Is there something about the name “Rand” that softens the brains of their more excitable adherents? I wonder. Whatever the virtues of Ayn Rand (and, as I have noted, she does have her virtues) or Rand Paul, some of their acolytes seem to regard anything less than total adulation as a symptom of heresy, something that must be stamped out or at least shouted down without delay. Either you’re a paid-up member of the cheerleading section or you’re consigned to outer darkness: where there is fletus, don’t you know, et stridor dentium (Matthew 13:42).
It’s a phenomenon that is partly alarming, partly amusing, like watching a room full of irritable chihuahuas besetting a vacuum cleaner. I think, for example, of the cataract of abuse that greeted Anthony Daniels when he wrote about Ayn Rand for The New Criterion a couple of years ago: 256 comments, many of them in crazed-chihuahua mode. Something similar greeted my musings about the response to Tony’s essay (alas, older PJ Media comments are temporarily unavailable, but, believe me, there were many hilarious specimens). And then just a week or so ago, I wrote commending Andy McCarthy’s piece on Rand Paul’s filibuster, which I thought was a balanced and well-informed meditation on the ostensible subject of Rand Paul’s talkathon: the constitutional limits of executive power during wartime (the real subject of the performance, I believe, was to catapult Sen. Paul into the political limelight). The result: scores of frantic chihuahua nibblings.
But I digress. My real purpose in writing is to commend to your attention “Two Sides of Rand Paul,” Andy McCarthy’s new essay about Rand Paul’s foreign policy. Andy has his reservations. But he is surely correct that “Senator Paul’s agitations serve conservative ends more consistently than does the erratic adventurism of his opposite numbers in the GOP’s intramural brawl: John McCain and Lindsey Graham,” those “progressive-lite populists who bend with the wind, an occupational hazard of service to a fuzzy global-stability agenda rather than to vital American interests pursued within a constitutional, limited-government framework.”
You won’t ever hear Paul echoing McCain’s assertion that the way to get foreign policy “back on track” would be to put John Kerry and Joe Biden in charge of it. You won’t find Paul, like McCain and Graham, toasting Qaddafi one minute, then in the next calling for his head; or condemning the Muslim Brotherhood’s sharia totalitarianism one minute, then in the next calling for Americans to work with and subsidize the Brothers. You won’t find Paul, in vertiginous McCain fashion, blathering about democracy-promotion and global stability while championing the secession from Serbia of a Muslim state — Kosovo, which now stands as a breakaway inspiration to Islamic-supremacist insurgents the world over. You won’t find Paul lamenting, à la Graham, that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war”; to the contrary, Paul appears to grasp that if you are prepared to subordinate the First Amendment to a desire not to pull the hair-trigger savagery of your enemies, then you have already lost the war.
Andy has other nice things to say about Rand Paul. But he also introduces various notes of caution, especially regarding Sen. Paul’s caricature of the behavior of the Bush administration, and in particular his muddled comments about the Constitutional scholar and former Justice Department official John Yoo. We might all applaud Sen. Paul when, in a recent speech, he called for a foreign policy defined by vital American interests rather than utopian democratic evangelism, one that “would target our enemy, strike with lethal force,” and then leave. “If that is truly where he is coming from,” Andy comments,
he ought to study what former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo actually says instead of using a Yoo caricature as a piñata — the tack he took in the NR interview, regrettably reminiscent of the way McCain and Graham have disserved Paul himself. I doubt my friend Professor Yoo would dare dabble in ophthalmology, but in trying his hand at constitutional law, Dr. Paul predictably commits malpractice. He has confused Yoo’s scholarship on the “unitary executive” with advocacy of the executive lawlessness known as the “imperial presidency.”
The stakes here are high. “Foreign policy” is a phrase that also embraces “national security.” In the malevolent carnival that is business-as-usual in Washington, D.C., that link has often been obscured where it is not outright jettisoned. But national security is a topic that has a way of coming back vividly to center stage when you least expect it. Everyone (well, everyone except the president, who just assured us that “there is no debt crisis”) is worried about the country’s economic situation, and with good reason. But our domestic problems do not unfold in a vacuum, a fact we ignore at our peril (how do you spell “nuclear-capable Iran”?). Andy is right: “Any successful conservative foreign policy is going to marry the clarity about the enemy that animated Rand Paul’s Heritage speech with the clear distinction John Yoo draws between fighting war and fighting crime.”
There is an existential side to this issue — the future security of the United States — but the is also a pragmatic, party political side to it. Clarity and forthrightness tend to win elections in a way that politically correct waffling does not. As Andy observes in his closing remarks, “Ronald Reagan made the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism central to his campaigns. Mitt Romney regarded the struggle against Islamic-supremacist totalitarianism as something too politically incorrect to mention amid platitudinous five-point economic plans. There are reasons why eminently winnable elections are lost.”