Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brian Doherty on Rand Paul's Challenges

The great Brian Doherty has a very insightful piece in Reason on Rand Paul's major challenges.  As the author of Radicals for Capitalism (a book I highly recommend) he is well aware of the ups and downs of the movement for greater freedom in the United States.  He is worth listening to:

Superficial respect for the concerns of the ACLU is part of an elite Democratic zeitgeist. But when most Democrats and progressives think of Rand Paul, it won't involve the Fifth Amendment or endless wars at home and abroad. They will think about abortion, a refusal to raise taxes on the rich, and neglecting what they see as government's duty to take care of people. Opposing crony capitalism is nice enough, but disaffected Democrats see the GOP as the “party of the wealthy” because of its refusal to raise taxes on rich people. The libertarian educational project needs to make more progress before many independent-leaning voters will stop believing that that the government must penalize the rich to help the less-well-off. If and when Paul switches from a refreshing outlier or libertarian maverick to becoming the GOP standard-bearer, any progressive support will likely disappear. 
Paul is doing the best he can to appeal beyond a core libertarian or Republican base. Yet it seems unlikely that any amount of civil liberties, peace, or opposition to crony capitalism will satisfy most independents or Democrats over the longer haul. Their visions of government’s purpose are just too antithetical to Paul’s. 
Once the mass Republican audience—especially Mitt Romney voters—really thinks about the implications of Rand Paul and his ideas, the post-filibuster love may sour. Paul’s chief of staff Doug Stafford told Business Insider, "Rand is one of the only people who can speak to libertarians, social conservatives, as well as your average mainstream Republican voter." In theory, yes. 
But even in areas where Paul’s libertarianism shouldn’t be too controversial—like his five-year path to a balanced budget—hardly any of his political colleagues are willing to play along, and there's no mass constituency forcing them to. It’s not likely the rest of his party - whether rank-and-file voter or office-seeking politician - will get enthusiastic about his attempts to curb the federal drug war either. 
While the filibuster was important, there’s no evidence yet it made Rand Paul a lasting household name. Or that people who are vaguely aware a senator talked for hours about something or other (“drones on… and on…” as CNN witlessly put it) could adequately explain what he was concerned with and why. Even if they access their news online or via smart phone, most Americans still get their news the semi-old-fashioned way, from legacy print or TV institutions. 
Which isn't to scant the effect of Paul's filibuster. Rand Paul is a contender for the 2016 presidential race. Common wisdom has it that the Republican presidential nomination goes towhoever is next in line. Based on the popular vote from the 2012 primary season, that would mean Rick Santorum (and good luck with that, GOP). But in the real currency of nomination, delegate votes on the floor of the RNC, the runner-up in 2012 was Ron Paul. Perhaps his son can be heir to that position, if he can just navigate three small problems with the same aplomb he exhibited on filibuster day.

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