In Defense of the Impious Rand Paul

Rand Paul wants you to think. His mainstream critics don’t.

If there is anything that demonstrates enduring intellectual piety in American politics – fealty to doctrinaire positions, reflexive demonization of those who don’t express them as a form of religious observance – it’s the fulmination from both left and right against Rand Paul.  I actually disagree with Paul quite seriously on foreign and security policy; I’m not a Paulista by any means.  But the reflexive, religiously doctrinaire reaction of his critics certainly suggests that any remaining aperture in their American minds can today be measured, at best, in micrometers.

There have been two incidents now, since the Kentucky primary, in which Rand Paul has failed to prostrate himself automatically before a political shibboleth.  One concerned the Civil Rights Act, the intent of which Paul has expressed full support for.  His quarrel is with the element of the Civil Rights Act that authorizes the federal government to regulate private businesses.

The other is Paul’s criticism of Obama’s “boot on the neck” comment about BP, and of the general societal attitude in the US that everything must be litigated and litigable fault assigned for any bad thing that happens.

Now, it may well be that there is litigable fault in the Gulf oil spill situation, and that it belongs to BP.  The cards appear, at least, to be stacking up in that direction – although I’ve reached the point at which I simply don’t believe what the MSM tells me about these matters any more.  Since I haven’t researched the thinking on the spill’s cause, I’m reserving agreement with any position for now.  But ultimately, it’s not an exercise in mere doctrinaire politics to suppose that BP may be genuinely at fault for the spill.

That said, it’s drooling like Pavlov’s dog to excoriate Rand Paul for not assuming that (a) there must, in principle, be fault, if only because of the magnitude of the problem; and (b) the appropriate way for our chief political executive to approach the problem is to assume fault, and promise to have his boot on the neck of a company with thousands of American employees (many of them in Louisiana) and millions of American investors.

Only if you think Americans are morons do you insist that they can’t handle the making of logical arguments and reasonable distinctions.  It’s thigh-slappingly hilarious to watch commentators – people who actually imagine themselves to be independent thinkers – go to general quarters over breaches of their rigid, logic-chopping protocols for speech and political response.  The Paul record on the Civil Rights Act is a particularly telling issue because quite a few Republicans are terrified of being seen as violating an article of faith – even though the highly questionable assumption of federal authority to regulate business practices in this realm is the same assumption at issue with the individual health insurance mandate.  It’s to the advantage of only the left, for this assumption to be considered sacrosanct and beyond question because of what the assumption was made for.

Federal overreach in a good cause is still federal overreach.  Republicans must reflect on this fact:  that if we refuse to reexamine the loose thinking about federal authority in the Civil Rights Act – thinking that was strongly opposed by many at the time, as older readers will remember – then we have already ceded the principle of federal overreach, and, by our own agreement, there is nothing the US federal government can’t do to us.

The funny thing is that in the 1960s, men like William F. Buckley, Jr., Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan opposed the title of the Civil Rights Act that constituted federal overreach:  that is, the assumption of federal authority to regulate local business practices.  Goldwater ultimately voted against the Act precisely because of that one concern.  All of these men – unlike, say, George Wallace – were relentless opponents of state-level racist policies.  Few on the right today consider them to have been extremists.

America’s leftists, for their part, have long considered it wrong for those on the right to oppose central government action on the principle of limiting the federal government to enumerated powers.  But in the decades of my life, this point of contention has shifted from an honest political debate to the enforcement of a religious doctrine.  No longer are logical arguments made from the left.  Partisans of the left’s point of view merely express reflexive horror, demonize those making the limited-government argument, and invoke the horrible problem – whatever it is (or was) – as the evidence that it is essentially satanic to oppose doing the thing they propose to do about it.  Logical and temperate discourse has no place in this dynamic; it is reminiscent mainly of fire-and-brimstone demagoguery.

This is not just a dangerous way to make law, it’s a way that must inevitably lead to greater and greater overreach.  Nothing we do, nothing we are is protected from the federal government if we sit still for these elisions and ellipses in our observance of constitutional limits.  Most of the first ten Amendments can be effectively abrogated – and the abrogation called due process of law – by the exercise of the “authority to regulate interstate commerce,” or by findings based on “privacy” and the Fourteenth Amendment, or by the exercise of eminent domain.

