap from a factional leader to someone who could actually win the nomination and make a credible challenge for the White House. But there is no comparison between Ron’s crazy-uncle-in-the-attic image and the niche that Rand has carved out for himself in the center ring of the American political circus. The ease with which he has bridged the gap between the libertarian fringe and the Republican mainstream has been impressive. But one of the things that made it possible was Ron’s absence from the political stage. The question for Rand and his followers is whether that will continue and if the political baggage of his father’s extremism will start to handicap what must be considered a very realistic shot at winning the GOP nod in 2016.
But unfortunately for his son, the elder Paul has not retired from public life, meaning that his statements and associations are bound to raise awkward questions for his son. A prime example of this is provided by the Washington Free Beacon, which yesterday reported that Ron Paul will be a featured speaker at a conference run by a group with a record of anti-Semitism.
As the Beacon notes:
Former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is scheduled to give a Sept. 11 keynote address at a conference sponsored by an anti-Semitic organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports.
Also slated to speak at the conference is the president of the John Birch Society, a fringe conspiracy-theorist group that was famously denounced by the late William F. Buckley. …
The Fatima Center’s publications have published columns criticizing the Pope for “kowtowing” to the “Synagogue of Satan,” argued that Jews are attempting to undermine the Catholic Church on behalf of Satan, and claiming that “Zionist billionaires” have been “financially raping” the Russian people. The organization also promotes New World Order conspiracy theories.
SPLC reports that the group’s leader, Father Nicholas Gruner, has attended Holocaust denial conferences. Gruner will speak prior to Paul at the Fatima conference, according to the posted schedule.
As the Beacon also notes, Ron Paul came under fire for publishing newsletters in the 1980s and ’90s with blatantly racist and anti-Semitic material, although he later claimed he wasn’t responsible for the content. If the denials rang false, it was because Paul has always seemed comfortable with the world of conspiracy theories that dovetailed with many of his positions on domestic and foreign issues that resonated in the fever swamps of the far right and left.
Should Rand be held accountable for his father’s views? In the abstract, the answer to that must be no. Rand Paul is entitled to live his own life and must be held responsible for what he does and says, not what his relatives do.
But Ron Paul is not the moral equivalent of the proverbial black sheep younger brother that sometimes pops up in our political history to bedevil the more responsible figures in a prominent family, such as Billy Carter. Given that Rand always supported his father’s campaigns and that his own positions are rooted in the same core beliefs as that of the elder Paul, asking where one man’s position begins and the other’s ends has always been a reasonable query. It will be even more important once Rand starts a presidential campaign that aims for something more than the occasional good showing in a caucus that Ron aimed at. At that point, he is going to have to come to terms with the fact that, like every other realistic presidential candidate, he must either endorse or disassociate himself from controversial statements and actions of those close to him.
Since entering the Senate, this is something that Rand has steadfastly refused to do. To date he has been able to keep some distance between his father’s wingnut pronouncements about the government and foreign policy (which bear a close resemblance to those embraced by the far left) while upholding his own libertarian stands. He has never condemned his father, but he has tried to make it clear that he has his own views. But once he enters the pre-2016 fray as a realistic contender that won’t be possible. Ron Paul will either have to cease and desist his extremist statements and associations or Rand will have to start giving him the same treatment Barack Obama gave Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The analogy in which a politician is asked how a longtime mentor and friend impacted his beliefs is quite apt. If Rand doesn’t back away from his father he will soon find that a media that will be out to get him (in contrast to their refusal to hold Obama accountable), as well as a suspicious Republican electorate that wants nothing to do with that sort of extremism, will sink an otherwise viable presidential run.