Saturday, June 5, 2010

Defending Rand Paul (I) Lanny Davis

For two weeks now I have been following the flap over Rand Paul's interview with Rachel Maddow on Title II of the Civil Rights Act, making copious notes and getting little writing done. It just occurred to me that the TPA blog is the ideal place to put those notes: this is the place for rougher, immediate commentary, with the more polished, detailed work still appearing on the Nolan Chart pages.

One encouraging sign is those few voices, mostly drowned out in the widespread chorus of vilification but breaking through from time to time, that have been raised in Dr. Paul's defence. Not only his supporters, but some of his erstwhile political opponents have spoken up.

One early piece out was by former Clinton aide Lanny Davis, in a column called "The Paul-Maddow Interview: A Liberal's Second Thoughts" reprinted in both The Hill  and The Daily Caller.  Davis says that, while initially he enjoyed "the media and political piling-on of Paul," after a while he became uncomfortable with it and decided to do his own research. Which led him to the Libertarian Party platform, from which he quotes, “property rights are entitled to the same protection as all other human rights. The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference,” as the root of Paul's opposition to Title II.

Davis also explains Paul's apparent contradiction -- his later statement that he would have voted for the Act, and supports it today -- by quoting from the platform section on racism: "We condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant. Government should not deny or abridge any individual’s rights based on sex, wealth, race, color, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference or sexual orientation.”

Davis gets some factual points wrong. For one thing, he calls Paul's father Ron the 2008 Libertarian presidential nominee (Paul ran for the Republican nomination that year; he was the Libertarian nominee in 1988.) For another, based on the LP platform, Davis concludes that Paul is pro-choice, when in fact, as a good Republican, he wants abortion almost completely outlawed. However, the article is a good one on balance which makes its points effectively. As well, it appears to have been influential: media commentary by and large has shifted from labelling Paul a racist and even a Klansman, to calling him a libertarian, and I conjecture Davis's article had much to do with that.

It is certainly worth noting, and quoting at length, Davis's conclusion: 
We liberals can and should strongly disagree with Rand Paul and libertarians on the positions they take on various issues, especially their belief in the lack of governmental power to ensure racial and economic justice in this country. But mocking him and trivializing a man who is so intellectually honest in applying his libertarian principles does not feel right to me anymore.
Maybe too many of us have grown so cynical with today’s political culture that we have a hard time coping with, much less believing in, someone who is running for political office who is actually authentic and sincere, even if it means he or she is taking positions that offend, at times, both the left and the right.

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