Another Political Curiosity

It’s odd to have been born in Pittsburgh and to have done graduate work at Duke University and to end up elsewhere, but life here in Hollywood, just off the Sunset Strip, is pleasant enough. And really, lots of people were born in Pittsburgh and ended up elsewhere – Gertrude Stein and Andy Warhol, and Billy Strayhorn, and Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant, and Henry Mancini (Aliquippa actually) and the current Republican governor next door in Ohio, John Kasich (from McKees Rocks, actually) and so on. The current first-term senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, was born in Pittsburgh, in 1963, but in 1968 the family moved to Texas.

Everyone leaves. His father, Ron Paul, the goofball libertarian, settled the family in Texas, where he ended up representing various congressional districts from 1976 through 2013 and ran for president off and on. The Libertarian Party nominated him in 1988. The Republican Party never would. They found him alternatively amusing or alarming. No one took him seriously, but he was fine with that. He didn’t take them seriously, and he had a day job anyway. He was a gynecologist with a medical degree from Duke University. His son Rand has a medical degree from Duke University too, in ophthalmology. After his residency, Rand Paul went into practice in Kentucky. No one goes back to Pittsburgh.

The odd thing is that Rand Paul is like his father. In 1995, he passed the American Board of Ophthalmology boards on his first try, so he was officially a board-certified ophthalmologist for ten years, but he got in a pissing contest with the American Board of Ophthalmology over their rules. Along with two hundred other ophthalmologists, he formed the National Board of Ophthalmology – they’d certify themselves. Rand Paul ran that organization, which was incorporated in 1999, but he allowed it to be dissolved in 2000 after not filing the required paperwork with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office. He doesn’t like rules, but he recreated the board in September 2005, three months before his certification from the official American Board of Ophthalmology lapsed. Now he certifies himself, and he’s the organization’s president, his wife is the vice-president, and his father-in-law is the organization’s secretary. None of this is officially recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties, but he doesn’t much care, and his National Board of Ophthalmology was dissolved on September 10, 2011, anyway. Apparently he is a fine ophthalmologist, but he’s doesn’t like other people’s rules about what he does. He’s a libertarian, like his father.

Rand Paul doesn’t have an undergraduate degree either. He was an honors student at Baylor – Biology and English – but at the time the medical school at Duke didn’t require an undergraduate degree, so he skipped all that nonsense and moved on. He goes his own way, and now he’s running for president:

U.S. Senator Rand Paul accused his fellow Republicans on Tuesday of contributing to Washington’s dysfunction, launching a 2016 White House bid with a vow to shatter the status quo and defend individual freedoms.

The first-term senator from Kentucky, a libertarian with a reputation for challenging party orthodoxy, criticized both Republicans and Democrats for helping to drive up the federal debt and reduce personal liberties.

He cast himself as an anti-establishment reformer who could break partisan gridlock and win new converts to the party, saying his fellow Republicans fall prey to the allure of special interests in Washington.

“The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped,” he told cheering supporters while standing on a flag-draped stage in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Both parties and the entire political system are to blame,” he said. “Too often, when Republicans have won, we’ve squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine. That’s not who I am.”

Paul is the second Republican to jump into the 2016 race after Ted Cruz, and he’s a long shot too, but he says it’s his time:

In a speech that kicked off a four-day campaign trip to the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the 52-year-old former eye surgeon took a shot at unnamed Republican foes, warning against nominating someone from the party who is a “Democrat-lite.”

He’s not like anyone else. That’s his thing, but that may not fly:

Paul is now in the second tier of Republican candidates, drawing the support of 8.4 percent of Republicans, according to a March Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll. He is behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has said he is exploring a bid, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He is in a statistical tie with four other Republicans: Cruz, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

That doesn’t bode well, and the Washington Post’s editorial board immediately pounced:

Not satisfied to follow his father, a politically marginal ideologue with a small but fervent following, Mr. Paul has tried to polish the rough edges of his father’s extreme views over the past four years. In fact, his central pitch is that he is more in touch with more Americans than anyone else running, capable of uniting them across parties in the cause of personal and economic freedom. “The message of liberty, opportunity and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you’re white or black, rich or poor,” he said Tuesday.

