Posted: Friday, May 28, 2010 8:01 pm
By: Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — The media went all out covering the primary election in Kentucky where Rand Paul, an optometrist and political novice, handily beat the candidate endorsed by the Republican establishment to carry the party’s banner in the November election for an open Senate seat. The nomination of Paul, the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, is the result of a rising tide of discontent with government, which both the senior Paul and his son have effectively tapped.
Both men are libertarians, and that means they look with disfavor on almost all government, a philosophy that is appealing but impractical once they start applying it to programs that people want and need. Rand Paul immediately stumbled.
When holding his victory party in a members’ only country club, he was asked if he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He hemmed and hawed before finally answering days later that he would have.
He voiced what critics said at the time, that the legislation went too far in imposing federal standards over private property.
What Paul said is not a unique perspective particularly among libertarians who are deeply suspicious about government and the imposition of federal standards over private rights. What is unique about Paul is the fact that he got his party’s nomination and has a good chance of winning election to the Senate in the fall.
Paul’s victory comes at a time when the country is experiencing a wrenching economic recession. Average Americans blame Wall Street for the country’s financial woes, yet they see the big banks and investment houses prospering while unemployment is close to 10 percent and Main Street struggles with mortgage foreclosures.
There is a difference between dissatisfaction with government, and saying as conservatives do that there is too much government or saying as libertarians do that almost all government is unnecessary. In the current climate, there is a widespread sense that government has acted unfairly, favoring those who are too big to fail over those who are lower down on the economic ladder and don’t have lobbyists representing their interests.
This dissatisfaction in government is what propelled the Tea Party movement, and helped Rand Paul get out in front of the parade leading the disaffected over the cliff of near-anarchy even though his new constituents generally seek an efficient government, not an invisible one. It’s also no coincidence that the anti-government sentiment he represents is flourishing in the midst of the greatest environmental disaster this country has known. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is becoming a test of government, and whether the Obama administration has the competence and the political will to pull together a meaningful response.
Obama only has a precious few months before the midterm elections to stem the crisis in the Gulf and prove that government works. Criticism of the administration’s handling of the spill is not just coming from Obama’s usual critics, but also from his friends.
Democratic loyalist James Carville, a Louisiana native who lives in New Orleans, assailed the administration for treating the spill as though it were an interruption to its agenda instead of the full-scale environmental assault it has become.
The American people have a right to be skeptical about government. The last administration misled the country into a needless war, and President Bush’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina left respect for the government’s ability to perform in tatters. President Obama took office promising to change the culture of Washington and make it more responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans, as opposed to lobbyists.
And yet when Obama criticized BP for the delay in shutting off the leak, Rand Paul called the president’s comments “un-American.” Paul will have a hard time making that charge stick. In the end, there are some things only government can do, and watching how Paul reconciles that reality with his long held philosophy is what makes his entry into politics so timely.
Published in The Messenger 5.28.10