How Libertarian is Rand Paul?

| Fri May 21, 2010 3:58 PM EDT

In an effort to explain what Rand Paul meant when he suggested that private businesses should be able to discriminate against black people, most writers have assumed that the Tea Party fave is no racist but instead a dogmatic, don't-tread-on-me libertarian. As TPM convincingly points out today, the GOP's Kentucky Senate candidate's (now recanted) statements about the 1964 Civil Rights Act fall well within the libertarian mainstream.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Paul's views are motivated by little more than a naive ideology. As I've noted, Paul and his father, GOP Congressman Ron Paul, have a long history of close associations with hard-core racists. And moreover, Paul is by no means a rigid libertarian. In reality, Paul and his father espouse a hybrid of libertarian and Republican political beliefs that skews far to the right of typical libertarians:

  • Abortion

While most libertarians are pro-choice, both Rand and Ron Paul support government regulation of abortion. Ron Paul would leave the issue up to states while Rand Paul favors a constitutional amendment banning the procedure.

  • Gay Marriage

Ron Paul voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment of 2004, which would have limited marriage to unions of one man and one woman, but he favored Texas legislators' efforts to "oppose any attempt by rogue judges to impose a new definition of marriage on the people of my state."  Rand Paul is likewise opposed to gay marriage. True libertarians, however, typically fight all government regulation of marriage, be it same-sex or otherwise, and don't tend to moralize on the subject.

  • Gitmo

Perhaps most troubling to many libertarians, Rand Paul has come out in support of the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which his father wants to shut down. "Foreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our Constitution," Paul wrote on his website. "These thugs should stand before military tribunals and be kept off American soil. I will always fight to keep Kentucky safe and that starts with cracking down on our enemies." Commenters on libertarian message boards were appalled.

While there's certainly nothing inherently wrong or hypocritical with diverging from the libertarian mainstream, Paul's willingness to make exceptions to the typical libertarian creed raises questions in the context of his statements on civil rights. Why was Paul comfortable with setting aside libertarian concepts in the case of Gitmo, but not in the case of defending the rights of racial minorities? Is this a glimpse into where his true sympathies lie?