Monday, March 11, 2013

The Atlantic: How the Establishment Press Got Rand Paul Wrong

A great piece by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic.  It's a very extensive piece so I suggest reading the whole thing.  Here are some key excerpts:

On a given issue, a journalist confronted with the libertarian position, like legalizing drugs, objects by pointing out the most extreme possible consequence: "So I could go buy heroin at the store?" Fair enough, except that there are no analogous challenges to the establishment positions. A candidate whose stance is that drugs must remain illegal is never asked, "So you're okay with imprisoning millions of people, empowering violent street gangs, destabilizing multiple foreign countries, militarizing municipal police forces, and still having ubiquitous drug use?"

Thanks to status quo bias, libertarians are labeled "crazy" and "kooky," even as the establishment makes historic blunders for which they are never pilloried and that many libertarians opposed.


Following the Maddow interview, Paul's thoughts on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were covered more frequently and in more detail than his position on any other issue. Whole articles rehashed the controversy. Every long profile commented on it at length. And most people failed to recognize that the same treatment could be given to almost any politician, and especially a principled civil libertarian. A liberal who describes herself as a First Amendment absolutist? "Do you really think it should be legal for an old white man to call a little black girl 'nigger' on the street?" We've just gone through a bout of anti-Second Amendment rhetoric. The neoconservatives are fond of attacking Fourth Amendment champions by accusing them of having wanted to read Osama bin Laden his Miranda rights. Do I think the Fifth Amendment should've applied to Anwar al Awlaki? Indeed I do. There's doubtless a Fox News contributor ready to tell me that I favor coddling our terrorist enemy.

What almost no one in the establishment press realizes, even today, is that the qualities that impelled Paul to defend his wrongheaded discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the same stubbornness, political courage, and deeply felt commitment to libertarian principles that makes him willing to express the opinion that just because someone propagandizes for Islamists doesn't give us the right to kill them; or that even accused terrorists deserve due process; or that if you have a cousin in the Middle East who you talk to on the phone that shouldn't put you at risk of warrantless surveillance or a drone strike. Said Michael Scherer in Time, "The libertarian approach, which heavily favors private rights over government rights, has always produced some interesting conversations. Most libertarians, for instance, don't own a bong or watch extremely violent pornography, but Republican doctors like Ron Paul will defend your right to grow and smoke marijuana and avoid obscenity prosecutions for producing the most vile consensual smut. They see it as an issue of personal rights. Government should stay out of your lungs, they argue, stay out of your bedrooms, and stay out of your businesses."


NPR would never harangue a candidate who supported a woman's right to choose an abortion in all circumstances about whether it would even be okay to terminate a pregnancy at 32 weeks just because the mother decided that she didn't want a girl. But I'm sure someone like Dennis Prager could adeptly craft a whole uncomfortable interview around that premise. And it's impossible to make the statement that torture is always wrong without someone chiming in about how immoral it would be to cling to that anti-torture position in a ticking time bomb scenario.


Compare the reaction to Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Michael Bloomberg's ongoing stop-and-frisk policy and the NYPD task force he sent to New Jersey to spy on innocent Muslim college students. I understand why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is regarded as sacrosanct, but treating non-racist, abstract discomfort with one of its provisions as a more important than actual, ongoing state harassment of innocent blacks and Muslims is bonkers. It isn't that no liberal has ever objected to Bloomberg's excesses, but tell me this: if pitted against one another in the 2016 presidential election, do you think the press would give Paul or Bloomberg a harder time on matters of race? What do you think would garner more mentions, the Civil Rights Act or spying on innocent Muslim students for months without producing any leads?

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