Tag: rand paul

Libertarian Politics in the Media

Peter Wallsten of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Libertarianism is enjoying a recent renaissance in the Republican Party.” He cites Ron Paul’s winning the presidential straw poll earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rand Paul’s upset victory in the Kentucky senatorial primary, and former governor Gary Johnson’s evident interest in a libertarian-leaning presidential campaign. Johnson tells Wallsten in an interview that he’ll campaign on spending cuts – including military spending, on entitlements reform, and on a rational approach to drug policy.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Rand Paul had a major op-ed in USA Today discussing whether he’s a libertarian. Not quite, he says. But sort of:

In my mind, the word “libertarian” has become an emotionally charged, and often misunderstood, word in our current political climate. But, I would argue very strongly that the vast coalition of Americans — including independents, moderates, Republicans, conservatives and “Tea Party” activists — share many libertarian points of view, as do I.

I choose to use a different phrase to describe my beliefs — I consider myself a constitutional conservative, which I take to mean a conservative who actually believes in smaller government and more individual freedom. The libertarian principles of limited government, self-reliance and respect for the Constitution are embedded within my constitutional conservatism, and in the views of countless Americans from across the political spectrum.

Our Founding Fathers were clearly libertarians, and constructed a Republic with strict limits on government power designed to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens above all else.

And he appeals to the authority of Ronald Reagan:

Liberty is our heritage; it’s the thing constitutional conservatives like myself wish to preserve, which is why Ronald Reagan declared in 1975, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Reagan said that several times, including in a Reason magazine interview and in a 1975 speech at Vanderbilt University that I attended. A lot of libertarians complained that he should stop confusing libertarianism and conservatism. And once he began his presidential campaign that fall, he doesn’t seem to have used the term any more.

You can see in both the Paul op-ed and the Johnson interview that major-party politicians are nervous about being tagged with a label that seems to imply a rigorous and radical platform covering a wide range of issues. But if you can call yourself a conservative without necessarily endorsing everything that William F. Buckley Jr. and the Heritage Foundation – or Jerry Falwell and Mike Huckabee – believe, then a politician should be able to be a moderate libertarian or a libertarian-leaning candidate. I wrote a book outlining the full libertarian perspective. But I’ve also coauthored studies on libertarian voters, in which I assume that you’re a libertarian voter if you favor free enterprise and social tolerance, even if you don’t embrace the full libertarian philosophy. At any rate, it’s good to see major officials, candidates, and newspapers talking about libertarian ideas and their relevance to our current problems.

Live from the Fancy Farm Picnic

I went back home to Kentucky to attend the Fancy Farm Picnic last Saturday. It may be the biggest political event in the state; it takes place every August, 10 miles from where I grew up, and somehow I’d never attended before. It was time. I got there just in time to hear Senate candidates Jack Conway and Rand Paul give their 7-minute speeches. (There are lots of speakers, and timekeepers are strict.) There were plenty of advocates for both candidates among the 2000 or so people watching. It’s an old Democratic area, but they’re conservative Democrats who now mostly vote Republican in federal races.

It was well over 90 degrees and humid, so both candidates handed out fans:

As I listened to the candidates, my main impression was this: Conway accused Rand Paul of being an extremist, and Paul accused Conway of being a Democrat. The question for November is which charge will stick.

Gov. Steve Beshear, introducing Conway, warmed up the attack: “[Paul] is going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our school children. He’s going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our coal miners. On the backs of our farmers. On the backs of our law enforcement officials,” he shouted. “The entire commonwealth of Kentucky — Republicans, Democrats and independents — ought to be scared to death about Rand Paul!” Referring to last year’s controversy over Conway’s calling himself a “tough son of a bitch” – it’s a church picnic, after all – and the “seven words you can’t say on television,” Paul said, “There are six more words you won’t hear Jack Conway say [on the campaign trail]: President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.”

