Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Has the Tea Party found its demagogue in Rand Paul?

By Richard K. Barry

Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post writes that veteran Republicans are almost unanimous in their belief that Sen. Rand Paul is "already a national leader within the party and will be a major factor if (but really when) he runs for president in 2016."

Okay. If you guys really think that's a good idea, go for it. I mean what could go wrong? Oh, maybe that whole libertarian thing that made him once argue that private businesses should not have to adhere to the 1964 Civil Rights Act because, you know, the marketplace will deal with bad actors like that?

Those Republicans who were asked pointed to his filibuster as a stroke of brilliance that catapulted him onto the national stage. They add that old guard attacks "solidified his position as leader of the new right." They say, as Cillizza writes, that he is a "person of principle" with a "showman's sense of the moment, a rare and underrated ability in politics."

But the point is that beside being a charter member of the Tea Party, he actually describes himself as a libertarian, the main point of which is to reduce the size of government as much as possible or, in extreme cases, eliminate it completely. 

I don't really intend to get into a deep philosophical discussion here, but Rand Paul's version of libertarianism is like American conservatism on steroids. I think we all know that Americans like their entitlements. No intelligent political operator with a lick of sense likes to tell voters what he or she intends to take away from them. Rand Paul, on the other hand, lives for those moments. 

He is not going to be his party's nominee for the presidency. But to the extent that he has more political skill than his father, he will force more reasonable candidates to the right as they attempt to placate a potentially re-energized Tea Party. It is therefore almost guaranteed to be a repeat of 2012. 

Let's say for the moment that Paul has some political ability and that he could actually be the kind of national leader the Tea Party has yet to produce. The only good that comes out of this is for Democrats as the GOP continues to do battle within its own ranks.

The bad could be very bad. 

At the risk of sounding alarmist, the Tea Party has lacked a skilled and credible leader. I'm not saying Rand Paul is that leader, but if he has half the ability the Republican leadership seems to think he has, I don't like where this is going. 

How's this for irony?

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