In some cases, Mr. Paul’s efforts have led him in good directions; he has spoken to diverse audiences from Bowie State to Berkeley and championed causes that other Republicans tend to neglect: ending overly harsh punishments for drug crimes, allowing felons to vote, reenergizing inner-city communities.

But there’s a lot to worry about in Mr. Paul’s platform and history. In seemingly constant fear of government “tyranny,” he indulges in right-wing populism that’s counterproductive when it’s not plain scary. He has stoked overwrought anxieties that the Obama administration wants to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil; demanded to audit the already closely monitored Federal Reserve, which is independent of politicians such as Mr. Paul for a reason; and railed against bank bailouts that prevented economic calamity.

A key piece of his plan to revitalize poor urban communities involves ending clean air, clean water and land conservation rules.

Yeah, he doesn’t like rules:

During his 2010 Senate run, he criticized the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it regulated private businesses. When he got to the Senate, he failed the closest thing to a test of legislative sanity, refusing to raise the federal debt limit despite the risk of crippling damage to the world economy. He also proposed ravaging cuts for almost every service Americans expect the government to provide.

But then there’s foreign policy:

People should not believe that “a government inept at home will somehow succeed in building nations abroad,” he said Tuesday. In the past, he has called for deeply scaling back State Department and Pentagon spending. He has since distanced himself from his proposed defense cuts but hasn’t repudiated his goal to cut foreign aid and curb U.S. involvement in a world that would look much worse absent U.S. leadership.

What is he proposing? Who knows? Slate’s Jamelle Bouie says it may not matter anyway:

For four years, Rand Paul has been running for president. And for those four years, he’s tried be a different kind of Republican.

He went to Howard University to win over black Americans, to Silicon Valley to win the technology set, to Detroit to tout criminal-justice reform, and to other colleges across the country to win over young voters with a message of privacy and drug reform. At the same time, he’s made a pitch to evangelicals, tried to appeal to conservative business interests, and continued to cultivate his base of right-wing libertarians.

But, as everyone who runs for president eventually learns, the party doesn’t want a different kind of anything. The party wants someone acceptable – someone who seems electable and who has the support of other factions and interests in the coalition. Paul’s goal is to bring his brand of Republicanism to a broader group of Americans across the political spectrum, to show that there’s something for everyone. The Republican Party’s goal, by contrast, is to choose a nominee who best represents the party as a whole.

There’s no getting around that, except by tap-dancing:

“This message of liberty is for all Americans, Americans from all walks of life. The message of liberty, opportunity, and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform, or overalls, whether you’re white or black, rich or poor,” he said in his speech, before turning to language favored by more traditional Republicans. “Self-esteem can’t be given; it must be earned. Work is not punishment; work is the reward.”

A few lines later, he seesawed back to his priorities, denouncing the so-called crony capitalism of Washington and the Obama administration – “Politically connected cronies get taxpayer dollars by the hundreds of millions and poor families across America continue to suffer” – and then sliding to a rhetorical place in which rank-and-file Republicans could feel comfortable. “I want to see millions of Americans back at work. In my vision for America, we’ll bring back manufacturing jobs that pay well. How? We’ll dramatically lower the tax on American companies that wish to bring their profits home.”

He’s being careful, but that’s dangerous too:

More difficult is Paul’s long-standing opposition to Republican and Democratic foreign policy, which he sees as too militant and interventionist. “A more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy,” he said in 2011, marking a position at odds with most Republicans and making him anathema to conservatives with strong, aggressive views on national security.

Paul seems to know he’s alienated the foreign-policy establishment, and for the past year, he’s tried to move closer to the pack, most prominently with a muddled call for action against ISIS. “ISIS is now a threat. Let’s get on with destroying them,” he said on the Senate floor in 2014. “But make no mistake – arming Islamic rebels in Syria will only make it harder to destroy ISIS.”

Since then, Paul has continued to refine his message by slowly abandoning his prior commitments, or at least subordinating them to more bellicose rhetoric. Hence the part of his announcement speech in which he declares that “the enemy” to the United States is “radical Islam” and promises to “do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind,” following up with a hawkish jab at Obama’s approach to diplomacy. “I believe in applying Reagan’s approach to foreign policy to the Iran issue. Successful negotiations with untrustworthy adversaries are only achieved from a position of strength. … I will oppose any deal that does not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions and have strong verification measures.”

