The re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act brings Paul's flawed philosophy into sharp focus.
It's just not his thing.
And it's not that Paul, like so many left-wingers out there, hates America. He doesn't hate the country of his birth. But his hardline libertarian political views make it very difficult for him to care about the Global War on Terror. That's why he didn't mind allowing a law that gave the federal government tools to fight terrorist groups to sunset a few days ago. That battle in Congress over the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act brought the flawed philosophy of Rand Paul into sharp focus.
Paul's beliefs may also help to explain why he has been doing things that quite rightly infuriate other Republicans, such as palling around with left-wing racial arsonist Al Sharpton and expressing skepticism about anti-vote fraud laws. In order to stop being characterized as some kind of extremist by the media, he's sucking up to reporters trying to show them what he has in common with them.
Libertarians, with their often fanatical distrust of government, are often drawn to conspiracy theories. This may help to explain some of his erratic behavior. Sounding like a stereotypical angry left-wing Democrat during George W. Bush's presidency, Paul suggested in a 2009 speech that former Vice President Dick Cheney supported the Iraq War because in the past he worked for Halliburton Co., a corporate boogeyman the Left loves to hate.
Paul previously embraced “One World Government” conspiracy theories, including those concerning the Bilderberg Group, a closed-door annual conference of influential political and financial figures from across the globe. In a 2010 interview, Paul was asked what he knew about the Bilderberg Group.
“Only what I’ve learned from [radio talk show host] Alex Jones,” Paul replied. “I’m not probably the world expert on it, but I think it’s people who get together, who are very wealthy people, who I think manipulate and use government to their own personal advantage.”
Paul said the Bilderbergs, who would derive financial benefits from "world government," should be fought and exposed.
“[The Bilderberg Group] want[s] to make it out like they just want to help humanity and world government would be good for humanity,” Paul said. “Well guess what—world government’s good for their pocketbook. They’re very wealthy and they use government to make more money for themselves, and that’s where you expose them.”
Paul's philosophy, which is more of a political alignment than a philosophy as such, is libertarianism.
Libertarians are an interesting bunch. Some are kooks. Some are reasonable and sensible; others bear more than a passing resemblance to anarchists and leftists. Some libertarians deny American exceptionalism. Some oppose nationalism altogether. Some think it was a bad move for the U.S. to abandon the Articles of Confederation, which made the early America a dysfunctional mess, in favor of the Constitution. Although many call politico-philosophical thinker Ayn Rand a libertarian, she detested the label. She referred to libertarians as "hippies of the Right." She attacked them for their tendency toward moral relativism and their worship of freedom in the absence of philosophy.
Rand Paul's libertarian beliefs, including a respect for the Bill of Rights that conservatives share, guide his actions. But they also generate a lot of bad blood.
It was the parliamentary maneuvering of the junior senator from Kentucky that caused the USA PATRIOT Act to lapse at 12:01 a.m. Monday. On the campaign trail Paul had called for the repeal of the legislation that was enacted in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax letter scare on Capitol Hill. He argues that it violates Americans' right to privacy.
On Sunday after waging a 10-hour filibuster earlier in the week against a bill that would prolong the life of the statute, Paul explained his actions to Politico newspaper:
'Let me be clear: I acknowledge the need for a robust intelligence agency and for a vigilant national security. I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies. But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them. In fact, we must not. There has to be another way. We must find it together. So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy[ing] program. I am ready and willing to start the debate on how we fight terrorism without giving up our liberty."
Although conservatives can find common cause with libertarians like Rand Paul on a host of issues from taxation to the Fed's destructive long-term easy money policies to gun rights, there is a kind of loophole in libertarian thinking that can sabotage efforts at national defense.
The libertarians' Achilles heel is known as the non-aggression principle.
According to one prominent keeper of the libertarian flame:
"[t]he non-aggression principle (also called the non-aggression axiom, or the anti-coercion or zero aggression principle or non-initiation of force) is an ethical stance which asserts that 'aggression' is inherently illegitimate. 'Aggression' is defined as the 'initiation' of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense. The principle is a deontological (or rule-based) ethical stance."
In a nutshell, government is supposed to have a lawful monopoly on the initiation of force which it is supposed to use to protect life and property from fraud or the illegal use of force. Conservatives and classical liberals generally don't have a problem with the non-aggression principle which to many Americans sounds like a commonsense proposition.
The problem is when libertarians like Rand Paul apply the non-aggression principle to the so-called community of nations. A kind of nation-to-nation relativism sets in as every nation, no matter how evil, rotten, corrupt, or dangerous it may be is treated by libertarians as an equal of the United States. All nations have rights.
