Two Sides of Rand Paul
One inspires hope for the GOP; the other is less impressive.

Senator Rand Paul


Andrew C. McCarthy

After listening to Rand Paul speak at National Review’s Washington office, Bob Costa concludes that the senator is leading one side of what is “nothing less than a fight for the soul of the GOP on foreign policy.” Let’s hope so.

Whether what emerges is also a conservative foreign policy depends as much on which Senator Paul wins as on whether he wins. If it is the Rand Paul who perceived the common hegemonic denominator between Soviet totalitarianism and Islamic-supremacist totalitarianism in a provocative speech at the Heritage Foundation last month, there is cause for optimism. Not as hope-inspiring is the Rand Paul portrayed in Bob’s NRO report. It is already clear, though, that Senator Paul’s agitations serve conservative ends more consistently than does the erratic adventurism of his opposite numbers in the GOP’s intramural brawl: John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Bob describes these Beltway establishment figures as “the foreign-policy grandees in the Senate Republican conference,” standard-bearers of what is said to be “the Bush-Cheney approach to foreign policy.” The latter claim is not entirely fair, particularly to the Cheney component of the ledger; but that is a story for another day. For now, the point — mine, not Costa’s — is that Senators McCain and Graham are not conservatives. They are progressive-lite populists who bend with the wind, an occupational hazard of service to a fuzzy global-stability agenda rather than to vital American interests pursued within a constitutional, limited-government framework.

Paul proudly claims the conservative tag that seems to embarrass the media-manic McCain except during those dolorous primary seasons when even a maverick must appeal to the GOP base. And once Paul outmaneuvered them (and the Obama administration) in the recent dust-up over U.S. drone-missile strikes, McCain and Graham became strident in their efforts to marginalize the Kentuckian — branding Paul “ill-informed” and a “wacko bird” of the Right. But Paul is far from a “wacko” — or, for that matter, the “extremist” I once made the mistake of describing him as. I was referring to a libertarian position he took against indefinite detention for American citizens suspected of being enemy combatants. The “extremist” descriptor did not fit the man, and it exaggerated the position he’d taken, which extended discussion showed to be less detached from wartime exigencies than it initially seemed.

In the senatorial name-calling, one senses a certain desperation, a fear on the part of McCain and Graham that the ground beneath them is shifting. There’s good reason for that.

You won’t ever hear Paul echoing McCain’s assertion that the way to get foreign policy “back on track” would be to put John Kerry and Joe Biden in charge of it. You won’t find Paul, like McCain and Graham, toasting Qaddafi one minute, then in the next calling for his head; or condemning the Muslim Brotherhood’s sharia totalitarianism one minute, then in the next calling for Americans to work with and subsidize the Brothers. You won’t find Paul, in vertiginous McCain fashion, blathering about democracy-promotion and global stability while championing the secession from Serbia of a Muslim state — Kosovo, which now stands as a breakaway inspiration to Islamic-supremacist insurgents the world over. You won’t find Paul lamenting, à la Graham, that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war”; to the contrary, Paul appears to grasp that if you are prepared to subordinate the First Amendment to a desire not to pull the hair-trigger savagery of your enemies, then you have already lost the war.

In this sense, Dr. Paul perfectly diagnoses the GOP’s sorry condition after years on the McCain/Graham regimen: “When you saw the debate between President Obama and Romney on foreign policy, they sounded pretty similar. In the vice-presidential debate, Biden was more assertive, but Ryan didn’t disagree with most of his positions.”

Bingo: It has been a while since Republicans were led by a Reagan — by someone who looks totalitarianism in the eye and calls it what it is. You don’t hear today’s GOP saying of the Muslim Brotherhood and its sharia-supremacist allies, “We win, they lose.” Today’s GOP is more likely to tell the Muslim Brotherhood, “We’re here to partner with you.” Today’s GOP looks at ideologues who promise to conquer the West and sees not an “evil empire” but a “Religion of Peace.” Yes, it was Obama who opted to arm and fund the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt — where a new sharia constitution has been imposed, women are thus reduced to a lower caste, and minority Christians are systematically persecuted. But it was Republicans who voted decisively to approve these measures.