It’s been an interesting week for Dr. Rand Paul, the new Republican candidate for Kentucky senator. The son of popular Libertarian Presidential candidate Ron Paul, Tea Party candidate Rand is refreshingly ideological, even if it is making his opponents do victory fist pumps and his allies run for cover.
First the facts. Paul was asked this week by Rachel Maddow if he supported the 1964 Civil Right Act. He was asked because an earlier newspaper interview he had given suggested that perhaps he didn’t. This was not “gotcha” journalism. He was already on record here. While Paul went out of his way to decry racism in any form and stated he supported most of the Civil Rights Act, he was clear that he believed that while government should not provide any public funding to any organization practicing discrimination, that he believed independent business should have maintained the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. He said he personally wouldn’t patronize such places, but felt they shouldn’t be illegal. He has since clarified that because he agreed with so much of the bill, that he likely would have voted for it anyway. It is also worth noting that he has never claimed he would work to repeal the Act, as some media reports have claimed.
Fresh on the heels of this can of worms he opened on himself, he announced that BP was being unfairly treated by the Obama administration. His position is that the government should stay out of the oil spill mess in the Gulf. This is simply an industrial accident. BP said they’d clean it all up. Stuff happens. Get over it.
In the wake of these statements, the GOP is trying desperately to get Paul at arms length. They do not want to be aligned with allowing businesses to bring back segregated lunch counters, and they are desperately trying to position the oil spill as Obama’s Katrina based on the opinion that he’s failed to do enough. Meanwhile, they do not want to lose the support of the Tea Party, which still seems to be standing behind Paul. Quite a pickle.
I have to admit a certain admiration for Rand Paul. Not that I think his positions are sane, but he is being very true to the implications of the Libertarian ideology. He’s not trying to twist or spin his position for political advantage, or just say what people want to hear. He’s simply laying it on the line. At least in that regard, he may be the most refreshing politician I’ve encountered in some time.
The other thing I like about this is he is practicing, to some degree, what I’ve advocated for in previous columns. Specifically, back testing your ideological positions to see what would be different if the government was being run by your espoused policies back in the day. I think this is especially illustrative when applied to the anti-government Libertarian Tea Party movement. Were this the historical philosophy of government we would not have Social Security, Civil Rights, public education, or Medicare. You’d be able to walk on Lake Erie by now,the Chicago River would still be aflame, and the air in Los Angeles would be toxic.
The point here being that extreme positions are seldom useful. Government isn’t inherently evil, nor are taxes, the individual desire to succeed, free market enterprise, or regulation. It’s a balancing act. The sweet spot is in the middle. The irony is that most Tea Party advocates are pining for the good old days of the 50s and 60s. A time of economic growth, prosperity, the rise of the American Middle Class. Heady days to be sure. But they were also a time of comparatively high taxes, lots of regulation, and lots of government investment in our collective future.
The Tea Partiers are right, there is significant dysfunction in our government. They are right that change is needed. But are they advocating in the right direction? Do any of us want to live in the world Rand Paul envisions?