Rand Paul: Why He Will Not Be the Face of Libertarianism

Ron Paul has been the unofficial face of libertarianism for the past while but he’s starting to age out of the spotlight. Who’s next to take up the call?

Not his son, if libertarians hope to achieve real electoral legitimacy.

On Tuesday, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) efforts to block the National Defense Authorization Act are validating Democrat’s efforts to enact filibuster reform – an effort many Republicans are up in arms about. Put another way, Rand Paul’s antics are aiding the enemy. It’s the kind of behavior that wins the hearts of the few at the expense of turning off the many.

“I find it disappointing that one member of the United States Senate feels that his particular agenda is so important that it affects the lives and the readiness and the capabilities of the men and women who are serving in the military and our ability to defend this nation,” McCain said.

Rand, and Ron Paul to a certain degree, are like the Ralph Nader’s of the right. They offer solutions that many consider outside the “mainstream” (in a good way to their supporters), are somewhat crotchety, and obstinate.

There’s some good in that. But for libertarians and libertarianism to gain any sort of real electoral traction they need a leader that is more acceptable to a greater number of people. At some point, libertarians are going to have to make up their mind as to whether it’s better to be provocative or electable.

Ralph Nader was provocative for years.

For libertarians to grow as a movement, they will need to admit that there is sometimes a greater good to be served beyond their own principles. I say this as someone who wants to be able to vote for them.

Another example, Rand Paul, on the topic of civil rights, suggested on NPR that Title II of the Civil Rights Act (that prohibits private businesses that provide public accommodations from discriminating against people) was unconstitutional and that he favored local, neighborhood pressures instead of federal intervention. He afterwards softened that stance but didn't change it and turned off a lot of people. A view like that sounds great, but only in theory. It takes for granted why laws like the Civil Rights Act were necessary in the first place and the protections they still offer people today. Laws like the Civil Rights Act do more to help us create a more perfect union than not. Is that not the ultimate goal of the Constitution, Commerce Clause aside?

On certain issues, libertarians should admit what many Americans already do, that strict adherence to a document written several hundred years ago is not always the right path to take today or that the Constitution, like the Bible, isn’t clear-cut on all matters and there should be room for some diversity of thought. Judges, after all, often disagree themselves.

Gary Johnson, James Gray, and others (hopefully someone that brings a little gender diversity) are starting points for the Libertarian Party and movement to build on (whether that's as part of the Republican Party or not). But first, the obsession with the Pauls needs to die down to let some new voices through, voices that recognize the “my way or the highway” method will not allow them to build a lasting political force.

If libertarians can make that shift, while keeping intact their core federal-government-get-out-of-it message, then I think they have a real chance of winning some seats. I’d vote for them and would take pleasure in doing so.

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Michael McCutcheon

Michael was formerly special projects editor at Mic. Prior to that, he worked at the Open Society Foundations on electoral reform. A native Seattleite, he's still mad about the SuperSonics.

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