So which do Kentucky voters dislike more: the national Democratic party’s big-government agenda or the prospect that Rand Paul might actually try to cut the size of government? In a world where everyone gets something from government, it’s not obvious. But so far Paul is holding on to a lead in the polls. In Fancy Farm, I noticed that all the Conway supporters had the campaign’s official signs and buttons, plus hand-lettered signs that had clearly been produced in campaign offices, such as this “NeanderPaul” sign that I picked up after the shouting was over:

Paul’s supporters, on the other hand, brought a lot of their own homemade signs. Conway’s supporters were more disciplined. You didn’t see any Conway supporters showing up dressed as Abraham Lincoln or a colonial soldier (though news reports say there was a guy dressed as a “neanderthal” holding the above sign), or wearing T-shirts reading “Who is John Galt?” The greater grass-roots enthusiasm for Paul has both pluses and minuses. Clearly he’s appealing to stronger currents than mere partisan politics and generating more enthusiasm. But that means he’s more at risk of supporters doing things that might embarrass the campaign.

Both candidates accused the other of “flip-flopping.” Conway’s team erected a “Rand Paul’s Waffle House” in the familiar yellow-and-black design and claimed he was waffling and flip-flopping on a number of issues. (Are waffling and flip-flopping the same thing? Not really.) Paul’s campaign handed out flip-flops labeled “cap” and “trade” to draw attention to Conway’s alleged backing away from his previous support for the “cap and trade” energy legislation.

One thing you can say about the Fancy Farm Picnic, it’s the best $10 meal you’ll ever eat – Kentucky pork and mutton, fresh-picked tomatoes and corn, and homemade pies and cakes.

And one final thought: They estimate that 15,000 people attend the picnic but that only 2,000 listen to the political speeches, which is a good reminder of reality for us political junkies. And that estimate would seem to be confirmed by my reflection after the weekend that, except for the drive from Mayfield to Fancy Farm, I drove about 500 miles in Kentucky this weekend and I’m not sure I ever saw a campaign sign or bumper sticker. The election is still almost three months away, and politics just isn’t life for most people.

New Attack Ad Provides an Early Look at the Fall Campaign

The Jack Conway for Senator campaign has run an attack ad on The New Republic website disguised as an article about Rand Paul by one of the magazine’s interns.  The tipoff is the word “radical” which appears five times in a short article along with “eccentric,” “unconventional” and similar words. (Doesn’t TNR bother to edit the web-only stuff?) Yeah, yeah, you’re saying by the end of the article, I get it: Paul is a radical, weirdo libertarian.

The evidence so far suggests that the Conway for Senate campaign seeks to paint Paul as an extremist while Jack, of course, is a moderate who will provide plenty of pork and don’t worry about the debt. Like most Democrats, Conway is facing a tough electorate this year, and he is responding by the party’s political playbook: demonize, mobilize, and spend. He will have adequate funds to pursue that strategy along with more than a little help from affiliated outside groups like TNR.

Parts of the article provide a useful political analysis of Kentucky’s different regions, presumably provided by the Conway campaign. So the article does offer a look into how Conway thinks he can win this.

Our intern concludes that the Conway-Paul race “is suddenly a close race.” It is true that a survey at the end of June, cited by TNR, indicated an even division. But the article appeared on August 4, and three polls in July showed Paul up by 3 to 9 points, the last one having Paul over fifty percent for the first time. That most recent poll also indicated that Paul had the support of one-quarter of Democrats and two-thirds of independents in the state.

With TNR flailing around like this, the Conway campaign seems pretty desperate pretty early.

Rand Paul Not So Hardcore On Farm Subsidies

Rand Paul, after setting the newswires alight with his controversial stance on the Civil Rights Act, is busy touting his “moderate” credentials.

Moderate, in this case, being a euphemism for “laughably timid.”

In a recent interview with a Kentucky radio station, Paul rejected the charge of his political opponent that he was opposed to farm subsidies. Not true, sayeth Paul. He is “much more moderate than that.”

