How Rand Paul Thinks Different

Ralph Benko
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Posted: Apr 17, 2015 12:01 AM
How Rand Paul Thinks Different

From Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. Senator Rand Paul declared his candidacy for the presidency. The run-up had all the pageantry now associated with such affairs: prayers, recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and well-produced campaign videos galore.

There also was something distinctly different.

In making his official declaration of candidacy it was clear that Paul stands a little apart from the rest of the field. Paul is not “A Man with a Plan.” He just brings a healthy skepticism toward the overrated abilities of government. He has a healthy passion for unleashing the American dream and will work through opportunities and challenges on a case by case basis. Also, Paul is the candidate of “Peace Through Strength,” nobody’s patsy but not an adventurer either. Finally, Paul makes the most interesting, useful, mistakes of any of the candidates before the electorate today.

The first distinction: Paul presents himself, and (by all accounts) is more about connecting with people and people with one another, than as “A Man With A Plan.” Most politicians, after setting their patriotic theme, have a litany of what they will do to put American back on track. Rand Paul was short on specifics. This implies something interesting. It implies a non-doctrinaire populist disposition toward politics, trusting the people to fashion, rather than simply demand, solutions.

Paul is a doctor, not, as most politicos, a lawyer. Doctors internalize high technical proficiency but do not operate by rote. Doctors may be opinionated (future-first-lady-designate-Kelly Paul assured us in her introduction that Paul is opinionated). But doctors are not, because in life and death matters they cannot afford to be, either dogmatic or doctrinaire.

Good doctors are governed by feedback loops. Paul presents as someone with an abundance of healthy skepticism about the proficiency of government to do much good. From that stance Dr. Paul will, well, operate as the situation dictates.

The second distinction: Paul presents as what the late Rep. Jack Kemp once called himself: “a heavily armed dove.” Rand Paul’s political competitors have attempted to paint him as an isolationist and, almost, as a dangerous unilateral disarmament kind of guy. Nonsense, of course, but as an old political saw has it, “in Washington, perception is reality.”

Paul, by supporting some defense spending increases and by embracing the symbolism of appearing on the deck of the WWII vintage aircraft carrier on his campaign kickoff tour, is attempting to blunt these charges. He thereby will regain control of his own narrative.

Paul presents as the least bellicose of the Republican contenders, one who is committed to military strength–and extremely judicious use of that strength. To Paul, a quick draw and an itchy trigger finger isn’t proof of manhood.

I have argued, repeatedly, the electorate is war-weary, yearns for peace, and is eager for a commander-in-chief who will continue the process of moving America toward a peacetime footing as a superpower but not a hegemonic hyperpower. If that is the case, Paul’s judiciousness toward use of force will be a voter magnet both in the primaries and in the general election. This especially will prove true in the general if the Democrats nominate the hawkish Hillary Clinton.

The third distinction: Rand Paul makes the most interesting mistakes of anyone now in the field. This is striking. Most elected officials, and candidates, are deeply risk averse. They know that they are flanked by rivals and adversaries who will misrepresent their every ambiguity, magnify their every mistake, and trip them up. When Rand Paul first started the unconventional overtures to the African American community with a speech at Howard University, he stumbled, as reported in the Washington Post:

Paul said it was his first visit to a historically black college and he has learned from the experience. The senator added that he plans to continue to reach out to the African American community.

Paul acknowledged that he did stumble a couple of times at Howard — in asking the audience whether they knew that the NAACP was founded by Republicans and in botching the name of Edward Brooke, the first black senator elected since Reconstruction.

It turned out that the audience knew the NAACP’s history, something Paul said he didn’t know would be the case. ‘This is my first time to go to a historically black college,’ Paul said. ‘In retrospect, it sounds like it is a dumb question but it’s like, Republicans haven’t been going to Howard for 20 years.’

Yet Paul, undaunted, persisted in his courtship, eventually getting it right. The official Paul presidential announcement was a multi-racial, multi-cultural event. The contributions by African-Americans, by an Hispanic, and others from marginalized groups, sounded, and felt, intimate and authentic–not an exercise in symbolic tokenism.

The upshot? Paul was willing to take risks, take some hits, learn, and continue forward into finally getting his footing in a high integrity effort to bring the historically Republican African-American community back into the GOP fold.

America is traversing uncharted territories–in monetary and financial policy, in foreign policy and in social policy. It might be good to nominate a candidate with a strong moral compass, discernment, and an ability to learn from his mistakes rather than one with a roadmap outdated by a decade or even a generation.

This quality–the ability to make interesting mistakes–provides Rand Paul with an unusual degree of nimbleness. It implies the will to take calculated (rather than no, or reckless) risks. It implies resilience. It implies a healthy optimism. And it implies a kind of human action in the context of feedback loops rather than a dogmatic stand.

In the formal announcement of someone who Time Magazine has called “the most interesting man in politics,” Rand Paul differentiated himself from the rest of the field in three ways. So, how does Rand Paul, to appropriate Apple’s old slogan, “Think Different”?

Rand Paul is more about connections than Big Plans.

Rand Paul is a responsible peace candidate.

Rand Paul makes the most interesting mistakes of anyone in the field.