By Uma Purushothaman*
Rand PaulIn the congested Republican Presidential nominee field, Rand Paul stands apart. Most polls show him as being the third favourite Republican nominee behind Jeb Bush and Ben Carson.
The son of Ron Paul, the Presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party in 1988, Rand Paul is currently a senator from Kentucky. What makes Rand Paul stand apart from the rest of the Republican field is his Libertarianism. Libertarianism is a political philosophy which holds that any person is free to live his/her life in the way he/she chooses to so long as they respect equally together people’s rights to do so as well. Libertarians believe in maximising individual rights while minimising the role of the state. The Libertarian Party in the US has not been able to make real inroads into American politics because of the nature of the electoral system.
But now thanks partly to Paul’s bid for the Republican nomination, Libertarianism has become popular in American politics again. Tens of millions of Americans today are fiscally conservative, socially tolerant and sceptical of American military intervention abroad. David Boaz attributes the spread of Libertarianism to two factors: the spread of Libertarian ideas and sentiments and the expansion of government during the Bush and Obama administrations, particularly the civil liberties abuses after 9/11 and the bailouts and out-of-control spending after the financial crisis. Paul also is a supporter of the Tea Party, which propagates minimum role for the government.
Paul has similar positions with the rest of the Republicans on economic issues and most social issues, advocating lower taxes and decreasing government spending. He is against abortion, except in cases where the woman’s health is at stake. He is not in favour of same sex marriage, preferring instead a marriage contract between same sex couples. He is against Affordable Care Act , suggesting that it has made insurance expensive and is taking away choice. But in contrast to many Republicans, he has been supportive of moderating the marijuana laws.
He opposes all gun control. Unlike some Republicans, he is openly critical of racial discrimination by law enforcement authorities and supports demilitarising the police. Writing on the Ferguson unrest for Time magazine, Paul said: “Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.” He also launched his campaign, talking at length about inner city poverty and pledging to repeal any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of colour”. This is a refreshing change from most establishment Republicans.
Rand Paul is in favour of immigration reform so long as it is coupled with increased border security. He is also against the deportation of immigrants who are not criminals.
He is a vehement critic of the Patriot Act. In fact, he has worked and campaigned against the NSA’s surveillance of telephone records, even carrying out a filibuster-like speech against it recently.
On foreign policy, Paul has a non interventionist stance, quite unlike that of the rest of the Republican field. He is not in favour of the US getting involved in any war unless as a last resort and then only if there is a credible and imminent threat. Also, he believes that as mandated by the US Constitution, wars must be authorised by the Congress.
Paul has strongly criticised the Iraq War describing it as a mistake and saying that if he had been a Senator when the war was voted on, he would have voted against it. Talking about the invasion of Iraq, he has said that “Each time we topple a secular dictator, I think we wind up with chaos, and radical Islam seems to rise.” He has blamed his own party for contributing to the rise of the ISIS by providing arms indiscriminately. He is against US troops on the ground against the ISS and wants Arab troops to take the lead in fighting it. Paul had also opposed US action in Syria even before the ISIS created its Caliphate. Though he supported US airstrikes against the ISIS, he was unhappy that Obama had gone ahead without a Congressional mandate on this. On US-Israel ties, he believes that it should be Israel’s prerogative to decide on how it defends itself and the US should not be advising Israel on this. He has been critical of Obama’s efforts to keep Iraq unified and has supported a separate homeland for the Kurds. He has been supportive of negotiations with Iran, unlike many Republicans, though he wants the deal to be approved by Congress.
He has called for reducing foreign aid, saying that the US should not donate to countries which are unfriendly to it and burn American flags. He has supported President Obama’s outreach towards Cuba. On the TPP and granting Obama the Trade Promotion Authority, which most Republicans have supported, Rand Paul voted against it citing lack of access to Congress of the full text of the mega Free Trade Agreement.
As he runs for the nomination, Paul has moderated some of his positions so that he is not branded an isolationist. He no longer wants steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget or complete elimination of foreign aid.
As Paul fights for the nomination, his biggest weakness may well be his Libertarianism—the perception that he is weak on national security. But with the growing Libertarian constituency and undecided voters, he might have more than a fair shot at securing the nomination. In any case, his refreshing, if unorthodox views, views have made the battle for the Republican nomination much more interesting.
* Uma Purushothaman is a Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi