I was reading and participating in a recent discussion on “libertarian qualifiers” wherein Lions Editor Marc Clair had encountered a man who described himself as a “Libertarian-Democrat,” stating that he hated the drug laws. Then, immediately afterwards, he distanced himself from the “libertarian” part by backtracking and saying mainly he was a Democrat.
This then led me to notice a trend that I have seen time and time again – namely that the phrase “libertarian” is widely looked down upon in broader politics, and anyone with libertarian leanings who happens to run with the two party crowd makes an extreme effort to seclude themselves from being identified with libertarian thought, even while admitting their fondness for it.
Why is this? The primary reason is because talking heads in the ill-informed and two-party-biased media like to label people and concepts as “libertarian” when they are not. When they do use the term libertarian, it is almost always in conjunction with a negative act.
For instance, the Tea Party was often positioned as libertarian during it’s brutally unfair coverage in the mainstream media, wherein they were decried as racists, sexists, and everything else, despite this not factually being the case. Naturally, they also were not libertarian for the most part, but mainly were a fiscally conservative movement that happened to have certain principles that were lifted from libertarian thought. But if you ask the man on the street, 7 of 10 times you will hear that the Tea Party is libertarian, and he will say it with a negative connotation. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what libertarian is, and who or what is actually libertarian.
Rand Paul is also not a libertarian. He himself has admitted this (though it’s been blatantly obvious to those of us keeping track of his words and actions). However, most of the population has been told he is a libertarian, due to the media tagging him as such, his relation to Ron Paul, and his once-in-a-while libertarian politics.
For example, his filibustering on drone attacks against U.S. citizens was libertarian. What he said and did after that? Not so much.
Rand took a stand against the U.S. arming the Taliban in Syria – libertarian. And against selling arms to Egypt – libertarian.
He also is making news just in the last day, and if you are a libertarian, the news is not good. Senator Paul’s latest remarks came from a talk at a Cato University event. Much like Rand, Cato is another “libertarian” institution that seems to rarely actually embrace or support the tenets of libertarianism. From DLmag:
Sen. Rand Paul raised some eyebrows when he stated that he does not have a lot of sympathy in regards to whistle-blower Bradley Manning’s verdict and a several surprising statements concerning NSA leaker Edward Snowden at a Cato University event.
Sen. Paul reasoned that there need to be some laws that protect certain secrets and that Manning put many lives at risk by releasing millions of pages “willy-nilly”. His main concern is that whistle-blowers break laws in order to reveal state secrets.
“There do have to be laws to protect some secrets. I think if you’ve got the, you know, the plans on how to make a nuclear bomb that is a state secret. If you give that to the enemy, that is being treasonous,” said the Senator from Kentucky, “Even if you reveal it, you just have to have laws against that. What Manning did was just willy-nilly, just released millions of pages of things and I think some people have said there is potentially some harm from that. You know individual agents that could have been killed or put at risk from this. So there is a problem with that. So I just can’t support that.”
“If you are doing something for a political purpose; you know, in fact, in some ways the Snowden case is a little bit different,” said Paul, “But even with the Snowden case, I still think you have to have laws against what he did. So he did break the law.”
Rand wants to prosecute both of them, despite their bravely stepping forward to unveil war crimes and massive, illegal spying that impacts every single American. Ron Paul’s statement on this?
“I think there is some criminality here and that’s with the government. He has already been overly punished. He is a whistleblower in my estimation. He has been accused of turning over all this information to the enemy,” said the elder Paul, “He turned it over to the American people and it’s more likely the government thinks of us as the enemy. Now we know a lot that we didn’t know before. He’s been in solitary confinement for two and half years, he’s been tortured. Many of you know what went on.”
Now THAT is a libertarian.
Robert Wenzel at Economic Policy Journal has classified Rand Paul as a “political opportunist.” I couldn’t agree with this more. When we step back to look at the broader picture of Rand Paul’s words and actions, we can see exactly how he has “gamed” libertarians into supporting his entry into politics on the heels of his father, only to turn around and throw almost all of his libertarian stances away. He needed libertarians before – now he needs neocon support and the broader backing of the old boys of the GOP. The switch has been very clear, from his stance on foreign policy, to his backing off and inclusion of “out clauses” on use of domestic drones to his alliance with Mitch McConnell.
Rand Paul was once a great hope – and in some aspects he is still a “better option” than many of his cohorts in the Senate. However, I have begun to despise him as I’ve witnessed his embrace of GOP standards, all the while still being described as a “libertarian” or a “libertarian-republican.” This is hugely damaging to the libertarian cause and will only confuse the masses ever more as Rand’s media coverage grows.
People will equate libertarians with the GOP. They will see Rand’s actions, which mimic and align with the GOP (with a few notable, headline-grabbing exceptions) and they will be convinced that libertarianism is a branch of Republicanism, which it is not. The inroads and ground we have gained with independents and Democrats will be lost, and the amazing progress Ron Paul made will have been for nothing.
Rand Paul represents one of the great dangers to libertarianism. And we need to get the word out very loudly that he is not representative of libertarian thinking or libertarians in general.