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KALCHEIM: Why I like Rand Paul

Paul also has a good deal to say about the disturbing militarization of police and understands that the real problem with the so-called “War on Drugs” is that it disproportionately throws black people into prison while allowing the white and affluent to get high without any fear of the law.

West Stockbridge — Last week, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky became the second person to declare that he will run for president in 2016. Let me first state that I am a registered Democrat who voted twice for Barack Obama, and for years have considered myself to be far to the left of the political mainstream. But I foresee no person entering the race, in either party, who is as attractive a candidate as Rand Paul.

Rand Paul
Rand Paul

That is not to say that I believe Paul to hold the right opinion on all matters of policy — his casual assurance that market forces alone can deliver the most affordable health care for the largest number of people does not seem to me to have much basis in fact. But Paul doesn’t really seem to have much heart for the anti-Obama- care crusade; unlike Ted Cruz, he did not even mention the issue in his announcement speech. What he did say, however, something no other candidate would ever dream of saying, was that, as president, he would revoke all of the NSA’s illegal phone and internet surveillance: “The president created this vast dragnet by executive order,” Paul observed, “and as president on day one, I will immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance.”

For my part, I think that Paul is consistent enough in ideology to realize that the state’s so-called intrusion into health care is hardly as totalitarian as its massive snooping operation into all of our private lives. Simply by extending insurance payment to cover the cost of medical care, the state does not, ipso facto, claim anything close to the amount of power inherent in the NSA’s vast spying operation. As a purest, Paul would likely prefer to minimize state involvement in both areas. But if his public comments are any guide, he understands that state involvement in health care is far from enemy number one for a conservative zealous to restrict government power.

hands offPaul’s reference to the NSA in his announcement speech also brings up what is perhaps the most important parameter for deciding who to support as a candidate for president: Who is right on those issues on which the president has the most power to effect the most change. It would be very difficult for the next president to shepherd any legislative program through Congress without some measure of Democratic support. But the president can easily make reforms within the executive branch itself, with the stroke of a pen. He can reform our intelligence services and rewrite our whole foreign policy without consulting anyone. And on these issues, Paul is consistently right, or at least much closer to right, than almost any politician around. Paul is philosophically against deploying our military in foreign conflicts where we have no real American interest, and against propping up despotic regimes with “foreign aid,” which most people suppose goes to starving children in Africa, but more often goes to building up the Saudi Air Force, or Egypt’s Junta Army.

On domestic matters, where the president has significantly less power, Paul and I do not always see eye to eye. But he is clearly right about many things here as well. Unlike most establishment Republicans who coolly adhere to their low-tax orthodoxy, whatever the consequences, I think Paul really cares about the crumbling state of most of this country, particularly of our rotting, post-industrial cities. His proposal for low-tax “freedom zones” for impoverished areas should not be dismissed out of hand as callous right-wing thinking. After all, the idea of tax credits for the less well-to-do has for years been embraced by the left. Should the left now shrink from it simply because it is clothed in conservative, anti-tax language? Paul also has a good deal to say about the disturbing militarization of police (he was the first major politician to visit Ferguson after the events of last year) and understands that the real problem with the so-called “War on Drugs” is that it disproportionately throws black people into prison while allowing the white and affluent to get high without any fear of the law.

images-1Finally, there are the social questions of the legality of same-sex marriage and abortion, about which many people feel very strongly. As to the first, Paul’s anti-federalist principles would make it impossible for him use his power to stem the growing tide, moving as it has state by state across this country, in favor of same-sex marriage. Paul says he is pro-life. But, on the question of the availability of abortion, I will be blunt, at the risk of offending some pro-choice voters, in stating what I perceive to be a fact: Even in the very unlikely event that Roe v. Wade would ever be overturned, the availability of abortion services in this country would be almost identical to what we have now. More liberal states, like New York and California, would have many abortion clinics, serving many out-of-state residents whose home states severely restrict the process; more conservative states, largely in the South, instead of having one abortion clinic, restricted and highly stigmatized, would have none. Is it really worth high-jacking our whole political debate to ward off the exceedingly remote possibility that these clinics may one day have to close? I don’t think so.

The two Americas
The two Americas

What perhaps struck me most, in Paul’s announcement speech, beside his lamentable use of teleprompters, the appeal of which I will never understand, was his subtle but important departure from the usual Republican grandstanding about freedom and opportunity. There were fewer of the vague commendations of the supposedly unique American virtues of freedom, which conjures up disturbing sound-bites from George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, and, instead, a constant reference to liberty, opportunity and justice…for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform, or overalls, whether you’re white or black, rich or poor.” This is not something a presidential candidate has said since the now-publicly shamed John Edwards’s “two Americas.” Nor is this: “Politically connected croneys get taxpayer dollars by the hundreds of millions and poor families across America continue to suffer. I have a different vision, an ambitious vision, a vision that will offer opportunity to all Americans, especially those who have been left behind.” Was that some uber-liberal talking, you may ask? If that is what you want to call him, why ever not?

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