Saturday, September 19, 2015

The “libertarian moment” was lost. It wasn’t necessarily Rand Paul who lost it

You don't have to agree with all or even most of Senator Rand Paul’s brand of libertarianism to concede that his candidacy once held so much promise.

Paul entered the race buoyed by what seemed like a burgeoning libertarian moment. From the conduct of the global war on terrorism to massive comprehensive reform packages, American political culture had grown suspicious of the federal government’s ability to avert the unforeseen negative consequences of its good intentions. For several weeks in the summer of 2014, Rand Paul led a field of nine prospective Republican presidential candidates in the polls. It was a reflection of the resonance of his message. Then came the crisis in the Middle East, the rise of ISIS, the lone wolf terror attacks, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese provocations in the South China Sea, and the polls that showed Americans had again warmed to putting American ground troops back in into combat in Iraq....

More Americans were rejecting the war on drugs as a failure and a waste of taxpayer investment. Some states and municipalities had gone so far as to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, directly challenging the supremacy of federal laws prohibiting its use. On the right, outspoken libertarian news outlets and television hosts were gaining not only acceptance but also popularity. If the libertarian preference for U.S. military retrenchment abroad had fallen out of favor, its social and economic prescriptions had not. A Pew Research Center survey from August of 2014 found that, more than any other age demographic, young people were the most likely to describe themselves as “libertarian.” The future for the movement seemed bright.

But the “libertarian moment” was lost. It wasn’t necessarily Rand Paul who lost it, but he did not put a halt to the ideology’s fall from grace. Paul’s performance in Wednesday night’s Republican debate exemplifies the extent to which his presidential bid has evolved from a crusade to advance a set of programs into an ego-fueled campaign to sacrifice himself in service to an unpopular and irresponsible set of foreign policy preferences....

The tragedy of Rand Paul’s campaign is that it promised not a new direction for the Republican Party but a return to a commitment to small government that it has largely abandoned in all but rhetoric for nearly a century. Paul’s talents as a politician are obvious, but hubris has led him to fight a quixotic battle and to martyr himself upon the ground where his father fought and lost a similar battle for the soul of the GOP.