Sen. Rand Paul, son of libertarian titan Ron Paul, and the one real “pro-liberty” presidential candidate in the 2016 Republican field, has just killed much of the Patriot Act. A politician in Washington, almost singlehandedly, has actually repealed major parts of a major program. STOP THE PRESSES. This is a Kodak moment—even more so since this same Senator is in position to potentially win a major party nomination for President. The Beltway is ablaze with discussion, reports Politico, over how Rand ran circles around the entire political leadership, in order to maneuver himself into victory.
Unlike his straightforwardly ideological father, and in light of Ron Paul’s two GOP primary race defeats in 2008 and 2012, Rand is taking the ‘undercover,’ moderate rhetoric route to running for the office. He has been leading with well-rehearsed (at times almost neocon sounding) talking points and a bit of finesse that brings in principled positions on the backend, or as an end policy result. In sunsetting the unconstitutional provisions of section 215, Rand presented an actual balance of “liberty” (ending legal bulk surveillance) versus “security” (supporting more FBI staff to investigate real leads) the establishment merely talks about—while only delivering more security.
This has not been done as a desperate fundraising ploy, as Rand is not courting his liberty base (since he’s already married to it). He’s not married to the ‘purist’ approach of his father, but to a pragmatic or finesse approach designed to help dialogue with voters, or misdirect opponents until he moves in a substantive direction. The bold Patriot Act move was not a complete 180 on his finesse tactics, it was a planned strike, as Paul knew when the bill sections were coming up for renewal or expiration. The finesse was used to keep people guessing (including supporters) until he could seize on an opportunity. It was a tactical plan, one I and other observers have believed was laid out month ago, in order to ambush the establishment.
Justin Raimondo, who recently excoriated Rand over his vacillating rhetoric and compromising gestures, has noticed how rare Rand’s display of liberty principle is in increasingly authoritarian DC, or Mordor on the Potomac: “With everyone from the President to John McCain and Lindsey Graham attacking Sen. Paul for supposedly “endangering” the national security, the Senator has not only stood his ground but he’s also articulated the libertarian position on the utter impermissibility of what our government is doing and its dire implications for the future of our republic.”
Raimondo is the chief columnist at Antiwar.com. He has been highly critical of the pragmatic tactics Rand adopted, but likes his current achievement of forcing expiration of part of the Patriot Act. He doesn’t acknowledge that one reason why Rand was able to run out the clock was the GOP leadership thought (based on his “vacillating rhetoric”) that he would cave on the issue. They didn’t know his true intent until it was too late to save Section 215. His “pragmatism” served as countermeasures to fool the bad guys on the actual substance, just as we’ve been theorizing for months.
Confronting the “Robo-hawks” or Knee-jerk Interventionists
The DC Saurons are full uproar over this disruption of their procession to the Total State. Nor is this the only breach of the Jericho walls of the US Empire, War and Surveillance state scaled by Rand, as he has also jumped on the robo-hawks of the party over the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Taking advantage of gaffes by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio (made during friendly questioning by FOX news correspondents, no less) handling the “if you knew then what you know now” question, Rand has pressed the issue of the wrong-headed intervention, and the subsequent Mideast disasters in its wake (including the rise of ISIS).
Moreover, Rand has been pointing out, it’s 12 years later, and we’re still in Iraq. The public, including 76% of Republicans by one poll, notices this, and agrees the Iraq is a failure or will be viewed as such by history. Not that mistakes were made in engaging the war, but that the war itself was a mistake. The original decision to start the war, and all other interventions, are viewed as correct actions by the war party—hence the GOP dilemma, or delusion, come 2016.
The unending length of the conflicts have made people notice the flimsy pretexts behind the aggression, excuses which were only supposed to be temporary devices to get folks onboard, then promptly forgotten. They were never meant to stand up to the test of time. Basically, the GOP will not win back the Presidency until it runs a candidate who at least partially repudiates the original decision to invade Iraq. “Mistakes were made” or “we had bad intelligence” won’t cut it anymore, especially since the facts are more like we got lied into the war, and the data was deceptively cherry-picked. Rand is the Republican’s immediate ticket out of the Iraq problem, if they will take it.
