What Rand Paul is doing is more important than trying to be a pure libertarian
Brian Doherty’s New York Times op-ed bemoaning what he sees as Rand Paul’s lack of libertarian principle reflects genuine frustration from libertarians with Sen. Paul. Doherty is by no means alone in his frustration among libertarians.
But he is missing a much larger and more important point.
Right now, libertarian ideas are arguably under more serious consideration than ever before in our culture and politics. Americans fed up with big government but also not finding either of the major parties attractive, or their conventional leaders attractive, are looking for new answers and better leaders.
People are looking for something different.
The fact that a “libertarianish” Republican like Rand Paul is even a credible presidential candidate is a significant part of this trend. That Paul is scaring the bejeezus out of the most anti-libertarian factions of the establishment left and right at the moment, should be a pretty good indication of his effectiveness.
That Rand Paul merely exists, as a political force representing a relatively brand-new faction within the GOP, but also as a transpartisan figure that continues to try to turn the whole left-right paradigm on its head—is also a pretty big deal for libertarians.
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver recently analyzed how though few Americans label themselves as libertarians, sizable portions and perhaps even emerging majorities hold libertarian views on everything from the size of government to issues like gay marriage.
Libertarians, like Doherty and others, might not be happy that Paul does not espouse purer libertarian views. But as the country seems to trend in his direction, as Doherty also concedes it might be, is it perhaps more important to have political figures who will actually help shepherd that migration and are effective in doing so?
How many pure libertarians have been effective in doing so? How many pure libertarians would be effective in doing so?
From an anti-statist perspective, it is also important, if we genuinely believe in making government smaller and shrinking the debt, that we have leaders who are actually serious about accomplishing this.
How many generations of “conservative” Republicans have talked about limiting government? How many have actually done so or even attempted to do it in any serious manner? Certainly not the last Republican president. Certainly not most of the potential 2016 GOP candidates who differ little in their domestic and foreign agendas from the last Republican president.
Many on the right like to dismiss libertarians because of our more relaxed and tolerant social views. But it is also libertarians who are the most serious about shrinking government in the way Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan used to talk about it. Many Republicans worry that libertarians are making their party more liberal, when in fact, they are making it more conservative in the most traditional sense.
For libertarians to win, don’t they first have to be a threat to the status quo? What pure libertarian today—or ever—has made the political establishment as nervous as Rand Paul?
Is not some of most hysterical pushback against Paul by those on the left who genuinely fear how much the senator as president would shrink government on the domestic front? Isn’t the collective freak-out over Paul on the right coming from hawks who fear reducing the Pentagon budget by one penny might lead to World War 3?
Rand is running for president of the United States, not purest libertarian in the United States. Some libertarians might not think that’s the right decision and that’s fine. But no libertarian should pretend Paul’s presence isn’t a significant benefit to libertarianism.