Rand Paul is the "New Coke" of the GOP: Why his bold vision for a libertarian future is a disaster waiting to happen

Rand Paul wants the GOP to be "The Party of Tomorrow." Too bad so many of his ideas are paleolithic

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 14, 2015 2:30PM (EDT)

Rand Paul                                (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Rand Paul (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

For some inexplicable reason yesterday, Rand Paul decided to publish a stump speech for college kids as an op-ed in the Huffington Post.  He was announcing the formation of something called "Students for Rand," with the goal of creating 300 chapters in 30 days, and he made his pitch for the GOP as "The Party of Tomorrow." Yes, he actually wrote that.

Some of this is just a standard issue anti-Clinton pitch. The Republicans think they can make hay out of her age, so all the candidates who are under 60 are making the argument that "the Democrats" are the party of yesterday what with all the old white people who vote for them. (Oh wait, those people mostly vote for Republicans, don't they?) Marco Rubio has been the most explicit in this regard:

"Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. But yesterday is over, and we are never going back."

Scott Walker and Ted Cruz have made similar comments. It's fair enough. They are younger and that always opens up an opportunity to run as the candidate of the future. Bill Clinton certainly did that -- he was the first baby boomer president, after all, with the unofficial slogan, "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow." Barack Obama too ran as the younger, more vital candidate, a new leader for a new generation.

Rand Paul's pitch is a little bit different, however. He's making an argument for not just himself but for libertarianism as the ideology of the future:

Today, the economic outlook is bleak for too many young people. Our nation's youth unemployment rate is approaching 14 percent and more millennials are forced to live with their parents, much more than the generations that preceded them. On top of that, young Americans are starting their working life with an average student loan debt of $30,000. Things need to change.

Government should help you succeed rather than get in your way. Most people agree that high taxes and excessive regulations affect your ability to land a job. It doesn't have to be this way. I have proposed a fair and flat tax rate of 14.5 percent for all Americans, rich and poor -- everyone is treated equally and no one can trade campaign donations to corrupt politicians in exchange for tax loopholes.

That's basic GOP boilerplate and he makes no more sense when he says it than do any of the others. Actually most people don't agree that high taxes and excessive regulations are affecting young people's ability to land a job, and there is no reason to believe that lowering taxes are going to make that any better. Why anyone would be persuaded that their massive student loan debt can be fixed with a flat tax is beyond me, but I suspect that went in one ear and out the other. He certainly didn't dwell on it in this op-ed nor did he repeat his comment that allowing students to refinance their loans would threaten the fabric of society.

Paul sets himself apart from the other guys by being a lone GOP critic of our criminal justice and surveillance policies, although the former is being taken up by the Koch brothers' network as well. This appeals to young people, for obvious reasons. They are still idealistic enough to believe that the constitution means something. Of course, there are many Democrats who believe the same things, but it doesn't seem quite as sexy as when it comes from a Republican.

And, needless to say, Paul made the usual libertarian argument against the war on drugs, another area in which he has far more in common with Democrats than his fellow Republicans. Indeed, if it weren't for his stance on taxes, he could be one, right?

Well, no. Despite the fact that he refers to himself as "socially tolerant," he has a few blind spots in that area that his target millennials are unlikely to find to attractive.

First of all, there's the strange attitude toward race. He has recently worked to cover it up and has made an effort at reaching out to communities of color but the truth is that he's something of a clod, at best, when it comes to that issue. Like the time he went to Howard University and talked to the students there as if they were in sixth grade history class, even going so far as to make a vacuous argument usually only seen at places like Fox and Friends or Bill O'Reilly's twitter feed:

Paul devoted almost none of his speech Wednesday at the historically black college in Washington, D.C., to explaining the GOP's thorny relationship with black voters over the last fifty years, and most of it arguing that "the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights." His history lecture focused almost entirely on the period before 1964, when the GOP began to champion the states rights arguments of southern whites. Echoing a popular conservative talking point, Paul repeatedly reminded the audience that Democrats passed Jim Crow laws in the south and that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, as were the first black legislators and the founders of the NAACP.

"Would everyone know here they were all Republicans?" he said at one point, referring to the NAACP's founders.

"Yes!" came the booming response from nearly the entire audience, who appeared offended Paul would even raise the question.

The fact one of his closest advisors until recently was a neo-confederate who called himself the Southern Avenger also doesn't speak well of his social tolerance when it comes to civil rights for racial minorities.

And then there's gay rights. He told reporters back in 2013:

"I don’t think I’ve ever used the word gay rights, because I don’t really believe in rights based on your behavior."

Since then he's gone even further in his condemnation of gay marriage, saying, "It offends myself and many other people." He went so far as to address a gathering of conservative preachers and declared it a "moral crisis":

"Don’t always look to Washington to solve anything. In fact, the moral crisis we have in our country, there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage, there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage.”

“We need a revival in the country. We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying, ‘reform or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform.’”

Somehow I don't think that's the sort of thing that young people are on board with. More than 70 percent of them support gay marriage. There's no data on their enthusiasm for tent revival meeting with thousands of people saying "reform or else" though, so maybe he's on to something there.

And last, but hardly least, his stance on women's rights is something out of the mesozoic era. He is a hardcore anti-abortion zealot of the kind you see screaming in the faces of women as they try to walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic. For a man who fetishizes liberty for every type of ownership known to mankind, he makes one very big exception when it comes to women owning their own bodies.

Rand has said a lot of things about abortion over the years, much of it incoherent and abstract. He says one day  that the states should decide and at other times waxed philosophical about when life begins. But you don't need to know anything more than this to know just how extreme he really is on this issue: He has sponsored the "Life at Conception Act" (also known as "fetal personhood") which defines a fertilized egg as a person and would implement equal protections under the 14th Amendment for the "right to life of each born and pre-born human person." The implications of this for women's autonomy and agency are overwhelming.

On the upside, he did add this:

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.

So, nobody has to prosecute a woman for an accidental miscarriage. And they won't require jail time for women who have abortions (since they will all obviously be illegal). Authorities can use their own judgment on all that, so that's nice.

That far-out position was taken by Mike Huckabee in the recent primary debate and everyone acted like he was coming way out of left field. But Rand Paul threatened to hold up an emergency flood insurance bill unless he got a vote on his personhood amendment back in 2012. This is something about which he is dead serious.

But Rand has also said that he wouldn't support a government shutdown this fall over Planned Parenthood, which is how one defines "socially tolerant" in today's GOP.

If there's anyone who's living in the past it's Rand Paul. As Adele Stan memorably quipped in this profile of Paul and his quest for the millennials in the American Prospect:

In Rand Paul’s world, you’d party like it’s 1856 and you’re living below the Mason-Dixon line. If you’re a white man with property, everything will be great.

That sounds like an excellent slogan for Rand Paul's "Party of Tomorrow".

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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