Like Clockwork

Rand Paul penned an op-ed in The Daily Beast on Monday that lays out his overarching critique of expansive government. For Paul, the most egregious sins of the past two administrations involve the reckless expansion of executive power. For the founders, the separation of powers and the checks and balances that maintain them were arguably the most important paradigm for representative government. They were surely the most sacred. Though a man of sweeping intellect and depth, James Madison left a singular legacy in his dogged advocacy for diffuse, separate and opposed factions across government; federal, state and local.

That legacy served conservatives (Jeffersonian Democrats, Whigs, Republicans) well until the end of World War II, when a new internationalism emerged with Dwight Eisenhower’s triumph over Senator Robert Taft in the race to define the future of the Republican Party. Since then, it has been a festival of bipartisan abuses of executive power and expansion, as Taft’s defeat meant the end of any meaningful right wing foreign policy based on realism and restraint. It is not wholly outrageous that the spectre of the menacing USSR caused Americans of all stripes to adopt a utilitarian approach to the Cold War, ditching principle and tradition in the name of security from existential annihilation. After 70 years of this approach, is it not sensible to reflect and consider an alternative strategy?

Every time Rand Paul attempts to enunciate his foreign policy, one or two neoconservatives affiliated or aligned with the last Bush administration lashes out with a vicious, often unhinged diatribe against the Senator and his supposed “isolationism.” That Jennifer Rubin is Queen of The Demagogues, let there be no doubt. But Michael Gerson, Pete Wehner, Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, David Frum, Stephen Hayes, Jonathan Tobin, David Adesnik and Elliott Abrams (and more!) also love to fling “isolationism” around with the same justification that progressives have when shouting “science!” No Valerie Jarrett style enemies’ lists here, just an objective identification of the culprits behind what is an orchestrated, dishonest smear campaign against someone with whom they disagree. That kind of behavior deserves to be called out and evidence is easy to find because, like clockwork, a new hit piece is guaranteed almost every day.

Today’s entry comes from John Yoo, the lead legal apologist for every last ounce of executive abuse and expansion undertaken by President Bush, where he says “Congress enacted in 2001 an authorization to use force against any group connected to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks. If the Islamic State is linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, as it appears to be (though this depends on the facts), they fall within the AUMF.” He goes on to belittle Paul and suggest he should remain in the Senate and should never be President. The tone of the piece is desperate and angry. The substance is even worse. Is anyone else flabbergasted that we have an impenetrable elite bipartisan consensus in Washington surrounding the AUMF’s authorization of force? The document from thirteen years ago which had nothing to do with third-generation offshoots of Al Qaeda but actually and explicitly only pertained to… Al Qaeda?  I really shake my head when I read the WSJ or some other reputable conservative outlet make this case; that the resolution we passed in the wake of 9/11 somehow relates to today. I understand their argument about asymmetric warfare and how “we don’t get to decide” when the war is over and all that. Yes, yes. But it is categorically not too much to ask that we fight this interminably long war by adhering to our standards and our rules. And I don’t care how Orwellian the foreign policy fetishists on the right go in their zeal to convince me that 2+2 = 5, I can never be convinced that Article II of the Constitution is more important than Article I.

The looming big debate over foreign policy will be a lot more productive and enlightening if it is conducted with civility and forthrightness. Unfortunately, the opponents of any reevaluation of the status quo have signaled that they have zero intention to play nice with Rand Paul. They genuinely hate his father, and are projecting their worst fever dream scenarios onto Rand and insisting all will be lost and the locusts shall plague us should the man who believes in the Constitution and separation of powers come to be Commander-in-Chief.

Below is my response to John Yoo and his fellow travelers in the conservative movement, based on an advanced reading of George Will’s column tomorrow, which I posted in the comments of his piece at National Review Online.


George Will has a column tomorrow (available online now) headlined “Rethinking US Foreign Policy” in which he tiptoes close to endorsing Rand Paul’s position without actually doing so. But he does offer this for Mr. Yoo to consider:

“The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history, coincided with mission creep (“nation building”) in Afghanistan. Both strengthened what can be called the Republicans’ John Quincy Adams faction: “[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

The Wilsonian-Bush approach to foreign policy is past its sell-by date, and the level of unhinged vitriol spewing from establishment (mostly from the Bush cabinet) organs towards Rand Paul is evidence of this. Any wonder why the factions currently losing the argument screech and squeal the loudest? Just look at the progressive left right now. But the fervor with which the Bush people have tried to knock down Rand Paul (and have so far failed at every turn) speaks to how cornered they feel. They wish that everyone would shut up and be scared of Islamists to the point that we forget the follies of their agenda and just blame Obama enough that the Bush Boys over at Commentary get to waltz back into power like nothing’s changed.

