Opinion from Ross Douthat in the New York Times:
No ideology survives the collision with real-world politics perfectly intact. General principles have to bend to accommodate the complexities of history, and justice is sometimes better served by compromise than by zealous intellectual consistency.
This was all that Rand Paul needed to admit, after his victory in Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary, when NPR and Rachel Maddow asked about his views of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “As a principled critic of federal power,” he could have said, “I oppose efforts to impose Washington’s will on states and private institutions. As a student of the history of segregation and slavery, however, I would have made an exception for the Civil Rights Act.”
But Paul just couldn’t help himself. He had to play Hamlet, to hem and haw about the distinction between public and private discrimination, to insist on his sympathy for the civil rights movement while conspicuously avoiding saying that he would have voted for the bill that outlawed segregation.
By the weekend (and under duress), he finally said it. But the tap-dancing route he took to get there was offensive, tone deaf and politically crazy.
It was also sadly typical of the political persuasion that Rand Paul represents.
This persuasion shouldn’t be confused with the Tea Party movement, whose inchoate antideficit enthusiasms Paul rode to victory last Tuesday. Nor is it just libertarianism in general, a label that gets slapped on everyone from Idaho milita members to Silicon Valley utopians to pro-choice Republicans in Greenwich.
Paul is a libertarian, certainly, but more importantly he’s a particular kind of a libertarian. He’s culturally conservative (opposing both abortion and illegal immigration), radically noninterventionist (he’s against the Iraq war and the United Nations), and so stringently constitutionalist that he views nearly everything today’s federal government does as a violation of the founding fathers’ vision.
This worldview goes by many names, including “paleoconservatism,” “the old right” and “paleolibertarianism.” But its adherents — Paul and his father, Ron, included — view themselves as America’s only true conservatives, arguing that the modern conservative movement has sold out to both big government and the military-industrial complex.
Instead of celebrating the usual Republican pantheon, paleoconservatives identify with the “beautiful losers” of American history, to borrow a phrase from the paleocon journalist Sam Francis — the anti-imperialists who opposed the Spanish-American War, the libertarians who stood athwart the New Deal yelling “stop,” the Midwestern Republicans who objected to the growth of the national security state after World War II. And they offer an ideological synthesis that’s well outside either political party’s mainstream — antiwar and antiabortion, against the Patriot Act but in favor of a border fence, and skeptical of the drug war and the welfare state alike…
[continues in the New York Times]
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