Saturday, May 22, 2010

It's A Rand New Day

In the "be careful what you wish for" category, Rand Paul is now the Republican candidate for Senate in Kentucky.

First, let me say that I like Rand Paul.  I like people who mean what they say and say what they mean.  Rand Paul strikes me as a thoughtful and sincere man of conviction,  I don't need to agree with him to respect him.  For that matter, I have a lot more respect for him than I do for Paul Begala and the DSCC, from whom I received a fundraising letter telling me that all I need to know about Rand Paul is that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin love him.

As you would expect from anyone named after Ayn Rand, Rand Paul is a libertarian.  He believes in a very limited role for government.  And since his nomination he has said a couple of things that have gotten a lot of attention.

First, he has said that the Federal government should not be involved in requiring small businesses to conduct their affairs in a non-discriminatory manner.  He believes in the Civil Rights Act, he believes in the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, and while he believes the government does have a role in eliminating institutional racism he does not think that it is government's role to meddle in the affairs of private business.

Truth be told, I'm not sure why this has gotten so much attention.  This is pretty much libertarianism 101.  But my guess is that race is a very big issue in the tea party movement; that the press has been aching to talk about the racist overtones of the "Take back our country" mantra of the tea party (i.e., take back our country from that black guy those liberals elected); and that Rand Paul has opened the door for this discussion by publicly speaking about civil rights.

I do not believe that Rand Paul is a racist.  I take him at his word that he believes that the Federal government should play a limited role.  Just as I believe that the Federal government should play a more expansive role.  I think the Federal government should make sure that every American has the same access to the same privileges.  Which means a woman in any state should be able to get an abortion if that is her choice; that a person of any color or sexual orientation should be able to walk into any business establishment anywhere in the country and get the same level of service; and that all children should have access to the same quality education.  I believe government should level the playing field and Rand Paul believes that the marketplace should level the playing field.

As I was thinking about Mr. Paul's views, I found myself wondering what his views were on the oil leak fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico.  He wants business to operate free from government interference to the greatest extent possible; but here is a business that has created a huge problem.  Mr. Paul was quoted as saying that he had heard nothing from BP to indicate that it wouldn't pay for the spill; and that he thought President Obama was putting his boot heel to the neck of BP.

Says Mr. Paul:  "And I think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be somebody's fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen. . . .We had a mining accident that was very tragic. . . .Then we come in and it's always somebody's fault.  Maybe sometimes accidents happen."

Here, now, I do start to lose a little respect for Mr. Paul's position.  First, he's talking about BP as if it's a person with a neck.  And describing the President as using his boot heel as a weapon has a totalitarian connotation -- a suggestion of the merger of the military and the state. Military dictators use their boot heels the way Mr. Paul describes President Obama's actions.  OK, fine, I'll say it, it sounds like a reference to the black power movement of the 60s and 70s.  It's just an unfortunate word choice.

Second, as I tell my 6 year old daughter, accidents are when something unexpected happens.  But when you are doing something you are not supposed to be doing and something bad happens, that's not an accident, that's an inevitability.  So when you are operating a mine and you refuse to follow safety suggestions from people whose job it is to keep mines safe, and then the mine explodes, that's not an accident.  And when you operate an off-shore drill assembly and you fail to properly close off an undersea oil well and you use faulty fail-safe equipment without properly testing it and you use a chemical to clean up the mess that is too toxic and inefficient and the result is the biggest environmental mishap in the history of the country, that's not an accident.

But most importantly is this belief that somehow BP is going to pay for the destruction of an ecosystem.  Like you can buy an ecosystem.  Ecosystems are not bought and sold; they are created and destroyed.

And still, I have to say I respect Rand Paul.  I disagree with him fundamentally on the proper role of government, I think he is blessed with a lead tongue on racial issues, but I respect the hell out of his honesty and straightforwardness.  What you see (and hear) is what you get.  I wish more politicians were like that.

So, here in New Jersey, what can we learn from Rand Paul?  That when our Governor says he is going to shrink government, he's really talking about getting government off the necks of businesses so they will be free to make mistakes that they cannot fix.  That he is going to stop the State from leveling the playing field.  And that he is going to make us all free to fail.

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