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Fear of Rand Paul's Rise

Fear of Rand Paul's Rise

By Ben Domenech - July 19, 2013

Michael Gerson is terrified of Rand Paul. “This disdain for Lincoln is not a quirk or a coincidence. Paulism involves more than the repeal of Obamacare. It is a form of libertarianism that categorically objects to 150 years of expanding federal power. During this period, the main domestic justification for federal action has been opposition to slavery and segregation. Lincoln, in the Paulite view, exercised tyrannical powers to pursue an unnecessary war. Similarly, Paulites have been critical of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for violating both states’ rights and individual property rights — an argument Rand Paul himself echoed during several interviews as a Senate candidate. This does not make Paulites racists. But it does make them opponents of the legal methods that ended state-sanctioned racism… What does this mean for the GOP? It is a reminder that, however reassuring his manner, it is impossible for Rand Paul to join the Republican mainstream. The triumph of his ideas and movement would fundamentally shift the mainstream and demolish a century and a half of Republican political history. The GOP could no longer be the party of Reagan’s internationalism or of Lincoln’s belief in a strong union dedicated to civil rights.”

I am unfamiliar with the moment when Gerson, unstoppable promoter of paternalistic big government that he is, was bequeathed the ability to define the Republican mainstream. But Gerson’s depiction of the libertarian view of the Confederacy is simply fraudulent. I hear far more defenses of the South’s approach from Pat Buchanan sympathizers than from libertarians. Paleoconservatives may find much worthy of defense in the Confederate state, but consider: The Confederate Constitution amended the US Constitution to better facilitate technocratic rule. The Confederate ruling ideology, derived from John C. Calhoun's concurrent majorities, remains current in leftist thought today (see Lani Guinier). The Confederacy was the first to introduce mass conscription. The Confederacy staged a series of repressions and massacres against local autonomy (east Tennessee, central Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, western North Carolina, etc.). The Confederacy imposed an internal-passport regime for civilian travel later echoed by European autocracies. The Confederate state took over most of its own economy by war's end. And the Wilsonian “progressives” contained a surprising number of Confederate sympathizers who saw it as a noble experiment and set about applying its principles in the form of the segregating the federal government, fomenting the Klan, and more.

Agrarian non-interventionists have their sympathies for the Confederacy (see Copperhead, which glorifies the Sixties peaceniks – the 1860s), but that’s hardly a viewpoint unique to libertarianism. And for those who actually study history, the idea that the Confederacy was a liberty-oriented alternative to Lincoln and the Union is absurd – in many ways, its worst aspects were the forerunner of the modern technocratic top-down state.

Beyond getting the definitions wrong – and purposefully so, in a Sharptonesque manner – Gerson’s attempt to define Rand Paul as someone who cannot shape the future Republican coalition is just the latest sign of how afraid the party’s elite are of the rising coalition of libertarian youngsters and the populist middle class. “Since 2010, almost all the intellectual energy in the Senate has come from Tea Party lawmakers like Rand Paul and Mike Lee, who tend to be relatively dovish, skeptical of foreign aid, concerned about civil liberties, and contemptuous of neoconservatives. Making the case for an activist foreign policy has fallen largely to Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom increasingly resemble the aging characters in Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils, shambling around the Senate chamber and waxing nostalgic about the good old days when they could bomb other countries in peace. Beyond Rep. Tom Cotton, the neoconservative darling who still staunchly defends the Iraq intervention, there’s little fresh blood among Republican hawks in Congress these days. So perhaps it makes sense for Liz Cheney, the daughter of one of the architects of Bush-era foreign policy, to provide a Senate counterbalance to Paul.”

Concerned neoconservatives have nothing to fear on this count. If Paul is correct about the trajectory of the coalition, his views will achieve more prominence. But there will be a debate first, and the people will decide who they agree with. It could be a messy debate, public and ugly on the stage in Iowa, but that debate will happen. If Gerson and his allies have confidence in the strength of their ideas, they should be prepared to make the case for them… not attempt to escape the debate by writing Senators – particularly those with a young, passionate following – out of the party. 

Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom. Click here to subscribe.

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