Rep. Raul Labrador, a newcomer to Washington, reminded the crowds at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) of the current context: We werent elected because the American people love Republicans. We were elected because the American people love Republican principles.
Not to throw cold water on a sentiment whose intent I can only applaud, still, its hard not to offer a challenge: What principles? Craven accommodation to the military-industrial complex? Empty limited government windbaggery? Inertia?
The American people do respect many of the principles that have become commonly bandied-about in American politics, associated with the Republicans since Reagan or before. But they also have come to understand that Republicans are politicians, and principles dont mean as much as the habits of Capitol Hill.
Republican politicians can be easily portrayed as hypocrites — talking less government while always giving us more. The greatest successes of so-called Republican fiscal conservatism have been intermittent attempts to restrain the rate of government growth. Actual balanced budgets have only been approached when rule was shared with a Democratic president, Bill Clinton. And the tech boom was in swing.
If united government (House, Senate and executive branch all in the hands of one political party) shows a partys true heart — as I think it does — then we now know what the motivating principle of the two parties is: More government. When Democrats got into power, they worked mightily and against the expressed wishes of the majority of Americans to install a huge new entitlement. They replaced a stretch of united government under the Republicans, who had managed to radically increase both the size and scope of the federal superstate, having added their own new entitlement.
This new entitlement spending must be stacked on top of past, unpaid-for promises of entitlement spending. And growing government spending in other areas, added on top of two land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What Labrador calls Republican principles might better be called, simply, common-sense American principles, since they fit so nicely with the ideas expressed by the nations founders, if not the bulk of the founders heirs and assigns.
But there exist two Republican politicians who do embody the common sense of restraint, and are willing to actually challenge the mad, out-of-control establishment. They seem like radicals because what is middle of the road is so crazy. But their advocacy of responsibility and limited government now appears, in light of the crazy age, as a last outpost of sanity.
Their names are Dr. Ron Paul and Dr. Rand Paul.
Ron Paul is an old hand in the House, representing a district in Texas. Until recently he has been left out of the national debate, regarded as a non-player, a gold-bug who talks too much about the Federal Reserve. But when the mainstream meanders, endangering the vast plain, the last straight trickle of reason gains a certain importance. Ron Paul has brought renewed vigor into the Republican Party, and his 2008 presidential bid was one of the major impetuses behind the Tea Party movement that now has shaken Washington itself, and revivified the GOP.
And at CPAC, Ron Paul is beloved. By most, though surely not all. Enough to win the presidential straw poll, anyway.
His son, Rand Paul, now the junior senator from Kentucky, carries on the family tradition — not only of doctoring, but of political principle. Together, the two are transforming American politics.
At CPAC, this week, Ron Paul not only brought up the dangers of the Federal Reserve, and the insanity of continual federal budget deficits and growing debt . . . he also commented on the revolt in Egypt and the fall of Hosni Mubarak: A lot of people now say, What should our position be about finding the next dictator of Egypt? And I would say, We need to do a lot less, a lot sooner, not only in Egypt, but around the world.
Republicans have long patted themselves on the back for taking sophisticated positions on foreign policy, the word in question meaning nothing other than choosing dictators to fight off allegedly worse dictators. Rep. Paul now articulates a major challenge to this: It is no more sophisticated than liberal calls for ever increasing government regulation of our lives. Both have unintended consequences. Both policies breed results no responsible person should want. Choosing dictators to fight dictators may prevent some dictators from emerging, yes — but it always means that the U.S. publicly allies itself with tyrants, thus appearing as enemies of people everywhere. The [Egyptian] government is crumbling and the people are upset not only with their government, but with us for propping up that puppet dictator for all those years.
Ron Paul also adds a fiscal conservative note to his moral opposition to nation building and tyrant choosing: It costs too much. How much did we invest in that dictator over the past 30 years? $70 billion. We cant afford it.
Which brings us to Sen. Rand Paul.
He made big waves by pooh-poohing the mainstream Republican effort to bring spending back to 2008 levels. He wants to cut $500 billion — in the first year alone. And among the programs on the chopping block (Departments of Education, HUD, Energy) would be foreign aid. All of it. Stop it. Cut it. End it.
No more hoards of wealth to dictators overseas. Or even to nice rulers.
He would also cut back funding for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republicans have often said that they are against several whole departments. Mr. Reagan argued for abolishing the Departments of Energy and Education on the grounds that the federal government didnt educate one child or produce any energy. But Republicans, even when they had the votes, have never done anything about it.
Now, the other Kentucky senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is managing to say nice things about Rand Pauls proposal. It underscores the problems we face today.
Well see how far the senior Kentucky senator goes along with his colleague. But really, we expect nothing more than a dedication to inertia.
And the inertia still belongs to growing government.
The two Pauls represent something almost new in American politics: Principles in speech matched by principles in action, and those principles being as American as apple pie and freedom.
Rep. Labrador notwithstanding, Republicans have only furtively embraced the principles in speech part of what they say, and, since the final days of Robert Taft, have scorned those principles as applied to foreign policy. Republican principles have devolved into a ruse to get elected. Republican habit has been something else again, a betrayal of those principles.
Now that nearly everybody realizes how deeply unstable the current situation is — that we cant afford the government the Democrats and Republicans have given us — maybe the Republicans are as ready as the American people for principles that really mean something.
And, if that proves true, the heroes in this transformation will be the father-and-son team of Ron and Rand Paul.