Caleb Brown: This is the Cato daily podcast for Friday, February 27, 2015. I’m Caleb Brown. Shutting down many federal departments would barely register for most Americans, so says Rand Paul, Republican Junior U.S. Senator from Kentucky. Paul delivered the keynote address at the Cato Institute’s Benefactor Summit in Naples, Florida, last week.
Rand Paul: There is a libertarian movement going on in the country. I think there really is. I go to a lot of barbecues, so I have to watch what I eat and I have to - and see how much is going to be served tonight. I try to eat half of what they serve me because I get too much food, but I was at a barbecue in Paducah, Kentucky, the other day and a fellow in front of me was loading up two plates of barbecue. And I said, you’re not going to live very long eating like that. He said well, my granddad lived to be 105. I said I bet your granddad didn’t live to be 105 eating like that. He said no, he lived to be 105 by minding his own business. I think there is something to be said for that as maybe a maxim for government. If we had a government that were minding its own business we’d all be much better off. And I mean in all realms of life. Minding their own business. We want a government so small in Washington we barely see it. Instead, it’s the opposite. I tell people it’s sort of like going to A.A. I’m Rand Paul, and I’m from flyover America. And the thing is that we are so much different and thinking is so much different outside the city than inside the city. So when I first got to Washington I said that I wanted to cut 500 billion dollars because I was tired of the liberal media saying, oh, all you conservatives, you’re for balancing the budget but you’ll never tell us where you’ll cut. So I gave them a list of 500 billion dollars I would cut, including four or five departments. I won’t try to name them because it didn’t go over well if you don’t remember the names of them, but let’s just say there are some of them you could eliminate and never know the difference. I think the danger is people would wake up and say, oh, they’ve closed the Department of Commerce? When did they close the Department of Commerce? These are big fights we need to have, not only because they are waste, but we need to have these fights because politically what we need to tell people who haven’t been considering us is we need to look at the poor and the working class and we need to say to them, we’re not going to touch a penny of the safety net until we have cut every dollar of corporate welfare. We need to make a big cause getting rid of the EXIM. I think we can get rid of it. It’s one of those things that there’s a few, select people in Washington lobbying for it. We could get rid of it and no one would notice other than one or two lobbyists in Washington. This is the kind of battle that if we’re going to say that everybody in the country cant’ be on Medicaid, which is true, we can’t borrow money from China to give everybody free stuff - money doesn’t grow on trees. But we need to make the lead cause of what we’re getting rid of - why don’t we get rid of all the corporate welfare before we start talking about food stamps, before we start talking about welfare. All that still has to be talked about. But the thing is, let’s talk about things that will attract people to our party that haven’t been attracted to our party previously. When you tell people you are from Kentucky and you wonder sort of what the difference is between living in flyover America and in Washington, you think of the shutdown. So I go home to Kentucky on the weekends and I get there and the government was shut down about a year ago, and you know what the biggest complaint was? Why the hell did you open it back up? People did not notice. You realize the reason the President had to wrap the World War II monument was nobody was noticing that government was closed. It was a huge danger to those that believe in big government that people might not notice. So they hired all the government workers, you know, the ones who almost never do any work, to go and wrap the World War II monument. There is no entrance. There is no exit. It’s completely, I think, paid for with private donations. I told people I like to mow grass - I’ll volunteer to mow the grass at the World War II monument. But they wrapped it, and they wrapped it, and I tell people if you want an image of the government shut down, if you want an image of what us in flyover America think about the people in Washington making all these decisions, the image you should remember is that World War II veterans going, cutting the barricades, and throwing them on the lawn at the White House. People ask me that what’s the worst thing that’s going on in Washington? What’s the worst thing the President has done? How long do you have? It’s a long list but really you can sum it all up in one sort of sentence, and say, it’s the usurpation of power. It’s the collapse of the separation of powers. There’s supposed to be an equilibrium between the branches, between the coequal branches of government, there’s supposed to be equilibrium. And the founders said that we would pit ambition against ambition. We would pit ambition of the legislature versus the ambition of the President, and because they would go back and forth, we would have an equilibrium where the powers were separated and they checked and balanced each other. It’s gotten a lot worse under this President. It’s accelerating under this President. It’s been getting worse for a hundred years. It’s a bipartisan aggrandizement of power. Taking of power from the people. Taking of power from the people’s representatives and sending it to one person. I’ll give you an example: The President ran, and there wasn’t a lot that I liked about what he ran on, but he said one thing that struck a nerve with me. It wasn’t enough for me quite to vote for him, but