This is why libertarians like Paul's father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), made highly principled but otherwise nutty pronouncements such as his assertion that there was nothing wrong with the IslamoNazi mullahs in Iran getting ahold of nuclear weapons. Libertarians agree with leftists that nations must be allowed "self-determination." In other words, libertarians accept a dubious precept of international law that holds that nations must be free to go their own way without external compulsion. Interfering with Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons violates Iran's so-called rights, according to this school of thought.
Not surprisingly, Rand Paul said rather dogmatically in 2007 while campaigning for his father that a nuclear Iran would not pose a threat to the U.S. or Israel.
"Even our own intelligence community consensus opinion now is that they’re not a threat. Like my dad [then-Rep. Ron Paul] says, [the Iranians] don’t have an Air Force, they don’t have a Navy. You know, it’s ridiculous to think they’re a threat to our national security. It’s not even that viable to say they’re a national threat to Israel. Most people say Israel has 100 nuclear weapons, you know."
Republicans “all want to invade Iran next,” he said. “I tell people in speeches, I say, you know we’re against the Iraq War, we have been from the beginning, but you know we’re also against the Iran war—you know the one that hasn’t started yet.”
Now that he's running for president, Rand Paul is much more careful in what he says and does. In 2013 Paul voted in favor of Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) resolution that recognized “the tremendous threat posed to the United States, the West, and Israel by Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.” The measure cleared the Senate on a unanimous vote.
Libertarianism, coupled with a desire to advance politically, also helps to explain Paul's seeming ambivalence about secret-leaker Edward Snowden, whom conservatives generally see as a traitor.
In a January 2014 television appearance Paul said Snowden doesn't deserve the death penalty or life in prison "and I think that's why he fled, because that's what he faced."
"Do I think that it's OK to leak secrets and give up national secrets and things that could endanger lives?" the senator said. "I don't think that's OK, either. But I think the courts are now saying that what he revealed was something the government was doing was illegal."
Previously he was more sympathetic to Snowden, referring to his actions as mere "civil disobedience."
With the spotlight on him now that he's seeking the presidency, Paul took a harder line. Snowden, who exposed the extent of NSA monitoring, should be in prison with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who over saw the telephone data gathering program. "Snowden and Clapper should be in the same cell, talking about liberty and security," Paul said.
After the USA PATRIOT Act expired Monday, the next day lawmakers reached a compromise and passed a new statute, the USA Freedom Act. That measure, already signed into law by President Obama, extends the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act while killing the NSA's program that involved the bulk collection of telephone metadata.
The new law is scheduled to phase out the bulk collection program over six months, replacing it with a program that allow telephone companies to store the records. Instead of having the information at its fingertips, the government will have to obtain a warrant in order to access the data.
Although the media has largely declared Rand Paul the loser in the fight over the legislation, Paul's supporters regard the compromise legislation as a huge victory. The government should have to respect the search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment and the new law does that, they say.
For what it's worth, conservatives aren't exactly united on the issue of bulk collection of telephone metadata. National-security conservatives like Rudy Giuliani insist the data collection program is of vital importance. Attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levin seemed to soften his stance, saying a few days ago that the government should have to obtain a warrant in order to obtain telephone data.
It needs to be noted that the USA PATRIOT Act was a tremendous improvement over the way things were done before the 9/11 attacks. Signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 26, 2011, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 demolished an artificial wall separating intelligence agencies from law enforcement and other agencies charged with protecting America from terrorism.
As Andrew C. McCarthy notes, this metaphorical wall was "erected to obstruct the information flow between intelligence and criminal investigators" and was "dismantled" by Section 218 of the law.
Who erected this politically correct wall that got Americans killed on 9/11? The answer is that Democrat hack Jamie Gorelick did it.
"Gorelick, an appointee of Bill Clinton, is the one who constructed the wall of separation that kept the CIA and the FBI from comparing notes and therefore invading the privacy of nice young men like, say, Muhammed Atta and Zacarius Moussaoui. While countless problems were uncovered in our intelligence operations in the wake of 9-11, no single factor comes close to in importance to Jamie Gorelick's wall. In fact, it was Gorelick's wall, perhaps more than any other single factor, that induces some people to blame Clinton himself for 9-11 since he appointed her and she acted consistent with his philosophy of 'crime fighting.' She put the wall into place as Deputy Attorney General in 1995."
If Rand Paul had been an elected official in 2001, what would he have said about the effort to tear down Gorelick's wall?
It probably depends on whether at that time he was thinking of running for president in the future.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.