Letting the federal government overreach in its application of these concepts, first in one instance and then in another and another, is what has led to the individual purchase mandate for health insurance and the other assumptions of federal authority in Obamacare.  Under the Obama executive and the current Congress, every effort is being made to extend that authority far beyond what most Americans consider appropriate, from centrally regulating the thermostat in your home to forcing the internet into the “common carrier” model of television and radio, so that content can be regulated by virtual channelization and access- or broadcast-licensing procedures.  (Bloggers, that means you.)

Tacit, unexamined acceptance of federal authority to do these things is what Rand Paul is challenging.  In 2010, he is the one asking people to think, rather than to merely repeat doctrinaire talking points taught to them since birth.  His critics, on the other hand, sound like nothing so much as children reciting a catechism, and tsk-tsk-ing over those who don’t recite it in exactly the same way.  That includes many of his critics on the right – who have agreed to be governed by a list of pieties that makes effective dissent from the left’s religious doctrine impossible.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.

17 thoughts on “In Defense of the Impious Rand Paul”

  1. I saw the the 2 clips and I felt like Rand was guilty that the people talking with him would actually try to enter a higuer lvl of discourse.

    This is just like the Arizona Law, you oppose you are a racist. I’m a foreigner and you calculate that I’m for open border, especially is it mean that I’m in. But what most people on the left and sometime right fail do is to make the debate onm talking points and who ever like Rand who tries to make a higuer conversation aptemp is the devil.

    Welcome to the Age of the talking Drones

  2. Sorry, but as a black man, I just gotta say that Rand Paul is nucking futs.

  3. The race thing is a distraction; what should be more concerning about this guy is his loyalty to private businesses and his disregard about individual liberties.

    You can’t claim to support liberties and then oppose them for some people, in the name of protecting private businesses. In the end that just rings phony. So to me, Paul’s ideology is, like KevinMartin said above…illogical.

  4. His loyalty is to individual freedom, don’t forget that bussines are made of people

  5. And that’s why his logic fails, since, unlike actual libertarians, he thinks usurping the individual’s liberty is compatible with protecting other individuals’ liberties.

    His argument falls apart in its illogic.

  6. It seems to me that the main freedom that seems to be of concern to Paul and his supporters is that of business. Is it more important to actually make the promise of freedom under emancipation in 1862 mean something, or that successful business men never have their freedom interfered with. Rand clearly is concerned about the latter.

    Business are the noble and put upon by the state class in this view. I have to say that really this shows that freedom’s constantly bump into one another. Society then makes choices about what freedom prevails.

    When I was younger I thought of businessmen as noble worth of more a break than they were getting. I didn’t trust politicians with seeming good intentions. I might of agreed with Paul.

    Now I think of almost all human behavior as rarely (but occasionally) noble. Given that business is no more noble than government in my thinking now: I no longer would buy the Rand Paul argument.

    At its heart, it seems to boil down to saying: “do we value freedom for commercial activity or a long oppressed group. I say commercial activity.”

    I make the other choice.

  7. the_nile,

    People don’t have a right to force others to serve them.

    They do have a right to do whatever they want with their resources that do not harm others rights.

    He is not choosing one fundamental right over another. He is picking the only fundamental right that is at stake in this issue.

    The “right” to force others to serve you cannot be a right in a free society.

  8. The people vs. business argument has had a lot of traction over the years. But large businesses that seem to be farthest removed from being “people” gave the most support to the civil rights act and in most cases had integrated before it. MOreover, such businesses can shift thier offerings or even move locations if they wish to avoid undesirable customers.

    Small independently owned businesses are those for whom accommodation laws are most problematic. For instance, the owner of a duplex apartment who lives in one apartment and wants to rent out the other. Should such a person not be permitted to have any preferences about who will live in close quarters and whom the owner will trust to help pay the mortgage? The owner of a small bar–can’t toss out potential patrons because they “look like trouble”?

    The assumption seems to be made that such small owners are going to act on the most irrational prejudices. But what if such small owners are instead acting on a fine-grained understanding of their potential customers, both the wanted and the unwanted?