in 2007 he said no President should unilaterally go to war without the authority of Congress and unless we are under imminent attack. Sounds like the Constitution to me. Sounds like what we should do. So we get into the middle of his term and he attacks Libya without consulting Congress and he just goes into Libya. And so about a year later they were talking about going in and bombing Syria. And I was opposed to it and thought that nothing good would come of it. In fact, I predicted that within a year of giving arms to the Syrian rebels, that we’d be back there fighting against our own arms. But he came to one of our lunches and I raised my hand and I said Mr. President, you said that we - a President should never unilaterally go to war without the authority of Congress, unless under imminent attack. And his response was, well yes, there was a threat of an imminent attack. I was like, really? He said yes. There were tanks lined up to attack Benghazi. And I said you mean - that’s what you meant when you told us imminent attack? Imminent attack of a foreign country? Of a foreign city? That that would be the immediate threat that you wouldn’t consult Congress for? I was thinking maybe New York. Completely insane. But I think he truly believed that. And he was justifying his own words that he hadn’t changed his position, he still believed that the President could exert this authority if we’re, any place, I guess, on the plant we’re under imminent attack. The thing about Libya, or what I call Hillary’s war in Libya, is that it sent so many bad signals on every level from top to bottom. If there’s one consistency about foreign policy in the Middle East, is that every time we’ve toppled a secular dictator we’ve gotten chaos and the rise of radical Islam and less safety for our country. The same people that were cheering the freedom fighters in Libya, a year before were over there meeting secretly with Gaddafi’s son, trying to sell him more weapons. The freedom fighters, some of them we had already imprisoned. Some of them had been in our prisons in Iraq, had fought against us in Iraq or Afghanistan, these were the freedom fighters in Libya. Libya is a disaster. It’s a jihadist wonderland. They swim in our embassy’s swimming pool. Not only did they assassinate our ambassador, our embassy is gone. We have no representatives there. There’s three different governments in Libya. And what kind of message do you think this sent to Iran? You remember what Gaddafi did. He negotiated a way with the West his nuclear ambition. What kind of signal do you think we sent to Iran when we toppled the guy who gave up his nuclear ambition? Hillary’s war in Libya is still leading to a disaster in negotiations with Iran. 15,000 surface to air missiles are missing. Where do you think they are? They may well be shooting down planes of ours or troops of ours who are trying to defend diplomatic missions in Iraq from Isis. It’s an utter disaster. When I think about, though, the big problems that face us a country, I think about what Lincoln said about power. Lincoln said that any man can stand adversity, but if you truly want to test a man’s mettle, you want to test a man’s character, give him power. That’s the real problem here. And it’s not just one party. This President represents that very well. He was given power and forgot everything he said. But it’s been one President after another. Anybody here ever been disappointed by a Republican president? Here’s the thing. We’re going to have a choice. We’re going to have a choice as this moves forward. I find people who are some of the greatest givers to causes who wait until after the nominating process and then they are going to pour hundreds of millions of dollars in to support the nominee. Well, what if that doesn’t change the country? What if you get a nominee that’s maybe slightly better than the other side, and so close to the other side that nothing ever changes? Think about when we elected the first George Bush. The person he made in charge of the EPA, with one stroke of the pen, doubled the amount of wetlands in our country. They just redefined wetlands. And, actually, I am a moderate. I am for the federal government protecting the Everglades. I am for protecting certain parks and things we want to protect. There is some role for the federal government in this. But the thing is my backyard is not a wetlands and they can stay the hell out of my backyard. The Clean Water Act says that you can’t discharge pollutants into navigable streams. I’m okay with that. But they’ve defined dirt as a pollutant and my backyard as a navigable stream. And what do they do to you if you defy them? I’ll tell you what they do to you. Ken Lucas, ten years ago, was 70 years old and he was developing property in Southern Mississippi and he had the audacity to put clean dirt on his own land to improve the elevation. This was land that had no standing water, had no swamp, had no Everglades, had trees growing on it. It was considered by many to be upland, not to be swampland. He was put in prison for ten years. He’s been there all ten years. He’s set to get out, I think, this month. He has been in prison for ten years. His daughter was 43, never had a traffic ticket, was helping him in the real estate office to sell the lots. She was given 84 months in prison. They finally were so embarrassed that they got her out on some kind of behavior but typically with these federal sentences you can’t get out early. There is no probation. There is no getting out for good behavior. She had a baby at the time that didn’t see her for two years. She spent 26 months in jail. Your government is out of control. Its tentacles reach into every aspect of your life and it’s time to rebel. I mean it’s time to stand up and do something. I’m talking about rebel with your wallets, alright? You know, hit them over the head with your wallets, but