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What Rand Really Believes

A Commentary by Joe Conason

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rand Paul, tea party flavor of the month, is said to be avoiding "overexposure." Senior Republican Party operatives, worried by the Kentucky Senate nominee's all-too-revealing remarks after his primary victory, have urged him not to grant any interviews for a while. So he flip-flopped on his criticism of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, flaked out on a "Meet the Press" appearance and has scarcely been heard from since.

But hiding out and keeping quiet scarcely befits the leader of a movement of would-be revolutionaries -- which means that, sooner or later, Dr. Paul will have to speak up again. Even if he has settled the civil rights controversy for the moment, he still has some explaining to do.

As a lifelong libertarian who seems stuck on a strict standard of ideological purity, he may or may not espouse that creed's most extreme positions, like his father, Rep. Ron Paul. If he does, then even many Republicans may think twice or three times before they vote for him. If he doesn't, then he may find himself in a quarrel with many of his old comrades, his father and his own past statements. More than once, Rand has said that he generally agrees with Ron.

So considering Paul's background, extremism is a reasonable concern -- and the only way to find out what he really believes is for him to start answering a lot of questions.

What do libertarians believe? On some issues, such as abortion, they are divided. But on gun control, for instance, the libertarian platform indicates that they believe in no restrictions whatsoever on gun ownership, no registrations or background checks -- in short, no statutory or regulatory effort to prevent convicted criminals, registered sex offenders, suspected terrorists, illegal immigrants or anyone else from getting their hands on firearms, including anything from a 9mm to a missile launcher.

Some Americans may not consider such absolutism to be loony, but very few would favor abolishing all background checks or all of the existing restrictions on automatic weapons.

What voters in Kentucky and elsewhere will learn, when they look more deeply into the movement from which Paul emerged, is that libertarians believe in very little government. They seem to feel that the kind of state suited to the 18th century would serve America just as well today. So they would do away with all legal restrictions on wages, hours and working conditions, including the minimum wage and the ban on child labor. If your boss refused to pay you at the end of the week, the government would do nothing -- and you would have to sue.

Under a libertarian regime, every protection that modern Americans take for granted would disappear, leaving us to the mercy of fate, corporations and economic cycles.

No more laws stopping air and water pollution, no more regulation of food and agricultural safety, no controls on advertising cigarettes or alcohol to children. (The libertarian society would be paradise for E. coli bacteria, the oil industry and Joe Camel.) No more Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, public schools, national or state parks, or farm subsidies of any kind; no more federal support for scientific research into clean energy or curing cancer or AIDS or any other disease; and, in fact, no more federal money for education at any level, from Head Start to state colleges, universities and graduate schools.

Is this the "message" Paul is bringing us from the great minds of the tea party? Maybe so, if they mean what they say about balancing the budget without raising taxes. But for Paul, there is at least one exception to the hard-core dogma. You see, he is against cutting Medicare payments to physicians -- at least while he's still practicing ophthalmology. He should explain that, too.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.

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