    Of course, this argument has been settled now for a number of years. The question for Rand is a hypothetical one. I would like to see some interviews in which Democrats are asked to defend the actual voites of their party predecessors against the Civil Rights Act, or to defend their failure to censure Robert Byrd for his KKK membership.

  9. o boy … you guys are getting in the exact frenzy the left enter … just look like the reaction the Arizona Law !

    Rand stance on the Civil right act is that it was necessary to abolish the Jim Cro laws, which MANDATED racism in the public sphere and thus make segregation positble. among the 10 provision of the law only one, which mandated stuff in the private sphere was the only one that was problematic both in Constitutional terms. you can challenge this postion if you like, but calling rand a racism for this is childish

    Seconmd the postion of Rand on the oil spill is that under the Rule of Law, BP, therefore all the individuals involved in their management, are innoncent until proven guilty any one else. It is to the courts not the president to make the decsion about this.

    At least lets try have a higuer level of debate on this, sincerely you guys sound like rachel maddow getting freaken ouot about Nazy Arizona

  10. I didn’t say Rand is a racist, only the, ahem, black man did.

    I don’t blame him and I would not defend Mr. Paul against that charge.

    1. “I don’t blame him and I would not defend Mr. Paul against that charge.”

      Isn’t that just another way of implying that you agree with KevinMartin?

      Who incidentally didn’t specifically state that Rand Paul was a racist but rather that Paul was f**king nuts.

      You interpreted KevinMartin’s charge to be one of racism however, so therein lies your agreement, correct?

      So, to get to the heart of your assertion, you’re saying that society has a right to force people to behave in politically correct ways, right?

      In which case, what the current politically correct behavior is, you support the compelling of individuals to obey.

      You may wish to stop at racism but the principle you support, the right for the federal government to act as society’s agent and compel behavior hasn’t a rationale that would limit that principle to racism.

      I realize that facing the consequences of what we advocate when the logic is extended can be unpleasant but the law of unintended consequences still applies, regardless of our wishes that it did not.

      1. I am agreeing that, yes, Mr. Paul can be described as colorfully as the black gentleman posted above.

        I find Mr. Paul’s position (that usurping one right to protect another is consistent and valid) not only illogical but also dangerous.

  11. “This is not just a dangerous way to make law, it’s a way that must inevitably lead to greater and greater overreach.”

    again and again, your thinking demonstrates just that.

    you would have us read “the power to tax is the power to destroy” as proof that destruction is at hand.

    you ascribe to others reflexivity rather than reasoned analysis of likelihood as basis for disagreement with Paul’s defense of BP.

  12. “The race thing is a distraction; what should be more concerning about this guy is his loyalty to private businesses and his disregard about individual liberties.

    You can’t claim to support liberties and then oppose them for some people, in the name of protecting private businesses. In the end that just rings phony. So to me, Paul’s ideology is, like KevinMartin said above…illogical.”

    the_nile, I think you misunderstand libertarianism and probably Rand Paul. I don’t know Rand Paul that well, but I consider myself something along the lines of a libertarian/conservative (if you will). You miss the mark when you say that Paul is supporting “business” liberties over “individual” liberties. The position Paul is supporting isn’t that the federal govt should protect one over the other – it’s that the federal govt shouldn’t be involving itself at all in such a matter.

    Yours is the classic leftwing view that assumes that “business” is this faceless monolith that is forever trying to enrich itself at the expense of the defenseless individual. But as sam says, business is made up of people. Quite often, very few people. A separation of the two in this case is an improper separation.

    So when a libertarian says that he’s opposed to the federal govt legally intervening in a situation where some bigot doesn’t want to serve black people in his diner, that libertarian is not supporting discrimination against blacks. Nor is he supporting business over the individual or vice versa. He is merely supporting a platform that, at its base, supports the limitation of the powers of the federal govt to decide things that should be decided by others. A more limited govt, in and of itself, is a worthy goal.

    So I suggest you look at things from this perspective before you call the views of Rand Paul “illogical.”

    1. I dunno, I saw his followup statements which he seemed to walk back from his illogical stand.

      I hope he continues to become more progressive on his views concerning minority rights. I just don’t want that kind of dangerous, retrograde thinking in my country nor my party.

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