don’t - we’re not for firearms being used against government. But, by the way, if we are going to regulate firearms, let’s start with the government. The government has 48 federal agencies that have SWAT teams. I’m not kidding you. Now, I’m okay with the FBI and the police having guns. We need to have guns for violent people we need protection from. However, I’m not so keen on the USDA having firearms. There was a family in Nixon - or Nixa, Missouri. John and Judy Dollarhite. And these are some really bad people. They decided they were going to grow bunnies. And they wanted their 14-year-old son to learn about business. So the fourteen-year-old started doing it and, as bunnies do, they reproduced and he got pretty successful. So successful that the USDA noticed. So the USDA came in, they shut the place down, padlocked the barn, nobody actually went to jail but they did fine them $91,000. And the government said, oh, it’s no big deal, you can pay by credit card. But if you don’t pay by credit card, by the end of the month it’ll be 3.1 million dollars and counting. So their bills keep going on and on. This went on for years. Finally politicians intervened. People were making phone calls. It was being lampooned all over the national news and finally the government decided we’ve got to put this to rest, you know. This is giving us some bad publicity. So they sent over to the family - they said, we’ll let you off the hook if you’ll sign a consent agree to never own farm animals. This is a family that lives on a farm in a rural part of Missouri. You know what they told them? They - I can’t do this in - can you give hand signals? They gave them the middle finger, is what they did. The family said, the family said screw you, we are just - we are just, you know, we’re going to ignore your consent disorder. But this is going on throughout, you know, the country. The Sackett family in Idaho had a lot they wanted to develop. The government started fining them $75,000 a day because they put gravel on their lot, and said, once again, it was a wetlands, even though their neighbors had built on the same incline years before and had two standing houses and they are building on the lot in between two houses. We’ve got a government that’s out of control. But if you nominate and elect another Republican, then appoint someone to be head of the EPA that doubles the wetlands and says that anything can be wetland that you can drill into the soil and find water in the soil at all, it’s a problem. We need the opposite. We need someone who would actually get in charge of government and to every department of government appoint people like Calvin Coolidge that would go through every iota of every budget and cut, and cut, and cut, until we balance the budget. Amity Shlaes wrote a great book about Calvin Coolidge. Anybody read? It’s a great book. In there, there was a good story I liked about how - I love stories about, you know, how people are very important and sometimes pay attention to detail. So Calvin Coolidge is the President and, out of his salary, he had to pay for entertainment. So like, you know, an ambassador from England, or different people would come and visit, they’d have steak dinners. He had to pay for it out of his salary. So he’d be down in the kitchen saying I notice we had four hams and I think we could have gotten away with just three hams tonight. He met with the Secretary of Treasury every week and he balanced the budget. One of the things I plan on doing in the next six months to a year in Congress is, I’m not on appropriations - they don’t trust anybody who is conservative to be on an appropriations committee - but I am on other committees and I’m now in charge of two subcommittees. We’re going to use our subcommittees just to look at waste. And as we look at waste and categorize it, we’re going to look for the legal language on how to defund an appropriation bill and then we’re going to walk over the exact language and sit down with the subcommittee chairman in charge of that money and say look, we just found 500 ways to cut 500 million or 500 billion, whatever it is. And that’s what I’m promoting, all within our caucuses, is we take all the committee structure, we pass all the appropriation bills, but we load them up, not with one rule on immigration, but with hundreds and hundreds of rules to try to eliminate waste. I think we can do it. If we want to win, our ideas win - you’re doing your part, you know, in the long-term battle with free market ideas, but if you want to win in the political sense, I think we need to be boldly for what we are for. I have no idea what the last two Republican nominees were for as far as tax policy. I’m pretty sure it was revenue neutral tax reform. I tell people if that’s what we’re for I’m going home. I have no desire for the left half of the room to pay less so the right half of the room can pay more so everybody can pay the same. That’s what revenue neutral is. Once upon a time we were the party, the Republican Party, was the party of cutting taxes. Why shouldn’t we say and make the argument that that’s how we are going to stimulate the economy? We are going to leave more money in the economy. There’s the productive sector, you, and there’s the nonproductive sector, the government. I tell people there are two reasons why you should minimize government. One is the liberty argument. Thomas Paine said that government is a necessary evil. Some people read cold and say, oh, you’re saying government is evil. Well, government is necessary. You have to have some government. You’ve got to defend the country. There are things government has to - we have to do through government, but you have to give up some of your liberty. What is your liberty? It’s what you work for, it’s what you’re paid in, it’s the script that you pay to government. That’s a portion of your liberty you give up. And