At this rate he won’t get the nomination:

Paul came off muddled, with a mishmash of positions that couldn’t congeal into a coherent vision; if this is how he’ll approach the primary, he may earn a little ground everywhere, but he won’t build a foundation (at least outside of his father’s supporters). After all, every other faction of conservatism has a champion. If you want a permissive business environment and wide deregulation, you can choose Scott Walker. If you want electability and potentially broader appeal, you can choose Jeb Bush. If you want evangelical fervor, there’s Ted Cruz, and if you want a hawkish foreign policy, there’s Marco Rubio.

Rand Paul’s “Have It Your Way” approach seems destined for failure even before we consider the positions – specifically, his history on foreign policy – that make him radioactive to important parts of the Republican primary electorate. There’s simply nothing that sets him apart from the crowd.

Joshua Keating also notes the opposition in Paul’s own party:

Two years ago, in the days of Snowden and Benghazi, Paul’s isolationist (though he rejects the description), anti-militarist foreign policy might have been less of an electoral liability. His best-known action on foreign policy, a 13-hour filibuster against the use of drones to target U.S. citizens, polled well with voters. But with the focus on ISIS, Iran, and a seemingly ever increasing number of destabilizing Middle East conflicts, you can expect Paul’s rivals to cast his foreign policy views as dangerously naïve.

Sen. Lindsey Graham gave a preview of how rivals will attack Paul earlier this week when Graham discussed the Iran deal on CBS’ Face the Nation. “The best deal, I think, comes with a new president. Hillary Clinton would do better. I think everybody on our side, except maybe Rand Paul, could do better,” he said.

In building the case that Paul is to the left of the Democrats on foreign policy, the centerpiece of the argument will be Israel.

That could be deadly, but it’s his fault:

The perception of Paul as anti-Israel is due mainly to his proposed federal budget from 2011, shortly after he entered the Senate, which would have entirely eliminated U.S. foreign aid. Sensing an opening, Democrats pounced on the fact that this would entail ending support for Israel. (No one seemed all that concerned about the other 30-odd countries that would lose assistance, but that’s another issue.) Paul not very convincingly tried to argue that Israel would be “strengthened” by this development and that it was in line with the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has since, even less convincingly, tried to argue that he never proposed cutting aid in the first place. …

In any case, pro-Israel Republicans don’t seem that convinced by Paul’s change of heart on support for Israel. It’s gotten to the point that Paul was mocked by right-wing media outlets for clapping with insufficient enthusiasm during Netanyahu’s speech to congress last month.

Democrats would also certainly relish a chance to retake the pro-Israel mantle in this race should Paul win the nomination.

None of that is good, but Keating would like Rand Paul to be just Rand Paul:

Paul’s current strategy seems to be to argue that he never deviated from the party line on Israel and Iran in the first place. In general, once the campaign gets into full swing, his foreign policy and national security views will probably come out sounding a lot less distinctive from those of the other Republicans (and Democrats) in the race than they did back in 2011. This is a shame.

An unfiltered Paul in the race might have served as a foil for the other candidates to prove their hawkishness (the role his father Ron played in the last two elections), but there would have been at least a chance of a debate on how America should approach its role in the world with multiple points of view represented.

That won’t happen. The man will be tamed by the process, which will make him even less distinctive, but for now, Justin Raimondo offers this:

At a January forum with fellow Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Paul challenged his colleagues’ hawkish showboating on Iran: “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops? I’m a big fan of … trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.'”

Two months later, he was “ruining it” by putting his signature on an open letter to the Iranian leadership. Authored by arch-neoconservative Sen. Tom Cotton, the letter basically told Tehran that a Republican in the White House would nullify any deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

His explanation for this complete reversal was baffling. He told Glenn Beck that it is “kind of crazy” for anyone to question his decision to sign: “Do I have any regrets about informing another country of how our Constitution works?”

He told a different story at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Claiming to support the diplomatic talks, he said: “I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength, which means that he needs to be telling them in Iran, ‘I’ve got Congress to deal with.'”

How is it helpful to tell the Iranians that any agreement they sign may expire in two years? Cotton is nothing if not forthright: He has said he wants to “blow up” the negotiations, and certainly his letter aimed at doing just that. For Paul to join in this sabotage attempt was intellectually indefensible – and entirely in character.

