Another Memorial Day has arrived, with more military personnel dead and buried. Politicians rhapsodize about heroic sacrifice they personally would never make. These same officials increasingly violate the liberties that servicemen and women risk their lives to defend.
How to save the American republic? The administration launches an illegal war and Congress fails to act. With the U.S. government borrowing 40 cents on every dollar spent this year, the president and Congress could only agree to a one percent budget cut — and much of it fake. The most striking surprise between the Bush and Obama administrations is the lack of change: just more spending, regulation, intervention, and war.
It brings to mind George Wallace's old adage that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats. On the whole, the parties are indistinguishable, both committed to an ever larger, more intrusive, more powerful, and more expensive Leviathan in Washington.
Thankfully not everyone in Washington fits this mold. There are the Pauls, Ron and Rand.
Rep. Ron Paul is sui generis, an obstetrician and Air Force veteran who was elected to Congress as a Republican, ran for president as the Libertarian Party nominee, returned to Congress and the GOP, and won national attention as a Republican Party candidate for president in 2008. Known as Dr. No, he cheerfully votes his conscience and the Constitution even when it means he is the only dissenter from political orthodoxy in the House.
He is running again for president and hopes to build on his success four years ago. As only one of 435 House members, he never found it easy to reach a national audience. As a presidential candidate he used the primary debates to spread his message of individual liberty and limited government, and of peace and free enterprise. This year he will be joined in the GOP race by one other libertarian, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
Amplifying Ron Paul's message is his son Rand, elected to the Senate last November from Kentucky. Although the Pauls differ on occasion in substance and approach, Sen. Paul is another steadfast defender of traditional freedom values. And he has proved that the Senate, with the body's higher national profile and more cumbersome rules, offers an opportunity to make an important mark for liberty.
In fact, it is hard to overstate the importance of Sen. Paul's work just four months after he took office. He drafted a serious budget with real cuts — sparking unease among the usual orgy of special interests. For instance, when he proposed cutting all foreign aid he faced demagogic attacks from some Israel supporters, as if America can afford sacred cows at a time when the government is borrowing nearly half of the money that it is spending.
Washington intrudes in our lives in many ways, and Sen. Paul took on federal toilet regulation. In the name of promoting water conservation, Uncle Sam mandated production of toilets that often don't flush the way toilets are supposed to flush. Early models were notorious for requiring two or three flushes to do the job — wasting water in the process. A market developed in toilets rescued from old buildings. In March Sen. Paul challenged an Energy Department at an otherwise routine hearing. Perhaps he next will take on the cause of light bulbs, where Uncle Sam also is playing the role of National Busy-Body.
More seriously, Sen. Paul is leading the fight against presidential war-making. The war in Libya makes no sense. It is virtually impossible to take seriously the case offered by the president.
Moreover, the war is illegal. The president failed to get a congressional declaration of war, as mandated by the Constitution, and violated the War Powers Resolution, which ended any color of legal authority in mid-May. He has pressed the Senate and president to follow the law. Surrounded by enthusiasts for both war and executive power, Sen. Paul stood firm for Constitution and limited government.
His boldest move yet came during the debate over the Patriot Act last week. Just as President Bill Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to push into law a laundry list of restrictions on individual liberty, long desired by government irrespective of their relevance to that attack, President George W. Bush wheeled out a similar list of expanded powers as part of the Patriot Act. Noteworthy was the administration's demand that the president be able to act with little oversight or accountability, and Congress's willingness to weaken fundamental liberties with minimal debate.
However, defenders of civil liberties did manage to sunset the Patriot Act's provisions, three of which came due at the end of May. The president and congressional leadership wanted to rush through the renewal. Who needs to vote? After all, only constitutional liberties are at stake.
Sen. Paul insisted on debate and consideration of his amendments. They were defeated, but they forced senators to take a stand. Majority Leader Harry Reid angrily accused Sen. Paul of favoring terrorists, but eventually gave in to Sen. Paul's demands. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky's other senator, also was not enthused, if press accounts are to be believed. Even worse, the Senate's rank and file apparently feared that they might have to return for a vote during Memorial Day weekend. Surely their vacations were more important than Americans' freedoms!
As it stands, Sen. Paul is not destined to become a Senate paladin, moving easily among Washington's elite, reaching political compromises, and advancing "landmark" legislation. He isn't likely to be anointed by historians as one of the "greats" of the Senate. He won't enjoy a Washington Post profile for having "grown" in office.
Thank goodness. As Sen. Paul explained, his role is to "draw attention to some important questions that get shuffled aside." Like defending individual liberty and limited government.
Obviously, the two Pauls cannot by themselves restore constitutional government in America. But at least we have a glimmer of hope of doing so because of Rep. Paul's long labors and Sen. Paul's determined start. The American people need to stand behind their efforts.
The mantra in government today should be peace and free enterprise. First, no more stupid wars, no more defending rich allies, no more social engineering abroad. Second, no more endless waste and special interest looting, no more welfare for business or the middle class, no more obnoxious nanny state. Government would provide the legal and political framework for a free society. Within that system, responsible adults should be allowed to make, and expected to be accountable for, their own decisions.
We have a long way to go. But we have no choice but to try. After all, survey Arlington National Cemetery. These men died after being told they were defending liberty. We can best honor them by restoring the many freedoms that Americans have lost.