I want to like Rand Paul. I really do. He is a very smart guy and in most respects a solid conservative. He has tried to distance himself from some of his father’s less savory positions, and has even described himself as a “social conservative,” although what he means by that is not at all clear. And Paul is indisputably an effective, even charismatic politician whose unique slant on the issues gives him real crossover appeal. He is, I think, one of two potential 2016 presidential candidates (Marco Rubio being the other) who might expand the electoral battlefield in a way that would be decisive in the GOP’s favor.
But. The Achilles heel of libertarianism has always been foreign policy. Libertarians–Ron Paul is a good example–tend to justify their isolationism by arguing that U.S. foreign policy explains, maybe even justifies, hostility toward us, and if we would just keep to ourselves, there would be no need for a strong defense. A particularly ugly elaboration on this theme holds that America’s problems in the world stem largely from our alliance with Israel, and if we would merely cut the Israelis loose, all would be well in the Middle East, and perhaps elsewhere. Ron Paul, while by no means the most extreme instance, tended in this direction.
If he wants to be a mainstream Republican presidential candidate, Rand Paul needs to distance himself from his father’s isolationist foreign policy views, including their anti-Israel and (it is fair to say) anti-Semitic tinge.
Yesterday Rand Paul addressed CPAC. His speech was well-received and in some respects inspiring. He quoted one or two of the Founders, including James Madison, as well as Daniel Webster and William Lloyd Garrison. He quoted, I believe, only one modern figure–Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, from a song called “Wish You Were Here”: “And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? … And did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” The Waters reference is at about the 8:30 mark:
I am not sure why Paul thought that Waters or Pink Floyd, a band of the 1970s, would have resonance for the youthful CPAC crowd. But while Pink Floyd is long gone, Roger Waters is still around. He is known, these days, primarily as an anti-Semite. More here. To me, it seems extremely odd that Rand Paul would single out a Roger Waters lyric from the 1970s in a speech that otherwise quoted classic American heroes. Was Paul’s admiring reference to Waters intended as a proverbial dog whistle to let listeners know that he hasn’t diverged too far from his father’s foreign policy views? Or was his decision to highlight Waters simply a random (albeit odd) choice made by a politician who is unaware that Waters, in recent years, has come to stand for an obsessive hatred of Israel? If that is the case, he and his speechwriters need to sharpen up, considerably, their knowledge of popular culture.