According to an article in yesterday’s  Lexington Herald-Leader, Paul’s less-than-radical view on farm subsidies is that, well, maybe dead people should not receive them:

Let’s just agree that we will get rid of subsidies for dead farmers first,” he said.

After that, Paul said, the government should restrict subsidies to farmers who make more than $2 million a year.

Paul said 2,007 farmers last year whose income was greater than $2 million received subsidies.

“Let’s agree that maybe we can cut them out,” he said.

Despite his “ideologically pure” stance on the CRA, Rand Paul can compromise on issues of freedom when he wants to, for example on drug laws and gay marriage, as Tim Lee points out.  And now, apparently, he is to the left of Barack Obama (who favored a $500,000 adjusted gross income limit) when it comes to farm subsidies. Paul’s choice of when to be ideologically pure is curious indeed.

HT: Don Carr at the Environmental Working Group

Libertarianism Hits the Big Time

Michael Crowley, late of the New Republic and now with Time magazine, writes thoughtfully about Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and libertarianism. Crowley notes that Rand Paul, “more politically flexible than his father,” has plenty of unlibertarian positions. But both of them are tapping into a real strain in contemporary politics:

But he, like his father, also knows well that a genuine libertarian impulse is astir in America…. polls show an uptick in both social permissiveness and skepticism of government intervention….[Ron Paul] has already waited a long time — and it appears the country is moving his way.

This is a current trend, but it’s also deeply rooted in the American political culture. As David Kirby and I wrote in “The Libertarian Vote”:

It’s no surprise that many Americans hold libertarian attitudes since America is, after all, a country fundamentally shaped by libertarian values and attitudes. In their book It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marx write, “The American ideology, stemming from the [American] Revolution, can be subsumed in five words: antistatism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism.”… Richard Hofstadter wrote: “The fierceness of the political struggles in American history has often been misleading; for the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise. However much at odds on specific issues, the major political traditions have shared a belief in the rights of property, the philosophy of economic individualism, the values of competition; they have accepted the economic virtues of capitalist culture.”… McClosky and Zaller sum up a key theme of the American ethos in classic libertarian language: “The principle here is that every person is free to act as he pleases, so long as his exercise of freedom does not violate the equal rights of others.”…

Some people recognize but bemoan our libertarian ethos. Professors Cass Sunstein and Stephen Holmes complain that libertarian ideas are “astonishingly widespread in American culture.”

Much political change in America occurs within those guiding principles. Even our radicals, Lipset and Marks note, have tended to be libertarian rather than collectivist. America is a “country of classical liberalism, antistatism, libertarianism, and loose class structure,” which helps to explain the failure of class-conscious politics in the United States. McClosky and Zaller argue that many of the changes of the 1960s involved “efforts to extend certain values of the traditionalethos to new groups and new contexts”—such as equal rights for women, blacks, and gays; anti-war and free speech protests; and the “do your own thing” ethosof the so-called counterculture, which may in fact have had more in common with the individualist American culture than was recognized at the time.

In a broadly libertarian country most voters and movements have agreed on the fundamentals of classical liberalism or libertarianism: free speech, religious freedom, equality before the law, private property, free markets, limited government, and individual rights. The broad acceptance of those values means that American liberals and conservatives are fighting within a libertarian consensus. We sometimes forget just how libertarian the American political culture is.

And of course American politics and policy deviate a great deal from those fundamental principles, which leaves libertarians feeling frustrated, even angry, and seeming extreme or radical to journalists and others. But as Conor Friedersdorf just wrote in Time’s longtime rival, Newsweek, the media have a bias toward the status quo and establishment politicians, even when current policies and the proposals of elected officials are at least as extreme as libertarian ideas:

If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroad whom he designates as an enemy combatant? Or that Joe Lieberman wants to strip Americans of their citizenship not when they are convicted of terrorist activities, but upon their being accused and designated as enemy combatants? In domestic politics, policy experts scoff at ethanol subsidies, the home-mortgage-interest tax deduction, and rent control, but the mainstream politicians who advocate those policies are treated as perfectly serious people.

And Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, made the point a dozen years ago in a review of Charles Murray’s book What It Means to Be a Libertarian (in the Public Interest, not online)

The reason that libertarians seem extreme and odd is not that they are a furious minority, angry at a world that seems to have passed them by, but rather the opposite. They are heirs to a tradition that has changed the world. Consider what classical liberalism stood for in the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was against the power of the church and for the power of the market; it was against the privileges of kings and aristocracies and for dignity of the middle class; it was against a society dominated by status and land and in favor of one based on markets and merit; it was opposed to religion and custom and in favor of science and secularism; it was for national self-determination and against empires; it was for freedom of speech and against censorship; it was for free trade and against mercantilism. Above all, it was for the rights of the individual and against the power of the church and the state….

The reason that libertarianism seems narrow and naive is that having won 80 percent of the struggles it has fought over the last two centuries, it is now forced to define itself wholly in terms of the last 20 percent. Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice if you were in Prussia in the 1850s, but in America in the 1960s? Libertarianism has become extreme because the world has left it no recourse.

Now, I don’t feel furious, angry, or extreme. I think that libertarianism is the philosophy of the American revolution, the basic ideology of America, and indeed the foundation of Western civilization. The concept of personal and economic freedom – giving people more power to pursue happiness in their own way by restricting the size, scope, and power of government – is not extreme. Nor is it reactionary. In fact, it is the direction in which civilization has been heading, with many digressions and blind alleys, since the liberal revolution of the 17th century. I am a progressive. I believe that the simple, timeless principles of the American Revolution – individual liberty, limited government, and free markets – are even more powerful and more important in the world of instant communication, global markets, and unprecedented access to information than Jefferson or Madison could have imagined.  Libertarianism is not just a framework for utopia, it is the indispensable framework for the future.

Rand Paul and the ADA

Along with the rest, the Kentucky Senate candidate has come under fire for expressing some guarded criticism of the Americans with Disabilities Act in broadcast interviews. In particular, opponents have blasted Paul for getting some details about the law wrong in his off-the-cuff hypothetical example:

Let’s say you have a local office and you have a two story office and one of your workers is handicapped. Should you not be allowed maybe to offer them an office on the first floor, or should you be forced to put in a hundred thousand dollar elevator?

In fact ADA regulations specify that elevators will not be mandated for private buildings of “less than three stories” unless used for shopping, health care, or some other purposes. This leads Jed Lewison of Daily Kos, with the generosity of spirit toward opponents for which that site is known, to rant: “What an idiot… He has no idea what [the federal government] does. He’s like a toddler freaking out about monsters under the bed.” Right. Doesn’t everyone who gets asked about their position on the ADA on national TV know that the elevator cutoff begins at three stories, not two?

Associated Press reporter John Cook has followed up with a “Newsroom” blog entry pursuing the gotcha theme, and quotes me in the course of doing so. Since I might not have made myself sufficiently clear on the phone with Cook, let me try to have another go at it here.

Does the ADA ever mandate that a business install elevators in its three-story building? Yes, often it does, but typically not through its employment provisions, which, as federal guidance has made clear, seldom if ever require installation of an elevator as the requested “reasonable accommodation” for an individual worker. The other main branch of the ADA relevant here is the law’s architectural rules, which do not hinge on any calculation of reasonable accommodation to individual workers/users. Under these rules, so long as the owner of an older building leaves it alone without restoration, only “readily achievable” changes will be required, which will ordinarily not include elevator installation. Cook quotes spokespeople for the EEOC and DOJ who correctly deny – note the narrow wording, which may escape many readers – that elevators are required under the “reasonable accommodation” standard. And he quotes a court decision – again note the narrow ground – that elevator installation is not required under the “readily achievable” standard.

