Roger L. Simon

Rand's Debut

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Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., joined by his wife Kelley Ashby, arrives to announce the start of his presidential campaign, Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

I have always been of two minds about Rand Paul.  I like him domestically, but worry about him when it comes to foreign policy.

That mirrors what I think about libertarianism, which has had considerable influence on me, but which, like every ideology, will eventually kick you in the head if you believe in it too slavishly.  Two cheers for libertarianism — much as E. M. Forster said in Two Cheers for Democracy back in 1951.  It’s a good thing but it’s not perfect.  What is?  Absolute belief in libertarianism is what made father Ron sound like a kook.  That and some unsavory associations.

Listening to Rand Paul’s speech Tuesday announcing his presidential candidacy, it seemed the Kentucky senator had learned that lesson and was fairly strong on foreign policy, going so far as to name radical Islam as the enemy, something that would give the incumbent hives or maybe even epileptic fits.  (I know some prefer naming Islam itself, but if you think any major party candidate is going to do that, I’ve got the proverbial bridge to sell you.  He or she would also lose the election, which wouldn’t help anybody.)

Rand also did not spend a lot of time talking about social issues. He showed us how he lived his values instead, going to Guatemala in his first profession as ophthalmologist to perform eye operations on the poor.  You could criticize this as a stunt, designed for electoral popularity, but he actually did it and apparently did it well.  This leading by example strikes me as a good approach for social conservatives in general.  It impresses me more than rhetoric, as I think it would most Americans.  And how many politicians can cure cataracts? (Well, Bashar Assad, but he has other problems.)

Rand also repeated his proposals for reduced tax zones for impoverished areas and cities.  As most will recall he has been to African-American neighborhoods and universities, making his pitch.  This is his great contribution to the GOP and I strongly urge all Republican candidates to follow suit.  No group has been more deeply wounded by the Democratic Party than African-Americans, and Republicans are nincompoops if they don’t try to make that clear and offer them an alternative.   That goes for several other communities Republicans have abjured.  Rand’s right when says the GOP people need some people with tattoos and earrings. Expand, expand.

He also made the point in his interview with Sean Hannity on Tuesday evening that those who oppose gay marriage should do so morally and not electorally, a smart position for a Republican on the one issue that might be lethal for that party in the general election.

But watching that interview, a little of my old ambivalence toward Rand returned.  He made some attacks on neocons, without specifying who or what they were, that seemed weirdly rote and reminiscent of his father, as if Old Ron was lodged somewhere in his cerebellum, fighting some long gone feud with Irving Kristol that misconstrued Kristol in the first place.  Oh, well, I guess it’s that apple and tree thing.

Still, his attitude toward Israel seemed healthy.  He was quite clear about leaving the question of the borders of a putative Palestinian state, if any, to the Israelis themselves, something miles from the position of Rashid Khalidi… excuse me, Barack Obama.

So the jury is out on Rand, as it should be. It’s VERY early.  But we’re sure to be watching.  And it certainly will be fun.