With his endorsement of Mitt Romney for President still in recent memory, Sen. Rand Paul published an op-ed in the National Review taking Romney to task for his foreign policy. The endorsement was a choice which caused many waves within the liberty movement, even after the Senator provided clarification in a Daily Paul radio interview (click here if you feel like reading, not listening).
In this new op-ed, Paul charged Romney with being too similar to President Obama (and, by extension, former President George W. Bush) and harshly critiqued Romney’s indication that as President he would attack Iran with or without congressional approval. Paul wrote (emphasis added):
Where I don’t know if there is as much of a difference as I would like [between Romney and Obama] is foreign policy.
Let’s first be clear: President Obama was elected on a platform of ending wars, yet he has opposed every effort made by me and others in the Senate to do that. He opposed my resolution to end the Iraq War. He has refused my urgings to end the war in Afghanistan more quickly. He started another war in Libya, and this time went further into unconstitutional territory than previous presidents by not even seeking Congressional approval whatsoever.
I opposed him when he did that. Anyone who believes President Obama is less aggressive internationally than his predecessors is mistaken.
I do not yet know if I will find a Romney presidency more acceptable on foreign policy. But I do know that I must oppose the most recent statements made by Mitt Romney in which he says he, as president, could take us to war unilaterally with Iran, without any approval from Congress. His exact words were:
I can assure you if I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now.
This is a misreading of the role of the president and Congress in declaring war. […] I will hold accountable and oppose any actions from any president, Republican or Democrat, if he declares war without congressional consent.
Read the full piece — which includes much more extensive discussion on the constitutional requirements for war — here.
A lot of ink has been spilled (too often in the service of uncivil words) on the subject of Rand’s endorsement. I believe there was a request in a reply to one of my posts here for me to address the issue, and though I can’t locate that reply now, I’ll take this opportunity to briefly discuss it. Before I do so, however, I want to very firmly note that this is not something I wish to argue about: I have friends and colleagues who take opposing views of the situation, and I have respect for both; these are merely my views. If you disagree, no worries. Many of the bloggers I follow on tumblr do and I still love their blogs and perspective.
On the anti-endorsement side, the single most convincing point, to my mind, is that changing the party platform is not a big a prize as some have made it sound — i.e., if that is the influence Rand expects to achieve from his endorsement, it wasn’t worth the price. The GOP party platform says a lot of good stuff, but its existence doesn’t mean the goals it lauds will ever be achieved or the principles it extols will ever be followed. If it was in any way binding, we would not be $15 trillion or so in national debt.
On the pro-endorsement side of things, however, the primary argument is that this is an important tactical move which is unrelated to policy. Should Obama win again in 2012 (and this is still my guess as to what will happen), Rand is in a much better position within the Republican Party — yes, especially if he wants to run for President — if he, as he has long promised, endorses the previous party nominee. I won’t get into the gritty details of this strategic move; watch this video from Jack Hunter for that whole argument made more ably than I care to do here.
This “he did it for the strategical gains” claim fits with what Rand himself said in the Daily Paul interview I mentioned above, in which key points included:
- The endorsement is not reflective of what Rand believes: he specifically said it “doesn’t mean anything” in this regard
- His congressional record, not his ability to play GOP politics, should be what matters
- He does not expect Ron Paul supporters to vote for Romney because of the endorsement
So what’s my conclusion from all of this? First and foremost: No, I will never vote for Mitt Romney. No, I could not stomach endorsing him if I were in a position where such an endorsement mattered. And no, I am not now certain that Rand Paul will be able to continue to ingratiate himself with the GOP while so much of his voting record/public writings like the op-ed above go flatly against what the majority of the party supports. In the future, he may be rejected as his father was for years (Mitt Romney’s people can see the Daily Paul site too), or he may lose his principles in the pursuit of power as so many others have done. (To those who think he has already done the latter, keep reading.)
However, on balance, I still see Rand Paul’s congressional actions speaking far louder than his endorsement words. If we as libertarians say Rand’s record counts for nothing — “He’s a traitor!” — while we still express a willingness to work with, say, Dennis Kucinich or Jim DeMint on issues where we share goals (e.g. to end the wars or audit the Fed, respectively), we are holding Rand to an unfair standard of perfection. Springing forth from Ron Paul’s loins shouldn’t put you in a special category for allowances or dismissals. If any other politician voted, introduced bills, and published op-eds as Rand does, we would all say, “Yeah, he’s not 100% perfect, but I don’t agree with even Ron Paul on everything. So-and-so is pretty good.”
Consider: As he mentions in the op-ed, Rand Paul has worked to end or prevent the wars in Irag, Libya, and Afghanistan while fighting the PATRIOT Act and the NDAA. In the weeks since the endorsement alone, Rand Paul has very publicly opposed mandatory minimum sentencing for drug use, introduced a bill requiring warrants for drone use in the states — a measure the Pentagon strongly opposes, introduced a pair of bills which would “essentially end” the TSA as we know it, supported a bill to legalize hemp, and now taken to a traditionally conservative (if not neo-con) outlet to denounce Mitt Romney’s hawkishness toward Iran for being unconstitutional and too close to Barack Obama’s policies.
I happened to speak with a friend who works in the Paul Senate office last week, and I very cynically and seriously asked if this flurry of liberty-friendly legislative activity was planned as a follow-up to assuage concerns about the endorsement. It wasn’t; this is just their normal agenda.
The last bit — this op-ed — is particularly remarkable. The first way in which Rand has chosen to be linked to Romney in the news following the endorsement is through a very strong, very libertarian (not Republican) attack. This isn’t, “I’m not sure if he’ll be firm against Obamacare.” This is, “Romney’s so eager to go to war just like Obama that he’s willing to ignore the Constitution.” And putting it in National Review is exactly the opposite of hiding under a bushel from the larger conservative movement. Indeed, it’s almost as if Rand is using the endorsement as permission to criticize from within the party fold. If this — a stronger position for 2016 and ability to hold Romney’s feet to the fire completely at will — is what Rand expects to achieve, it may indeed be worth the price. We shall have to wait and see whether this tightrope position is a viable one in the long term.