It’s naive to think that a few speeches can reshape the Republican Party, but Paul may well represent a tectonic shift on the American right.
The junior senator from Kentucky has a vision of the Constitution in full, advocating the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms and the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
He’s for civil liberties — to protect against police abuse or presidential drones, as well as economic liberties and the freedom to run a business without unnecessary regulation. And he wants to give the blessings of those liberties to those who come to America in search of a better life.
As a libertarian and a traditional conservative, we disagree with Paul on a number of issues. Yet we both see his constitutional conservatism as auguring a future in which social tolerance, fiscal temperance and a humbler role for government are pursued not as ends in themselves but because that’s the best path.
Conservatives “conserve” society by reacting to the excesses of previous generations, but the issues that prompt the reactions vary according to the times. Even the solutions to the same problems may shift with new information and reflection. National Review founder William F. Buckley, a key figure in the modern conservative movement, famously changed his mind about civil rights, the drug war and even Iraq.
Conservatives started the environmental movement with Theodore Roosevelt’s protection of national parks at a time when natural resources were plundered without regard to public health. But now, environmentalists abuse the Endangered Species Act to protect salamanders at the expense of jobs and the Clean Water Act’s wetlands protections to prevent development.