Since Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, several prominent libertarians have presented a range of views on his candidacy, ranging from full support to reluctant support to rejection of Paul as insufficiently libertarian to rejection of political means in general. This article will fall into the latter two categories in general, and will rebut Walter Block’s case for Rand Paul’s candidacy in particular.
First, some people support Rand as the best of a bunch of bad options, or as the best candidate with a reasonable chance of winning a presidential election (sorry, Gary Johnson). This is typical “lesser of two evils” nonsense extended to a larger number of candidates. Block, like Rothbard, uses the analogy of a slavemaster who allows his slaves to choose between a more oppressive overseer and a less oppressive overseer. As Samuel Konkin points out, “Can you imagine slaves on a plantation sitting around voting for masters and spending their energy on campaigning and candidates when they could be heading for the ‘underground railway?’ Surely they would choose the counter-economic alternative; surely Dr. Rothbard would urge them to do so and not be seduced into remaining on the plantation until the Abolitionist Slavemasters’ Party is elected.” One might also ask why the slaves do not take the whip from the overseer and use it to hang him, which is more likely to occur if the oppressions of the overseer are of an intolerable degree rather than a tolerable one. Far from “psychological perturbation” or “barking madness”, the idea of purposefully electing the worst politicians in order to make the statist system collapse faster is a possible mode of libertarian activism, particularly if one applies the non-aggression principle consistently to realize that forceful defense against the state is morally acceptable.
Secondly, support for Rand can be motivated by the desire to get libertarianism covered by the establishment lapdog media, but this is both largely unnecessary and potentially harmful. The strength of alternative media is continually growing, and trust in the established networks is steadily waning. In the near future, those with gigantic megaphones will find that their power has been cut and that their listeners have moved on to more credible sources. Before this happens, however, they will do their best to distort and corrupt the meaning of libertarianism. This could do more harm than good in the long run, as large numbers of people become convinced that libertarianism is something other than what it is.
Third, the presence of Rand on the national stage means that Ron Paul is a news story once more. Not that he was much of one before, as the lapdog media insisted on marginalizing him at every opportunity. Even so, more coverage of Ron is not necessarily a good thing. While I will be the first to defend the elder Paul against mindless attacks, there are legitimate criticisms to be made of him. Despite being one of the most effective advocates for libertarianism, Ron has taken actions and held positions on issues that may have alienated potential libertarians. Even though Ron himself did not write the infamous newsletters bearing his name, there are many contents therein which are indefensible, and allowing such content to go forth with his name on it does not speak well of his judgment, attentiveness, or management skills. As a member of Congress, he received a salary paid with money that was extorted from taxpayers under threat of violence and helped to distribute more of such money to constituents, both of which are also true of Rand. Both have expressed support for the Constitution, a slave contract written by slave-raping hypocrites that was crafted to expand the central state far beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed. He has also rejected biological evolution despite being a medical doctor, accepted the pro-life (or pro-trespassing) position on abortion, and tried to use the United Nations to steal a website from his supporters. To ignore the possibility that some people who would have become libertarians did not because of Ron’s actions is to commit the broken window fallacy. These flaws will carry over to Rand and hinder his chances of winning, and comparisons to his father will show that Rand is even more wanting.
Fourth, Rand explicitly said during his Senate campaign in 2010 that he is not only “not a libertarian,” but that “[t]hey thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross.” While this admission clears him of accusations of being a fake libertarian, he is far more than wanting from a libertarian perspective if he views being called a libertarian as an albatross about one’s neck. And while he may get more publicity for libertarianism than Gary Johnson or any non-political advocate, this is not necessarily a good thing if it brings in misinformed and misguided people to corrupt libertarianism. We have to deal with enough of this already.
Fifth, if Rand is flexible on the issues, then he is of little use to consistent libertarians. Hoping that a flip-flopping politician will happen to move in the right direction has a very poor track record of advancing liberty, as does hoping that such flip-flopping will occur on the basis of reason and evidence rather than faith and bribes. After all, there are no guarantees that a president will behave rationally or morally as there is no real penalty for failing to do so. And why must it be Rand? If all we care to do is find a human windsock, then any politician should be sufficient and there is no reason to support Rand over anyone else. There is also the matter that Rand has shown hostility toward those who would ask questions of him, to the point of trying not only to get Abby Martin stripped of her press credentials, but to get everyone at RT stripped of theirs as well just because Martin and Luke Rudkowski asked him a few questions that he did not want to answer as he walked on the Capitol grounds and then down a public street. This calls into question whether private citizens would even be able to get an audience with him should he get into the White House.
Sixth, any money donated to or effort expended for Rand’s political candidacy is money and effort that cannot be put to another use. In other words, focus put on politics is focus lost to anti-politics. Who knows what innovations that increase liberty by out-competing the state and making it irrelevant will be lost because the efforts needed for those innovations were instead put toward Rand? Even if Rand stays in the race until the convention, we saw how that worked out when Ron tried it. He met the conditions to have a speaking slot, but the rules were changed on a whim to keep him off the stage. Even if Rand wins the nomination, he will still have to deal with an establishment lapdog media that is firmly in Hillary Clinton’s corner, some members of which will moderate the presidential debates.
Seventh, if Rand is in office and the economic crises which are going to occur as a result of government and central bank policies happen on his watch, the lapdog media will use this as an opportunity to attack libertarian ideas by blaming the new recession on laissez-faire, free market policies. The American people, being economically and historically illiterate for the most part, will believe this tripe and be alienated from libertarianism for a generation. If, however, an unrepentant statist is in charge when that which mathematically cannot continue finally stops continuing, libertarians will be able to say “we told you so” and deliver real solutions to a receptive audience.
While the perfect can be the enemy of the good, sometimes the mediocre is the enemy of the good. If putting a somewhat libertarian-leaning figurehead atop the most powerful and dangerous criminal organization in human history is the best we can do, then we should just give up. Fortunately, we can do much better and actually accomplish something meaningful if we realize that the path to liberty is anti-political.