I’m not saying we don’t have government, I’m just saying there’s an argument for wanting to maximize your liberty and minimize what you give to government. Minimize what government does. But the other argument is the efficiency argument. This is the Milton Friedman argument that says nobody spends somebody else’s money as wisely as your own. Ask any politician if they laid awake at night because they spent a billion dollars or a hundred billion dollars and it went sour. Nobody does. Every one of you thinks about if you are paying your mortgage, or paying your employees, or paying back the loan for your business. You all think about it. And you feel it inside. That’s what makes you good at making decisions. No one in government thinks about that. No one worries about any money they spend. Do you think the guy that decided to give Solyndra 535 million - do you think he’s not sleeping well at night? No, he probably got a plum job. He’s probably back in the industry and he’ll rotate back into government and back out of industry. If we want to win, we also, beyond being boldly for what we are for, we’ve got to take our message to new people. The message of privacy and that the government shouldn’t look at your phone records resonates across all boundaries, all political stereotypes, to all kids, to all young people, to many independents, to many of you who haven’t considered the Republican Party, you say we are going to be the party that not only defends the Second Amendment, but we’re going to be the party that defends the Fourth Amendment, new people will flock to us. We can do this. I think the ideas that actually attract people are the libertarian-ish ideas. If we want to bring new people in, we have to be conscious of where people are and where they are coming from. Martin Luther King talked about there being two Americas: one America where people felt like they had the opportunity to, you know, life, and liberty, and pursuit of happiness. But there was another America at the time he wrote his speech in 1967 that felt despair and felt a hopelessness, and felt like they had no chance. In those days it was a de jure problem. It was the legal separation and the legal problems that kept people from finding the American dream and opportunity. We got rid of the bad laws, but we still have some of that. And I think a lot of that is in the criminal justice system. And I think if we can treat, you know, the idea that we are going to protect people’s rights, not just the Second Amendment - all the other Amendments, the Fifth Amendment, your right to a trial by jury, all of those things. Your right not to be kept in prison without a trial. People will think about us and give us a chance. Kalief Browder was 16 years old when he was arrested. He was a poor black kid in the Bronx. He is arrested and alleged to have had an assault on another individual who, it turns out, wasn’t in the country illegally and never showed up for trial later on, but the story is worse than that. He spent three years in Rikers without a trial. God knows what happened to him, but he tried to commit suicide four times. That shouldn’t happen in America, but think about if you’re him, or his parents, or his neighbors, who are poor, African-American, living in the Bronx - what do you think they think about whether or not America is fair and they have a chance for opportunity? I think there’s a chance that if we could become the champions for justice - I mean why do the liberals get to be for social justice? Why can’t we be for justice? Why can’t we be the party of the entire Bill of Rights? I see nothing but possibilities. I see the ability to go to Detroit and say we are for tax cuts, not for Warren Buffett, although he’d get one, too. But I’m for a tax cut for Detroit. I’m for a special tax cut, even bigger, for Detroit. I’m for tax cuts that even go beyond the tax cuts I am for everyone for Appalachia. Why don’t we bring to people the idea that we want to give them their money back but we want to stimulate and help people in poverty, help the long-term unemployed, by giving the money back to the community. Think of what a government stimulus is. A government stimulus is I take your money and I’ve got a hundred thousand dollars and I say, oh, Mr. Smith will be good at this business and I give it to him, but I’m wrong most of the time because I have no idea in government who is going to be good at business. But if I give tax money back to someone who is successful in Appalachia or in Detroit, the community has voted. It’s democratic capitalism. They’ve already voted and they have said this person is successful, so when I give them back more of their money, they are going to hire more people. It’s a stimulus that would actually work as opposed to government redistributing and picking the winners and losers. There’s all kinds of ways we can take our message, we don’t have to dilute what we stand for, but we can take what we believe in and we just have to take that message in a way that appeals to new people. If we don’t, we’re never going to win again. We did great in 2014, but it was a small election. The big elections are much more difficult. I want to be part of that. I know you want the long-term future of our country for people to appreciate how capitalism creates great wealth in humanitarianism, but it’s got to be both. Not only what you do with Cato and with free market think tanks and all of the generosity, but we’ve got to get involved politically and I think we got to try to finally get someone who can lead us out of this morass and understand that our country has enormous, untapped potential. I think the sky is the limit. I want to be part of it, and I hope you do, too. Thank you.
Caleb Brown: Rand Paul is a Republican junior senator from Kentucky. You can learn more about what to cut from the federal budget at DownsizingGovernment.org and CATO.org.