Personally, I prefer the openly principled approach of his father, but recognize the political reality that Ron got nowhere with it within the GOP in two election cycles. Yet there is something to be said for good technique, when going the practical route. What I do love about Rand, at his verbal dancing devious best, is his crazy jujitsu reconstructive way of throwing neocon/war party talking points back at them, in a way that either mouse-traps their rhetoric, or blows up the mouse traps outright. One example is “we need to ensure the safety and security of Israel in the region,” to which Rand might reply “we certainly do, and one of the best ways to do that is to stop destabilizing the region by creating a more extremist jihadi Wonderland than the one we started with.” That is, stop meddling and expanding military action everywhere, which is what is fostering the Muslim extremism and blowback. This mousetraps the “Israel’s security” talking point.
Nine months ago, the war hawk talking point was “let’s arm Iraqis to combat ISIS, since they are eager to take on the enemy, so they can fight the battle themselves.” Then, it seems like the SECOND that support was approved, the rhetoric got ramped up to “oh my, it’s not working, so we need to put boots on the ground, and go all in!” Just like Bay of Pigs, the militarists commit us part way, then say later (when things go south) that we’re betraying the success of the mission unless we escalate. In both instances, the hawks probably knew the locals couldn’t succeed—they were just used to prop the door open for more US intervention. But 12 years in, the public is by now tired of being back doored into undeclared wars that have no proper justification, no real connection to defending our borders (other than protecting a bloated Empire), and no exit. Enter Rand as the best mainstream solution to halting this syndrome, and reining in the robo-hawks.
News Bombing and Rope-a-Dope
Rand is so far also solving the problem of how to circumvent media blackouts or marginalized coverage (which destroyed Ron Paul’s chances), by finding ways to consistently be at the center of the news. Notice the last few weeks how it’s “Rand holds filibuster” or “Candidates attack Rand” or now “Rand forces expiration of the Patriot Act,” etc. This alone will keep Rand’s poll numbers up, regardless of how the media covers him. Rand is in part playing political rope a dope, doing or saying 2-3 newsworthy things each week that draw the neocon candidates in to scold him. This keeps him front and center of the coverage, while further locking the hawks into a corner defending the (by now) indefensible (the Iraq invasion, its lies, bulk warrantless surveillance, and the lies about that).
Rand’s virtually single handed repeal of the Patriot Act already puts him in the history books, regardless that the Saurons are already busy replacing the law with its new evil sister. The media can’t avoid mentioning Rand if they are covering things like the battle over the Patriot Act, or are following another contender who is attacking him by name. This also gives a strong incentive for the corporate media to interview Rand to respond to current attacks against him—which naturally gives him the option of escalating the exchange with more buzzworthy comments, to extend the news story. This sets Rand up to clean up by the time of the debates, as he will have by then well-established talking points against all the other candidates.
It’s no less than the news equivalent of the money bomb (another invention of Paul supporters), as an end-around to any media blackout. I wouldn’t be surprised if his campaign hasn’t set up a schedule for the next 30-40 weeks, specifying a “news bomb” story he will create each week through the end of the year. Will it be enough to defeat attempts by the mainstream media and Republican establishment to marginalize Rand anyway, by arguing he is not “electable” the way a Bush or Walker, or Christie might be? But on that issue, I hold my tongue until next year, and give the Rand campaign the time to roll out and prove it can overcome the opposition, via solely running inside the big party apparatus.
Which Way Forward for the Movement?
Finally, about that ‘big party’ issue: some less enlightened people have expressed the notion that a victory for Rand Paul shows the best way for pro-liberty people to proceed is through the Republican Party, through a continuing “reform the GOP” campaign. According to this view, Rand winning the GOP nomination would mean the Libertarian Party, or independent liberty movement is irrelevant. But do the advocates for taking this “work within the major parties” route ever drop the other shoe?
If the Rand candidacy fails, will these GOPers panic, because they know his loss renders their case for working only within the GOP irrelevant? Do the latter understand that the Paul movement was only possible because Ron (a lifetime LP member) did not compromise his libertarian beliefs while in major office, and built a national base for himself that was independent of both the GOP and LP, thus making himself a genuine unifying figure for the realists and purists to rally around? Doesn’t this kind of integrative, grassroots network based approach represent the better way to proceed, instead of running down liberty activists from one camp or the other? I say the success of the movement depends on maintaining the relevance of its activity in both the major and minor party universes. We’ll have much more clarity on these issues upon the conclusion of the Rand candidacy, but so far, maintaining a healthy independent grassroots liberty movement appears to be the preferred way going forward.