Monday, January 23, 2012

Rand Paul refuses TSA pat-down. But is he really a libertarian?

Rand Paul's much-ballyhooed pat-down refusal today is, to me, a non-story, except insofar as it seems to validate his libertarian cred.

While an airport may not be the best place to make the anti-government case for civil liberties, and while I can't say I'm overly concerned about fairly aggressive airport security (without infringing unreasonably on civil liberties, of course), it's easy to understand why he did what he did.

Basically, he set off an alarm, refused a full-body pat-down, was not detained (according to the TSA), was "denied access to the secure gate area" and "escorted out of the screening area by local law enforcement," and ended up on a different flight later on after going through security without a problem.

No big deal.

But here's the thing. Paul is a right-wing libertarian. He believes in extremely limited government. And he has been fairly consistent in embracing that view. But... where was he going?

Paul, a Republican, was traveling to Washington, when he was detained [or not, as the TSA claims]. He noted earlier on his Twitter that he was planning to speak at the March for Life.

"Today I'll speak to the March for Life in DC. A nation cannot long endure w/o respect for the right to Life. Our Liberty depends on it," tweeted Rand Paul at 9:49 A.M.

As Steve Benen writes, "So, Rand Paul, always cautious about his privacy rights, balked at airport security measures. He was en route to a March for Life rally, where he'll speak to activists who don't believe there is a right to privacy. Libertarians sure are an odd bunch."

I'm actually willing to grant that there isn't any hypocrisy here. If you believe that life begins at conception and that government, even a libertarian one, has a duty to protect life, well, you do the math. Pro-choicers may not want to hear it, but it's not about privacy for these pro-lifers / anti-choicers, it's about protecting the lives of the unborn. This isn't a view that I share, but I used to (sort of, to a point), and I understand where they, or at least the more sensible among them, are coming from. It would be different if Paul were arguing against, say, contraception or same-sex marriage or otherwise trying to deny privacy and equal rights. Abortion, alas, is a different matter -- or at least can be understood to be.

And yet the tag of hypocrisy still applies. Paul, for example, is against same-sex marriage. And, unlike his father, he's pro-Gitmo.

I suppose you could say that no one's perfect, but Paul's views suggest that his libertarianism is malleable, and that he holds views fundamentally at odds with libertarianism. Indeed, he may not be much of a libertarian at all, certainly not like his father. At the very least, he's anything but consistent.

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