He’s the guy that simply goes his own way and no one ever knows what to expect:

As a U.S.-backed movement seized power in Kiev, Paul called for “respectful relations” with the Kremlin: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time, and I don’t think that is a good idea.”

A few months later he was demanding that President Vladimir Putin be “punished,” invoking “our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia’s latest aggression.” Putin, said Paul, was guilty of “violating the Budapest Memorandum and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.” Here’s the thing: The Budapest Memorandum was never ratified by Congress. It was signed by President Clinton, who didn’t bother to consult the Senate. It’s kind of crazy – as Paul would say – that it’s necessary to inform the senator how our Constitution works.

You may not remember that Budapest Memorandum – but no else remembers it either – and Raimondo isn’t finished:

Here’s one last example. In June, Paul wrote an op-ed piece on the Islamic State crisis for the Wall Street Journal, asking: “What would airstrikes accomplish? We know that Iran is aiding the Iraqi government against ISIS. Do we want to in effect become Iran’s air force? What’s in this for Iran? Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?”

Good questions, and yet it wasn’t long before the senator was advocating airstrikes and calling for a formal declaration of war against Islamic State.

I’m a libertarian and I was, as recently as a few months ago, enthusiastic about Paul.

He started out as “a different kind of Republican” – a characterization his campaign never tires of invoking. But Paul’s response to the barrage of attacks unleashed by GOP mandarins has been to deny this difference.

The guy is useless, and Bill Schneider puts this in perspective:

Paul is more of a curiosity than a contender. He’s trying to maintain his libertarian creds and at the same time reassure conservatives that he really is one of them. His explicit objective is to change the Republican Party so that it can be competitive in the New America. Paul’s goal is to bring in more minorities, more young people and more poor people. “Those of us who have enjoyed the American dream must break down the wall that separates us from the other America,” Paul said on Tuesday. The problem is that conservatives have spent a lot of time building that wall.

Rand Paul doesn’t get it:

Nominations are controlled by partisans, and you’re not likely to win their favor by telling them what’s wrong with their party. John McCain tried to do that when he first ran for the Republican nomination in 2000. It didn’t work.

Paul calls himself a conservative, but his views on a number of issues are suspect to the conservative establishment. Like military intervention and government surveillance and criminal justice reform. Paul has tried to mend fences with conservatives, but the more he does that, the more he alienates the libertarian base he inherited from his father. He has reassured Christian conservatives that he is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. That won’t sit well with many libertarians and may limit his appeal to women and to young people.

The only way Paul can get the Republican nomination is by bringing in huge numbers of new primary voters to overwhelm Republican regulars. And the only way to do that is by stirring their passion. Diluting the message won’t help.

This is a doomed effort:

Suppose Paul shakes up the GOP as Pat Robertson did in Iowa in 1988 and Pat Buchanan did in New Hampshire in 1996. The empire will strike back. Establishment Republicans don’t want loony libertarians in their board rooms or their country clubs. …

Here’s a prediction. In the unlikely event that Rand Paul wins the Republican nomination, John McCain will endorse Hillary Clinton for President.

There you have it. This guy is going nowhere. He’s the political curiosity of the day, but he’s just another guy from Pittsburgh who did graduate work at Duke, even if he never graduated from anywhere, who eventually ended up someplace else, and is of no significance whatsoever. It happens, said the blogger from Pittsburgh, who did graduate work at Duke, from Hollywood, at midnight.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Another Political Curiosity

  1. Rick says:

    I know Libertarians are supposed to be some sort of hybrid of conservatives and liberals, but when it comes right down to it, let’s face it, they’re mostly right-wingers.

    They favor smaller government and lower taxes no matter what, and see no reason to help out the irresponsible “less fortunate” at our expense, and they don’t care what sort of America Americans want, since they themselves base their reasoning on some higher principle or other.

    But Ron Paul’s main political problem within his own realm, other than being totally delusional about his place in the world and his own party (and maybe about his actual chances at becoming the Republican nominee), is that he has such an aversion to following rules that he even refuses to follows the rules of consistency. Whatever likely followers he would attract would, I’m sure, have no idea at any given moment in time in which direction he’ll even be headed.

    Rick

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