Forging a new movement is never easy.
The path is fraught with pitfalls and trapdoors, especially because the already established order does not want the new paradigm to gain a foothold. There is gold in them (corrupt) hills after all. The established order will first attempt to co-opt the new movement or turn it into a cult of personality (like theirs already is). If that doesn’t work they will attempt to destroy it. On the other hand, the new movement cannot become so radical and theoretical that it’s unattainable to the masses it wants to reach as well.
Walking this tightrope requires the new movement to be cast with the right vision, and led by those with integrity who share that vision. Otherwise it will not survive or thrive. It will either implode or, worse yet, become an asset to the established order it was founded to overcome.
What I just described is exactly what I believe happened to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which is now nothing more than a pawn for the same Democrat Party that fought to keep slavery and later Jim Crow in place for decades. I also believe this is what happened to the Religious Right whose values I share. We became so closely aligned with the Republican Party that its leaders now believe they can abandon our issues altogether and we’ll still vote for them.
This is now the same river Rand Paul steps into.
I believe there is clearly a tug-of-war within the liberty movement, which is the only right-of-center movement attracting new and younger voters at the moment. Therefore, all of us that care about the future of freedom in America are vested in this internal struggle, regardless of whether we support Rand Paul’s 2016 aspirations. I see this up close and personal because I live in Iowa, which the liberty movement invested heavily in during the past two Iowa Caucuses. Many of the best friends I have in politics were inspired and nurtured to get involved by the liberty movement.
The movement seems to be wrestling with some existential questions.
- Is it a movement to advance a slate of issues/principles, or is it a movement intended to get Rand Paul elected the next president of the United States? The truth is if it’s the latter, that’s precisely how Rand will never win—as the civil rights and Religious Right movements of yesteryear can now attest. Once the acquisition of power replaces the mission the vision becomes compromised, and so does the movement.
- While the movement is making inroads with younger voters, it has also shown it has electoral limitations in its current form. So how do you cast a wider net without betraying your first principles? What are the right hills to die on? Is this about building on Ron Paul’s legacy to expand it, or do you have to diminish Ron Paul’s legacy in order to mainstream it?
- Who are the movement’s shepherds? Is it a grassroots-led effort that speaks for itself, or is it in the name of “Paul” the movement lives and breathes? Since you need champions to advance your cause in our representative republic, and the movement really had no modern champion before Ron Paul, does the movement now take its cues top-down from his son as successor, or does the movement anoint and select its own champions? Is it an aristocracy or a meritocracy?
- As a successor to his father’s throne, is Rand Paul another Reheboam or another Solomon?
Here’s why I ask:
After originally helping to rally the “defund Obamacare” effort, Rand Paul then undermined the effort, and then went on Fox News (which was highly critical of the effort) to call it a “dumb idea” after the fact.
Rand Paul began 2013 by reaching out to the Republican Party’s large evangelical base, even travelling to Israel with a group of pastors and evangelical activist David Lane. But when the Supreme Court issued its anti-Christian polemic disguised as an opinion in favor of redefining marriage last summer, Rand Paul openly complimented its worst anti-Christian offender—Justice Anthony Kennedy. Furthermore, when we attempted to get Rand Paul’s reaction to a recent onslaught of threats to religious liberty, we couldn’t get an answer.
While many of his father’s supporters thought the U.S. was too cozy with Israel in its foreign policy, Rand Paul went so far as to say any attack on Israel should be “treated as an attack on the United States.” But then he also created a dust-up when he later reiterated a summary of his father’s non-interventionist views of the Middle East.
Last February, Rand Paul wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times in favor of amnesty, and even saying those who broke the law to come here shouldn’t have to pay any fines for doing so. He wrote, “The gang of eight wants back taxes and fines. Most of these undocumented immigrants are poor and may not be able to ever pay ten years of back payroll taxes. I would be willing to forego the fines and back taxes in exchange for a longer and significant time period before these folks are eligible to enter into the green card line.” That sounds good, until you realize all those poor people will need access to the welfare state, so the taxpayer will be paying for them while they’re on their extended wait. Rand Paul even referred to illegal aliens as “undocumented immigrants” in his column. Rand Paul later voted against the “gang of 8” scamnesty, but immediately after doing so he went on television to accuse those in favor of border security and the rule of law of wanting to “put illegals in concentration camps.”
Rand Paul has been a champion of so-called “personhood” efforts that define a “person” as a “person” from the moment of conception, according to the 5th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, which I am also a staunch advocate for. But he also gave an interview to CNN in which he said there could be “thousands” of exceptions that allow an innocent child to be killed, which he later walked back.
Are these examples of a movement’s (and its champion’s) growing pains? Or are these clumsy attempts at political sleight of hand? To be sure, Rand Paul’s voting record in the U.S. Senate has been extraordinary. He has a lifetime 98% rating from Freedom Works, for example. If only the rest of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate mirrored his voting record.
However, running for president, or shepherding a movement, is not the same as being a legislator. These are standard-bearer positions. What you do with that bully pulpit, and whom you empower with it (endorsing “Ditch McConnell” of all people), matters as much if not more. Personnel is politics, so if your voting record is tremendous but you then empower those who oppose you, you’ve essentially just nullified yourself and the movement you represent. Not to mention in this day and age people are inspired and impacted more by sound bytes than the details of your voting record.
The verdict is still out on Rand Paul’s White House ambitions as well as the liberty movement itself. The liberty movement has come to the same fork in the road the civil rights and Religious Right reform movements previously came to, and they chose industry and mainstream acceptance over cultural transformation.
Here’s hoping the liberty movement doesn’t do the same.