Rand Paul's Moral Libertarianism
Senator Rand Paul's address to the Road to Majority conference of the Faith & Freedom Coalition (FFC) on June 13, 2013, blended social, economic, and foreign policy elements into a libertarian-tinged approach to conservatism's proverbial three-legged stool. While Paul's stands on various moral and spending issues evoke memories of Ronald Reagan's conservative fusionism, Paul's libertarian skepticism on national security matters will be more controversial among the Gipper's heirs.
Paul received a warm welcome at the luncheon in the Ronald Reagan Building from FFC chairman and founder Ralph Reed. Noting Paul's past strong stands on the domestic use of drones and the protection of life and marriage, Reed professed looking "forward to the day when there are more doctors than lawyers in the Senate." Paul in turn joked to his audience that he could "go on for a while" in light of his memorable drone policy filibuster.
While Paul briefly discussed abortion, stating that he "will stand up for the unborn," the bulk of his comments concerned American policies in the arc of crisis stretching across Muslim-majority nations in the years since September 11, 2001. Paul referenced Muslim persecution of Christians in Afghanistan, Pakistan with its Asia Bibi case, and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, as well as Pakistan's imprisonment of Dr. Shakeel Afridi in retaliation for his aid in killing Osama bin Laden. Paul also expressed his "fear that the Arab Spring is becoming an Arab Winter."
Given American aid to these countries, Paul described how "American taxpayer dollars are being used to finance a war on Christians." Referencing anti-American sentiment in countries like Egypt, Paul demanded making future American aid here contingent on various conditions, stating, "[N]ot one more penny to countries that burn the American flag." Paul in particular was opposed to military aid to Egypt, such as the recent F-16 and main battle tank deal, until Egypt recognized Israel's right to exist. Paul, meanwhile, judged that military aid to Syria's anti-Bashar Assad uprising "makes no sense to me" because the Islamist rebels there will simply "shoot at Christians." In addition to moral and strategic concerns, Paul also cited the deficit-spending disadvantages of such foreign aid, given that "we must first borrow the money from China to send it to Pakistan."
In addition to admonishing American abstinence in Syria, Rand critiqued American nation-building policies throughout this region. Citing the case of Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani 15-year-old girl shot by the Taliban for advocating female education, Paul noted that Pakistan needs "enlightenment." Paul qualified, though, that "only Pakistan can do that." While Paul did not hold America's "noble cause" in Iraq responsible for the rise of Islamist forces there, the "law of unintended consequences is unforgiving."
Looking forward to looming crises over Iranian nuclear proliferation, Paul reiterated his objections to preemptive war with Iran previously expressed in his lone vote against a September 2012 non-binding Senate resolution. Paul judged that "we should be wary of this doctrine of preemptive war." "Any politician," Paul elaborated, "who speaks of preemptive war with gleeful bravado should not be leading the country."
Along with his opposition to abortion and the redefinition of marriage, Paul's weaving of moral concerns over foreign persecution of Christians with material concerns over government spending distinguishes him from other libertarians. At an event at the JW Marriot on the night following Paul's address, for example, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist described a hypothetical Hillary Clinton equivalent of Norquist's "Wednesday Meeting" of center-right activists. While Norquist listed various supporters of expanding government such as unions that would attend such a meeting, conspicuously absent from Norquist's scenario were supporters of homosexuality and abortion. Perhaps this has something to with Norquist, who proclaims himself pro-life but has joined the advisory council for the Republican gay group GOProud. Paul's social issue positions, meanwhile, have helped him with Christian conservatives before the upcoming 2016 election, distinguishing him from some of his supporters and his somewhat more libertarian purist (but also pro-life and pro-marriage) father, Ron Paul.
It is on the third leg of national security that conservatives might find Rand Paul going wobbly. Many conservatives would agree with Paul that the current strategic quandaries of Muslim-majority nations like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are reminiscent not so much of Reagan's Cold War victory, but rather his ill-fated 1983 intervention into Lebanon. Yet Paul's 2012 suggestion at the Heritage Foundation to consider containing a nuclear-armed Iran rightly drew criticism from conservatives as destabilizing. Paul's libertarian suspicion towards the national security state also comes out in his support announced the same day as his FFC speech for a class action suit against the National Security Agency (NSA)'s metadata monitoring programs. As Andrew C. McCarthy notes, though, these programs are legal under current judicial precedent and merely continue policies conducted during the George W. Bush administration.
However appealing Paul's domestic positions, his advocacy of peace through smaller government will not sit well with the Republican Party shaped by Reagan. Even Paul himself has correctly identified long-term global jihadist threats such as Iran, to say nothing of the wider world's other dangers. Despite war-weariness, Paul's national security positions will rightfully remain unsettling to American conservatives.