By Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Published by Center Street (February 22, 2011)
Review by Tom Bowler
In The Tea Party Goes to Washington, Rand Paul celebrates the unexpected libertarian uprising that exploded onto the American political scene as a force to be reckoned with. There is a sense of giddiness. Libertarians are unaccustomed to life in the majority. In fact, it’s not certain that they’ve ever been a particularly large political minority.
But now libertarians have something that they’ve never had before: a working alliance with conservatives. The foundation is a shared belief in the importance of individual liberty and the crucial role of the U.S. Constitution as the framework for securing it. With libertarians dropping their insistence on philosophical purity and conservatives lightening up on social issues, together they are a significant political force.
Modern libertarian philosophy draws on the Austrian school of economics and the writings of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. They studied individual decision-making in matters of economics. The focus on economics made it possible for them to measure the impact of incentives on economic decision-making.
Based on their observations, they concluded that government based on liberty, free markets, and the rule of law had unintended consequences. Those consequences were the creation and distribution of the greatest amount of wealth to the largest number of people. No other system that came before could compete.
It is that lesson that fires libertarian faith in the beneficial power of free markets — a faith that is often attacked for its purported naivete. In The Tea Party Goes to Washington, Rand Paul describes how he got a first-hand demonstration courtesy of the The Rachel Maddow Show.
He had just won the Kentucky primary for U.S. Senate and he was in big demand for media appearances. In his telling, he was sandbagged, foolish to expect fair treatment on a left-wing show. In reality, he’d already made his blunder earlier in the day on NPR when he wouldn’t answer Bob Siegel, who asked if he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His refusal to answer that question was astonishing, particularly in light of the media’s extraordinary efforts to smear the Tea Party as racist.
Rand Paul is no racist, but he left himself wide open to the charge. His performance was not confidence inspiring, neither in his abilities as a politician nor in his readiness for prime time. He said that he abhorred racism, but that he was leery of encroachments on private property rights. It’s fine, he said, to prohibit discrimination in public facilities, but he thought maybe private businesses should be free to serve people, or not, as they chose, and free to suffer the consequences of such decisions. He himself would never do business in an establishment that would deny anyone service because of their race. He expected similar decisions by millions of like-minded people would have a profoundly negative impact on businesses that discriminate.
That made him out as the very image of libertarian delusion, naively believing that market forces would have been an adequate substitute for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was, fortunately, not a costly mistake, since Dr. Rand Paul went on to become Senator Rand Paul in the 2010 general election. Left-wing accusations of racism didn’t stick, on Senator Paul or on the Tea Party that backed him.
On the topic of foreign policy, Senator Paul outlines an approach in keeping with his libertarian conservative ideals — one that opposes military intervention in foreign countries. He opposed the invasion of Iraq, but in explaining his position Senator Paul repeats discredited liberal accusations that the decision to go ahead with it was a dishonest one. Unfortunately, he supports his charge of dishonesty in a dishonest way, which for me was a disappointment in both Senator Paul and in his book.
In his chapter “A Conservative Foreign Policy” Senator Paul complains that his patriotism was under attack because of his opposition to the war in Iraq. It was the other side that was unpatriotic, he says, and to make his point he includes excerpts from Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior by General Hugh Shelton.
The way the general’s story goes, White House ideologues were so rabidly bent on war with Iraq that a prominent but unnamed administration official asked him if he could possibly arrange for an American pilot to get shot down over the no fly zone in order to create a pretext for invasion. General Shelton replied, “Why of course we can. Just as soon as we get your ass qualified to fly it, I will have it flown just as low and slow as you want.”
That little anecdote is the lead-in to a censure of George Bush and the Iraq war, which the senator delivers by proxy, using words from General Shelton’s book: “Spinning the possible possession of WMDs as a threat to the United States in the way they did was, in my opinion, tantamount to intentionally deceiving the American people,” the senator quotes. What a convincing indictment of Bush administration villainy. How beautifully it reinforces the image of an administration out of control, willing and quite capable of lying to justify a misguided invasion.
There is one minor problem. The confrontation between General Shelton and the administration ideologue occurred in 1997 and media speculation at the time centered on Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, as the official who suggested sacrificing a pilot. Withholding that little nugget and presenting the general’s quotes in the order in which he does is, in my opinion, tantamount to intentionally deceiving his readers. The Bush administration did not lie about Saddam Hussein or about the weapons of mass destruction they and the previous administration believed he had.
In spite of its flaws, The Tea Party Goes to Washington is a worthwhile read. It counters agenda-driven media accusations of Tea Party racism by accurately presenting its people and its ideals. The Tea Party is simply everyday Americans who see freedom and prosperity disappearing under the crushing burden of our bloated government. It is a new silent majority, frightened into activism by a federal overreach that has gone so far in a totalitarian direction that it seeks to impose fines on anyone who fails to purchase a government-approved insurance policy.
The Tea Party is here now, and it isn’t going away. Senator Paul rightfully sees himself and his father at the leading edge of the Tea Party movement on the strength of their libertarian ideals. But they are not leaders of it. You might say they were Tea Partiers before the Tea Party was cool. But the Tea Party arose on its own, propelled by events that followed the 2008 election, and it arose without the benefit of leadership from either Ron or Rand Paul. Rand Paul and his father were already there, waiting to be discovered by a Tea Party that had just lately started coming around to their point of view.