Saturday, March 09, 2013

Rand Paul for... Unsuccessful Presidential Candidate!

Ross Douthat wants to turn Rand Paul into a mountain, but qualifies his statements to such a degree that it's clear he views the man as a molehill. One he would prefer to become an influence within the Republican Party, but a molehill nonetheless.
Officially, Paul’s filibuster was devoted to a specific question of executive power — whether there are any limits on the president’s authority to declare American citizens enemy combatants and deal out death to them. But anyone who listened (and listened, and listened) to his remarks, and put them in the context of his recent speeches and votes and bridge-building, recognized that he was after something bigger: a reorientation of conservative foreign policy thinking away from hair-trigger hawkishness and absolute deference to executive power.
Or they might see Rand as engaging in cynical grandstanding over an issue that, yes, he probably believes in - but in a manner that he knew would not amount to a hill of beans. He knew that his party was, in essence, using him to create headlines - ideally some negative press for the President, but also cover for their actual filibuster of the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the D.C. Circuit Court. As for listening to Rand Paul, did anybody actually do that? If they did, among other things, they would have heard him criticize President Obama over his skepticism of Lochner v. New York, a century-old case that held limits on the length of an employee's workday or week to be unconstitutional. Yes, a handful of libertarian scholars have made it their pet case, but it has largely been regarded as a bad decision (Robert Bork called it an "abomination) by legal scholars across the political spectrum. To put it another way... I refer you to Charles Pierce's 5 minute rule ("This rule states that, for five minutes, both the son and the father, Crazy Uncle Liberty (!), make perfect sense on many issues. At the 5:00:01 mark, however, the trolley inevitably departs the tracks.") Even if we assume that Paul sincerely wants to move the Republican Party in the direction of opposing military adventurism, hawkishness and deference to executive power - a deference they insisted be shown to G.W. Bush but are happy to permit Paul to question when the other party's guy is in charge - Douthat admits that his party is not at all inclined to follow:
And he’s exploited partisan incentives to bring his fellow Republicans around to his ideas, deliberately picking battles — from the Libya intervention to drone warfare — where a more restrained foreign policy vision doubles as a critique of the Obama White House. Those incentives, rather than an intellectual sea change on the right, explain why his filibuster enjoyed so much Republican support. (Most of the senators who gave him an assist were just looking for a chance to score points against a Democratic White House.)
Might? A gratuitous qualification. Once Rand was done with his song and dance, Brennan was promptly confirmed. But Douthat hopes more will come of Rand's display:
But if Paul hasn’t won the party over to his ideas, he’s clearly widened the space for intra-Republican debate. And if he runs for president in 2016, that debate will become more interesting than it’s been for many, many years.
Why, it would be like the race would have been in 2008 or 2012, had Ron Paul chosen to run. Oh... right. It might be fun to see Paul questioned about his more bizarre political positions, and his somewhat bizarre sense of history (e.g., that the Lochner decision was a strike against Jim Crow... perhaps even Douthat had stopped listening by that part of the filibuster), but I don't expect Rand to have any more influence on his party than Ron. He's an ambitious man, and he clearly wants to advance within the party, but while Douthat may believe it to be impressive that Rand's "two big interviews after his filibuster were with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh", to me that choice screams that the man understands that he's far from ready for primetime.
There’s a lesson here for his fellow Republican politicians — though that lesson is not, I repeat not, that they should all remake themselves as Paul-style libertarians.
Does Douthat truly believe that any Republicans are about to make that mistake? (Should I interject that, although Douthat appears to be unaware of it, Rand Paul does not view himself as a libertarian?)
Rather, the lesson of Paul’s ascent is that being a policy entrepreneur carries rewards as well as risks — and that if you know how to speak the language of the party’s base, it’s possible to be a different kind of Republican without forfeiting your conservative bona fides.
Nobody questions Pat Buchanan's "conservative bona fides", and he can still give speeches on a variety of subjects that are in the right language to fire up the Republican Party's base, but... that's not a formula for winning elections. Douthat's hanging his hopes on the wrong guy.

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