How Libertarian is Rand Paul?

Flickr user Gage Skidmore


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?

 

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.