Kentucky Senator and free-market-lover Rand Paul was endeavouring to improve on his poll numbers which have been lacklustre since the start of the campaign. It was thought that his brand of libertarianism would appeal to the Tea Party and many GOP primary voters however the rise of outsiders like Ben Carson and Donald Trump have left the Kentucky Senator’s campaign without the mass support that it was expected to have.
Paul’s first opportunity to speak came on the topic of income inequality at which he quipped that “income inequality is worse in cities, states and countries run by Democrats”, with the last of the three receiving a small bit of laughter from the audience. This is funny because it, although true, ignores why these places have such large income inequality. These places had this income inequality and when this became a political issue the people who saw it as impacting their lives (i.e. the poor) voted for the party that explicitly says it wants to stop this accumulation of wealth. It was only recently that the GOP saw this as an issue because they hadn’t quite worked out how to lie about it to their white, working-class constituents.
Rather than identify the problem as capitalism as an economic system, with its negative impacts amplified by a lack of regulation, Paul is implying that it is the policies of the Democratic Party that are the cause of such income inequality. To the Senator’s credit Bill Clinton’s policies did make this problem worse, especially the repeal of Glass-Steagall which deregulated the banking industry, however this was a continuation of the neo-liberal consensus that had been spearheaded by Ronald Reagan. Indeed Clinton’s love of free-trade was nothing new as almost all presidents of the last century have favoured free-trade, including Paul himself. So whilst he is correct that some of the Democratic Party’s policies would exacerbate income inequality, these policies are shared by the majority of Republicans.
He concluded his remarks on the subject by arguing that the Federal Reserve has made income inequality worse and that “the Fed shouldn’t set interest rates”. This would result in Congress determining interest rates which would politicise financial decisions which has positives and negatives but in the current context of America I would advise against this. I’m not an economist but if the debacle that occurs whenever the debt-ceiling needs to be raised is anything to go on, keeping this financial mechanism out of the hands of Congress seems logical to me.
His next chance to speak came in regards to his tax plan which would be 14.5% for corporations, 14.5% for individuals, no payroll taxes and two deductions for mortgages and charitable donations. At this point I would normally spend a copious amount of time digging up why this would be a terrible idea based on how much underfunded the Federal Government would be but I’m not going to do this in the case of Senator Paul because he is a libertarian. He is deliberately choosing to have a very low tax rate because he wants a very small government.
Obviously he wouldn’t cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security because those are popular programmes but it is not unheard of for a libertarian to want to reduce the size of government. Indeed in an earlier article I would have ridiculed this position but he has said that he would cut the military a sizeable chunk as well as end the Drug War which would save a lot of money. Will he be able, based on those tax revenues, to sustain Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security along with the federal programmes that he wants to keep? Of course not, anybody who can count can clearly see that however Paul is being consistent in his insanity, whereas some of the other candidates are suggesting even lower tax rates and suggesting increasing the military budget etc., which I will deconstruct with much pleasure. There is no point going through Paul’s plans in much detail as any criticism would be rebuffed with that he wants to radically shrink the federal government so obviously it’s not fully funded.
After a lengthy back and forth with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Paul encouraged the United States to negotiate with foreign powers from “a position of strength”, which America hasn’t been doing under Obama despite having the most powerful military force ever established by humanity. The Senator then argued that trade deals should be used to empower China’s economic competitors as a strategy to reduce China’s influence on the world stage.
He finished by saying something that I believe is an example of him deliberately lying to sound tough on the Obama Administration: “we need to bring trade back from the Executive branch back to Congress”. Paul claims to be a constitutionalist and has shown on many occasions that he has a very good knowledge of what is in the US Constitution, which makes this statement seem odd as Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution is “the President shall have Power, by and with the Advice and consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur”. The retort to this is that trade deals like NAFTA are classified as agreements but the mechanisms established by the Constitution, like the Supreme Court, have allowed for such agreements to be based on the same lines as the Treaty Clause on the understanding that it is only a majority of both Houses of Congress.
The other distinction is that agreements are not treaties and therefore are politically binding and not legally binding; this is the reason that the GOP candidates can grandstand about the Iran nuclear deal because it wasn’t what would be defined as a treaty. Regardless of this distinction Paul is deliberately misrepresenting the Obama Administration by implying that, pre-2009, all trade agreements were negotiated by Congress. He is fully aware that this is not the case but it feeds into the GOP’s constructed narrative: Obama refuses to listen to Congress and acts dictatorially.
On foreign policy Paul correctly points out that “it’s foolish to say that we’re not going to talk to Russia”. He also called out the Republican candidates who said they would impose a no-fly zone because that would involve shooting down Russian planes and dealing with the consequences. Paul said that shooting down Russian planes would “lead to another Iraq War” but I believe he is wrong, it could start World War Three. There is no way that Putin would watch a Russian pilot get killed, during a mission that was encouraged by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, as a result of an aggressive American foreign policy and not respond. When the pro-Putin media of Russia get word of America killing a member of the Russian military for no reason other that to challenge Russia’s geopolitical influence, the calls for attacks against the US will be loud, especially given that Putin’s popularity in Russia comes from their perception of him as a strong-man. He couldn’t let such an action go without a reaction from Moscow otherwise the very right-wing elements of Russian society that have been supporting his position may no longer do so.
Paul’s final comments were about climate change and how, although he accepts climate change is impacted by human activity, he would repeal all of the regulations around green energy. Specifically he said that America should have an “all-of-the-above energy strategy which includes solar, wind, hydro, natural gas and coal”. This seems like somewhat of an attempt to pick up more moderate Republicans whilst also appealing to the ‘drill-baby-drill’ section of the GOP base, but I am just astounded that he would accept that human activity contributes to climate change and then actively advocate repealing environmental regulations.
The final verdict is that Rand Paul did much better this time around than in the other GOP debates. Given that he barely qualified to be in this debate, his performance will probably boost his campaign by a significant enough amount to keep him in the main debates, but it won’t put a dent in the other candidates on this wing of the GOP. Paul gave a more authentic account of his views than during any other of the debates, which made the debate more philosophically interesting to watch, but given the Republican candidates have all revealed their contempt for philosophy for some reason, I don’t think Paul’s campaign will last for much longer.