But where the rules on major improvements like elevators get their teeth – as some of Cook’s sources must surely be aware – is not from either of those standards, but from the rules that apply to new construction and, crucially, renovations of older spaces. Renovation, when not minor, triggers a requirement to bring the space up to broad ADA standards. This can easily result in elevators and other budget-busting outlays for the immediate benefit of perhaps a single employee or perhaps of no employees at all, since the requirements apply whether or not any disabled person has ever sought access to the space.

Next time federal agency spokespeople are asked about elevator mandates, I hope they address the renovation trigger rather than other, less relevant sections of the law. They might even want to check their own website (South Dakota restaurant owner “agreed to install an elevator” following complaint to the feds) or, amusingly, the Daily Kos site itself (contributor: “I was laid off from my job last November because the company I was working for was forced to install an elevator in their new building.”)

As I told Cook, I think it’s pretty common for Senators (let alone non-incumbent candidates) to display confusion about which provision does what in a complicated law. Last year Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, defending the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 – a law he was himself instrumental in passing – claimed that “the law allows the CPSC to make ‘commonsense exceptions’ to anti-lead requirements.” It doesn’t, but the remark passed almost unnoticed since no gotcha narrative was running at the time.

If candidate Paul is looking for non-hypothetical examples of curious and untoward ADA applications, he might start here and here (restaurants), here (rugged hiking lodge), here (PDF, see p. 7 – resort accessible only on skis), or, on employment topics, here, here, or here. And thanks to Ira Stoll at Future of Capitalism, who cites my writing in responding to another critic of Paul, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who disputably appears to regard the ADA as among “the largest moral achievements of recent American history.”

Rand Paul and Me in the Wall Street Journal

I’ve gotten some questions about these paragraphs in today’s Wall Street Journal (slightly shorter in the print version):

David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said that in many ways Americans are freer now than they were in any pre-1937 libertarian Halcyon day. Women and black citizens can vote, work and own property. “Micro-regulations” that existed before the Supreme Court shift, which controlled trucking, civil aviation and other private pursuits, are gone.

“Sometimes he talks the way libertarians talk in political seminars,” Mr. Boaz said of Mr. Paul. “There are not really many people who want to reverse Wickard, but there are many professors who could make a good case for it.”

Whenever a reporter takes a few sentences from an interview, some context is going to be lost. These quotations are accurate, but let me add some context. For a discussion of my view that we have not in fact followed a road to serfdom from a libertarian golden age, check out these blog posts and articles, as well as my book The Politics of Freedom.

When I said that Rand Paul “talks the way libertarians talk in political seminars” – and I should have said “philosophy seminars” – I was trying to make a distinction between the kinds of ideas that are commonly debated in classrooms and think tank seminars and those that are relevant to any particular political campaign. And my statement that there aren’t “many people who want to reverse Wickard” was in the context of a discussion about the tens of millions of Americans who believe in less government and more freedom, as noted here and here and here and, classically, here. I made the point that there were two great libertarian shifts in American politics and culture in my lifetime, the cultural/civil rights/women’s revolution of the Sixties and the entrepreneurial/economic/taxcutting revolution of the Eighties, and few people want to return either to the cultural strictures of the 1950s or the tax rates of the 1970s.  And in that sense there’s a broadly libertarian center in American politics, and some of those people reacted against the excessive social conservatism (not to mention the over-spending and the endless wars) of the Bush Republicans in 2008, and are now reacting against the excessive statism of the Obama administration. But of course they’re not all as libertarian as I am, and not many normal people would recognize the term “Wickard v. Filburn,” much less call for its reversal. (On the other hand, pollsters should try asking voters, “Do you think the federal government should be able to tell a farmer what crops he can grow on his own farm for his own use?” I’ll bet more people would side with Rand Paul than with, say, the New York Times.) When Rand Paul gets back to talking about bailouts, deficits, debt, and Obamacare, he’s going to be appealing to many of those voters. And if his opponent accuses him of supporting medical marijuana, he’ll find that 81 percent of Americans agree. Sixty percent of Americans oppose federal mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes, as Rand Paul does. Paul has every likelihood of appealing to a broad swath of Americans who are broadly libertarian.