Sunday, May 23, 2010
Rand Paul Is Making Sense
He isn't saying anything that isn't entirely consistent with decades of conservative rhetoric. For years all we have heard is how terrible the federal government is. Regulations are evil. Taxes are evil. Progressive legislation and judicial philosophy is evil.
Now, what conservatism used to mean was that government had a tendency to be wrong. Government wasn't necessarily wrong in principle. Sure, the real crazies thought that. But they were sidelined to the fringes of mainstream conservative thought. Of course we had to have government. It did important things. The rhetoric was OK because it was merely hyperbole; it was useful as a bludgeon against the steady leftist march towards more social protections, environmental regulations and higher taxes. But the intelligent conservatives knew that it could only ever be talk. Actually following the rhetoric would be politically and practically insane.
But then something happened and the smart conservatives left the room. Maybe they were drummed out. Or maybe times changed. But suddenly the voices of responsibility and reason were no longer there to keep the boat from capsizing. Instead of being the hyperbolic froth above the ideology, the rhetoric became the ideology. The tradition of temperance and moderation had faded away and all that was left was the crazy.
So, after the worst financial crisis since the depression forces the government to take drastic measures, bailing out the financial industry, then the auto industry, then pouring nearly as much into a Keynesian stimulus plan for economic recovery and stability - up pops the tea party, with the force of a thousand blustering AM radio jockeys and the FOX broadcasting corporation supplying a steady infusion of rhetorical red-meat. Yet it is incoherent and preposterous. Beyond the anger and recrimination, there is little substantive political philosophy. Conspiracy theories are flung out left and right, and in the profound ideological vacuum, each seems as acceptable as the next. The list is breathtakingly long: Birthers, FEMA camps, NAFTA superhighway, Socialism, Death Panels, Federal Reserve, Acorn, Secret Muslim, etc. Each seems as plausible as the next because the ignorance at the bottom and and crazy at the top is so profound. Medicare is something to be protected from the government.
And Rand Paul gets elected, claiming and claimed as the Tea party's first big success.
Sure, he wasn't the first nutter. His father made sure of that. But when Ron Paul talked about returning to the gold standard, pulling out of the UN or shutting down most Federal Agencies people mainly rolled their eyes. I mean really, who the heck wants to try and understand fiscal and monetary policy? But that was before.
Now people are really listening. They want to find out what they really believe. And by golly, he's telling them! It turns out that if government is evil, and taxes are evil, and regulations are evil, then a lot of what we've been doing for the past century is really, well... evil. It turns out that we can't make people pay taxes for the government to regulate private businesses anymore - whether they put rotten meat in hotdogs, pay their workers $3 an hour, dump sewage into the creek, or deny minorities employment. I suppose you could add any number of other things to the list - things that we as a nation have fought very contentiously over for decades, but that now seem as American as apple pie.
These are Rand Paul's principles. They are libertarian principles. And they are now the principles of the modern conservative movement.
The nice thing about a democracy is that we get to elect our leaders based on what they tell us. The problem has been that Republicans have been taking advantage of the fact that the public hasn't understood the difference between the rhetoric and the policies their party has supported - if often grudgingly - for the past century. The trick was simple: just say one thing and do another. One wonders if they were able to do this because their candidates were either ignorant of simple political philosophy or just dishonest.
Yet somehow this trick just didn't work so well anymore and for whatever reason they elected a man who wasn't afraid to make sense of what they have been saying. Not only that, but he actually believes it.
So I say, "Good for you Rand Paul!" An honest Republican for once. "Don't let those handlers keep you down. Preach it, brother!" He's like a big bullshit magnet. I just hope he can get as many of the other tea partiers to sign on with his brilliant plans so we can watch as many of them as possible get flushed down the drain when the public is finally able to see what enormous a-holes they all are.