By Robert Capehert
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on Chris Wallace’s Fox News’ Sunday show, fielding questions about whether someone like himself, who is to the left of President Obama on some issues, and to the right of Sen. Paul Ryan (R-Wi.) on others, would be electable.
Sen. Paul began by challenging the premise of the left-right paradigm. And in doing so, he explained Congress was 10 years behind the American people” on sundry issues.
This seems a bit confusing. Throughout history, the Democratic Party and Republican Party have not been consistent with one single, ideological position. Both parties have traded places when it comes to a variety of ism’s from progressivism to socialism, to various forms of liberalism. Republicans and Democrat’s traded progressivism back and forth in the early 20th Century, for instance. Following the Civil War, Democrat’s were both more socialistic in some senses—see William Jennings Bryan verses Theodore Roosevelt—but also, more faithful to Jeffersonian conceptions of localism and state’s rights, a constitutional idea, hence more “conservative” in the American parlance. As such, Republicans and Democrat’s have done things in the past inconsistent with a host of ideological philosophies—on the left, and on the right.
Republicans and Democrat’s have traded places throughout past generations with conceptions of a more faithful interpretation of 18th Century liberalism, and at other times, antithetical policies attenuating classical liberalism.
More important to comprehend, all of this has transpired not in a vacuum, but within a lived, active, history—where events have shaped actions, and changed ideological formulations toward policy.
Following World War I, conservative-leaning Americans were radically isolationist. And were made to eat crow when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. Such events created a whole new paradigm by which candidates for the presidency would be judged. Following World War II, conservatives built alliances of freedom-loving allies around the world—using American military prowess to prevent uprisings which history taught gave parturition to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
In the face of Soviet Communism and the Cold War—and following the Vietnam War morass—Democrat’s became a staunchly anti-war party, at the risk of flaccidness toward American security. In light of this walk-back, Republicans rebuilt a flagging U.S. Military under President Reagan—decimated by Carter administration and congressional neglect—but were restrained about using American power.
In consequence, neither party or its members have walked stark ideological lines. What can be said is, consistently understood; progressivism has no leg to stand on when defending civil liberties, since the collective of the state reigns supreme over individual life.
So a concern for civil liberties is a constitutional concern, a concern conservatives when consistent, always seek to conserve over the intrusive power of the state. When we turn to drug legalisation, while articulated on the left throughout Republican administrations, were always a main staple of the libertarian-right, and a host of constitutional conservatives.
Republicans and Democrat’s—Progressive’s and Conservatives, have all signed stiff drug penalty laws. I would argue prohibition itself would be inconsistent with a classical liberal view of people and society. But it is the progressive who is inconsistent when talking against prohibitionist legislation, historically.
The difference is, when leftists argue for drug legalisation—or any behaviour “not” good for people—their leftist progressivism does not “consistently” allow for such a stance. That is because unwanted behaviour must be eliminated if the state is to create the best citizenry. Individual expression and desire must be winnowed away. When conservatives and libertarians argue for drug legalisation, they are being ideologically consistent.
We might want to unpack all this as such: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is not to the left of Obama—or anyone else, but more consistently to the right of anyone—a more robust 18th Century liberal than either party has fielded, popularly, since Barry Goldwater walked the congressional hallways.
It would seem the left-right paradigm is still useful. So long as we understand its limits and so long as we understand neither party has always been the same ideologically understood—nor it’s members ideologically consistent.
Whether this makes Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky electable or unelectable?
Only time will tell.