There wasn’t supposed to be an articulate voice against the uber-interventionists while Obama was in office. To their eternal chagrin, Rand shows up and starts moving people and changing the debate. No doubt George Will gets some stern emails for having the gall to give Rand a hearing before writing him off based on lame, hysterical arguments such as Yoo’s.

Hypothetical Hospitals

Kelli Goff at The Daily Beast asks the question:

I’m injured in a plane or car crash. There is one hospital located in the town in which the crash has taken place. Do you believe the hospital has a right to refuse to treat me on the basis of race, and that the government has no moral or legal imperative to require the hospital to treat me?

It is a powerful hypothetical, but one wholly contradictory to her own worldview, if she bothered to examine the issue critically. That worldview which meets its every encounter with limited government or libertarian philosophy with the rejoinder that says “your philosophy sounds great, and probably works as an academic exercise, but it just doesn’t work in the real world.” Well Kelli, if we’re dealing in “real world” empiricism, I might ask the same of your hypothetical: who, in the real world, would ever deny treatment to a plane crash victim on the basis of race, in 2014 America? For one, we have federal laws that require hospitals and physicians to deny no one access to emergency care, and these are not race-based but comprehensive statutes already on the books. More important is the impossible to measure yet difficult to argue with reality that an overwhelming majority of Americans of every race, creed or religion would not hesitate to treat a wounded victim in an emergency.

Libertarians understand that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. We accept that ideological principle must cater to the world as it is, not as we wish it was. Thus, we accept the necessity of the Civil Rights Act, especially in the real world of 1965. But whether through evolution of general human understanding and tolerance, or through federal intervention to prevent institutional racism, the real world of 2014 is not that of 1965. Yet that does not mean the libertarian project of this century aims to dismantle the CRA. It does mean however, that the social realities of today have improved and therefore the tendency to suggest that worst case scenarios would be imminent as a result of libertarian policy is unhelpful.

Accepting real world realities means libertarians wish to unwind the federal government’s involvement in civil society at the margins first. Every libertarian trains his eye on reducing the bureaucracy’s influence over education, for example, long before he lands (if he ever does) in the realm of undoing all federal involvement in society. Medicaid is an awful program rife with waste, replete with fraud, and provides no measurable gain in health or general well-being when compared to those in similar economic strata who do not participate in the program. Still, libertarian efforts to block grant this money back to the states are efforts to allow more flexibility and thus provide greater service at less cost, rather than an attempt to destroy the program in full or to literally take benefits from those most in need. Goff’s hypothetical is of a piece with the unwelcome habit of scaremongering; claiming the absolute worst possible outcomes would necessarily flow from pragmatic, nee real world libertarian prescriptions.

By always assuming the worst in the abstract, critics miss the obvious and tangible good that would flow immediately from many libertarian reforms. On the drug war, sentencing disparities, economic opportunity and educational choice, libertarians have been at the vanguard of these lonely efforts to buck the status quo and improve the lots of African-Americans. Unlike our self-anointed altruists of the left, whose prescriptions are paternalistic in their insistence that only the enlightened bureaucracy can solve your problems (i.e. “we’re smarter than you, let us plan your path out of poverty from remote Washington D.C.”), we mean to empower black Americans through more choice. Lower taxes and fewer one-size-fits-all central plans on healthcare and education. No more public monopolies on services but an extension of services through local competition and an eradication of public union thuggery. Ultimately, libertarians believe that black Americans have been promised endless aid in the form of other people’s money and that this has utterly failed to lift large swathes of blacks out of poverty. Why not try something different?

If ever given the opportunity, libertarian ideas can show the skeptics how our policy positions do not begin from the philosophical extreme of the ideology. Even it was our goal, anarchy wouldn’t be achievable overnight. And anarchy isn’t really our goal, not in the real world. So can we stop posing hypothetical gotchas against libertarianism that insist we operate from such rigid dogma? Politics is the art of the possible, even for libertarians.

The answer Kelli is, of course you would be treated. The question you should be asking is will my children be better off stuck in the public monopoly on education run by selfish, ‘me first’ union reps, or would competition and choice mean a world of advancement and fulfillment for the black community?

It’s not an easy question to demagogue, which is why it isn’t often asked.