TAMPA, March 8, 2013 – If there was any question whether Senator Rand Paul could move beyond the “gadfly” role his father had played for over thirty years in the U.S. Congress, there is no more.
Rand Paul has arrived as a political force to be reckoned with.
His filibuster of President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director had establishment leaders from both sides of the aisle scrambling to jump on the bandwagon before it left wheel marks on their chests. Marco Rubio showed up to support him.
Attorney General Eric Holder said “uncle.”
Paul’s filibuster was a complete success from every perspective. He achieved his goal of shifting the focus away from Brennan personally and onto the larger question of executive power, specifically the power to kill an American citizen without due process. He timed his gesture and articulated his argument in such a way that no one dared oppose it.
Paul’s argument against the use of drones against Americans is a purely libertarian one, because the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments are rooted in the libertarian principle of non-aggression. Those Amendments are there to see that the government does not initiate force against the innocent.
All of which is ironic because Paul does not even self-identify as a libertarian.
When asked directly about it, he said that he considers himself a “constitutional conservative.” He has raised the ire of his father’s libertarian followers on more than one occasion, particularly his endorsement of Mitt Romney and his votes for sanctions on Iran.
Ronald Reagan and many other noteworthy conservatives consider libertarianism a subset of conservatism, but that’s not really true. They are two separate and distinct philosophies, rooted in different traditions and representing a completely different view of the world and the nature of man.
Conservatism traces back through Edmund Burke, David Hume and Thomas Hobbes. Libertarianism traces back through Thomas Jefferson, Algernon Sydney and John Locke. At one time, libertarianism and conservatism were the two competing philosophies in America. Their proponents were bitter political enemies, with far more substantive differences between them than today’s conservatives and liberals.
Paul won his Senate seat largely because he was viewed as a Tea Party conservative who believed in “small government,” “free markets” and reducing the national debt. It was the perceived differences between him and his father that likely won over most rank and file Republicans in Kentucky. Rand Paul sounds much more like an establishment Republican than his father, even when championing libertarian causes like auditing the Federal Reserve or changing foreign policy. It was his conservatism that got him into the Senate.
But it was pure libertarianism that made him a star.
Opposing drone strikes without due process against suspected terrorists is not a conservative position. All of the Republican presidential candidates actively supported the 2012 NDAA, except for Ron Paul. All but Paul supported the Patriot Act. The idea that the government must be restrained when it comes to law enforcement or military action is completely foreign to conservative philosophy. Conservatives have blindly supported both during virtually all of American history.
Liberals have at times been anti-war, but almost never when a Democrat has been president. They certainly aren’t marching in the streets now as they did during the Bush years. They have opposed overreach by law enforcement as a way of advocating for minorities, who remain its most prevalent victim, but little has been heard in this area from liberals during the Obama years, either.
Neither conservatives nor liberals have opposed government power on principle as Rand Paul did yesterday. That’s because neither philosophy really supports Paul’s argument like libertarianism does. Conservatism ultimately serves the empire. Liberalism serves the collective. Only libertarianism truly protects the individual.
Both conservatism and liberalism have had their chances. Over the past forty years, both parties have controlled the White House, House and Senate at different times. We’ve had a Republican president and a Democratic Congress and vice versa. It’s all been tried. It’s all failed.
Yesterday, a constitutional conservative made a purely libertarian argument against a policy that most liberals and conservatives have wholly supported until now. Establishment Republicans and Democrats fell over themselves to show their support. They were afraid not to.
The times they are a-changing.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.