Bernard Feng on the auspicious rise of Paul the Younger

Rand Paul: hope of the New Right

In 2008, there was a p olitician in America who held radical views on the Fed, wishing to abolish the IRS, withdraw troops from Iraq immediately, and focus on restoring America’s sovereignty and economic confidence by reducing government regulations . This man was not Barack Obama, but Ron Paul, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2008. He was the only candidate to stand against John McCain when everyone else had backed down in support of him. Unfortunately, his unconventional views, especially those on the Iraq War, cost him his chances of winning over the Neoconservative establishment. Maybe Paul’s opponents would have agreed with him on cutting government spending, his pro-life stan ce, and his support of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, but his non-interventionist ideas, which would have won the support of the nation, did not take off with the GOP. The Republican Party supported invading countries to protect American interests abroad, and increasing the size of government, evident in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security to deter terrorists. It was not the Republican Party Ron Paul once knew, which advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy and laissez-faire economics.

Fast forward to 2011. The deficit is in tatters. Thousands of people take to the streets not to support President Obama’s message of change, but to oppose it. The first female Speaker of the House had to pass the gavel onto John Boehner and, although the Democrats still hold the Senate, the Republicans have made significant inroads there too. But even the Republicans themselves are having a bit of trouble. Sarah Palin has ‘gone rogue,’ supporting the nascent Tea Party movement and giving her blessing to anti-establishment candidates that she deems worthy. But are the Republicans ready to wrest power from the Democrats once again? Although not quite a ‘hung parliament,’ the indecisive situation of Congress is beginning to resemble the political situation in the UK.

Enter Rand Paul, the son of the former presidential candidate. Having recently been elected Senator of Kentucky, he has the support of traditional Republicans such as Mike Huckabee, his predecessor Jim Bunning and, strikingly, the Tea Party. Like his father, his policies sometimes clash not only with Democrats, but also with Republicans. This month, he was one of two Republicans to vote against extending the PATRIOT Act, something that Obama once opposed and campaigned against during his presidential bid. Yet, beginning with his nomination, he has voted consistently for its extension. The President wants a three-year extension, a period much longer than that proposed by the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Obama has been absorbed into the mainstream mould of American politics, acting to preserve the status quo rather than shatter it.

Rand Paul has something that many people believe the GOP lacks: intelligence and vision. An ophthalmologist from Duke University, his more controversial statements, such as the statement against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, are not blanket statements of ignorance, but rather based on strongly defended principles. He says that parts of the Civil Rights Act are unconstitutional not out of intolerance, but because he is against the notion that businesses do not know what is best for them. He believes it is not the government’s job to intervene and guide them along.

Compared to his father, Rand Paul is not such a maverick towards his party. He supports trying suspected terrorists in Guantanamo’s military tribunals. He opposes the Healthcare bill – something that the Tea Party and the Republicans find common ground on – and as an ophthalmologist, he can bring his first-hand experience of being a doctor to the table. Although he is pro-life and against gay marriage, he respects the rights of the local state governments to decide what is best for them. By aligning himself more with the mainstream, he finds himself more respected within the party and a potential problem for Obama.

The candidates for 2012 look unappealing, at least to Republican voters. Fred Karger, a gay rights activist, might strike bells with Democrats, and could possibly gather the support of undecided votes, but his views are considered unorthodox to the GOP and therefore will not get past the first stepping stone that is the primaries. The same can be said of Jimmy McMillan, the founder of the Rent is Too Damn High Party and, more damning still, a former Democrat.

There is also Ron Paul’s age to consider. Against Obama’s youthful energy, Ron’s 77 years could work against him in 2012, in the same way it worked against Nixon when he came up against a young, handsome John Kennedy. It might be a little early for the Republicans to wrest power from their rivals, but with mavericks such as Rand Paul, they may yet find hope in chipping away at Democratic hegemony.

Bernard Feng