Rand Paul: The rise and fall of Silicon Valley's Republican dream candidate
Over the past week or so, the mainstream media vultures have been circling Rand Paul’s campaign.
Editors are flogging their pundits and bloggers to get ahead of the next Scott Walker announcement so that no one looks like they were caught flatfooted. Journalists are supposed to look like they know more than you, after all—but they also travel in vulture flocks, or “committees” as they’re called in buzzardom, an apt word for the mindless follower-instincts of hackius maximus. And if you’re looking for the next candidate to drop out, vulture logic says it’s gotta be the candidate who fits the “Spectacular Rise & Fall” description better than anyone. And that of course means Rand Paul.
A year ago, Sen. Paul was the face of New York Times magazine’s cover story announcing America’s “Libertarian Moment”, declared “the most interesting man in politics” on the cover of Time magazine and in Politico magazine; named “The 2016 Republican Frontrunner” in both the Atlantic and US News & World Report; and a year earlier, in 2013, the WaPo called Sen. Paul “the most interesting man in the (political) world” while the New Republic flat-out annointed him “President Rand Paul”.
While wowing the media establishment elites, Senator Paul was positioning himself as the belle of the Big Tech billionaire donors’ ball. Among Valley heavyweights who either raised money for Paul or were reported to be in close talks with the candidate about financing his run: Larry Ellison, Sean Parker, Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale, PayPal Mafia’s Scott Banister, and former Cisco CEO John Chambers. Peter Thiel (a Pando investor) and Mark Zuckerberg were either close to committing, or helping line up other Rand Paul billionaire donors.
As I reported here on Pando, most of the Valley’s billionaires quietly and quickly abandoned Rand Paul’s campaign this past spring — along with Paul’s biggest sugar daddies of all, the Koch brothers. It turns out to have been a simple case of rats fleeing a doomed ship: Rand Paul’s campaign chiefs were indicted by the feds for fraud and conspiracy over their role in bribing an Iowa Tea Party politician to publicly back Ron Paul’s run for president in 2012 (Rand is using the same names, structures and donors as his pa, while the other side of his mouth derides crony capitalism). That criminal trial started yesterday, with Rand Paul’s former campaign chief and nephew-in-law, Jesse Benton, standing trial for lying to the FBI—and reports say Ron Paul will be called to the stand.
That’s the obvious reason why the big donors backed away from Rand Paul’s campaign—it’s run by indicted alleged criminals under the Paul family’s protection.
But the media has been curiously ignoring what a corrupt shitshow their favorite candidate leads, instead framing Rand Paul’s flameout as a consequence of his alleged Libertarian apostasy. In other words, it’s not the media’s fault for screwing up by selling a corrupt hack as “the most interesting man in politics” and heralding “The Libertarian Moment”—it’s Rand Paul’s fault for not staying true to the alleged libertarian ideals that the media was so ga-ga over.
There’s nothing all that unusual about this strategy of blaming an ideological candidate’s failure to protect the brand, the Faith, the Party....
For instance, in 2006, when every conservative and their dog finally understood what a catastrophic disaster Dubya’s presidency was for the conservative brand, Bush's former supporters released a flood of propaganda claiming that he failed because he’d abandoned true conservative politics, not because of those very politics. Among Bush’s onetime supporters who described Bush's failures as a consequence of his abandoning the conservative faith: George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist, Jonah Goldberg, and even Glenn Greenwald, who, after admitting in 2006 that he’d supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq, followed up with an entire book arguing Bush’s politics were “far from conservative,” attributing Bush’s failures to having “violated every claimed tenet of conservatism.” I saw the same thing happen when Boris Yeltsin’s presidency collapsed in complete failure—overnight the same hero of democracy and free market reforms was denounced by the same pundits, hacks and free-market faithful for failing to implement “true” market reforms.
This narrative framing of Rand Paul’s failure — he’s being punished by the gods of libertarianism for straying from the true faith — is needed to protect the libertarian brand. And it’s an incredibly valuable brand to those who have invested in the movement, from the Kochs to Valley libertarians. It’s particularly valuable in progressive Silicon Valley because libertarianism is the only strain of right-wing politics to market itself as more progressive than progressives on issues like drug legalization, gay marriage, ending wars and the empire, and protecting our privacies. As I’ll show, libertarians aren’t nearly as progressive on these issues as their marketing campaigns and pitchmen have claimed. In fact, libertarians are pretty much what Rand Paul stands for, and his policies are almost totally identical to those of his father Ron—who himself used to come under attack as insufficiently libertarian for supporting some of the biggest and most dangerous military boondoggles in US history, supporting military intervention in Central America, criminalizing leaks of CIA secrets, promoting a hard-right Christian agenda, and so on.
So if we’re going to do a true postmortem here on Rand Paul, we need to dispense with the libertarian fluff meant for mass consumption, and do an honest autopsy. Let’s start with what libertarianism, and the Rand/Ron Paul political dynasty, offers the rich Silicon Valley donor.
“libertarianism is good because it helps conservatives pass off a patently pro-business political agenda as a noble bid for human freedom.”
As I’ve written before, the biggest threat which Big Tech faces is antitrust law, and the antitrust regulatory apparatus. Anti-monopoly politics was long a traditional feature of American politics and mainstream ideology. Republicans under Teddy Roosevelt and Taft first started busting the trusts; and it was Woodrow Wilson who signed the Federal Trade Commission and the Clayton Antitrust Act into law. The purpose was to fight “coercive monopolies” and anticompetitive private power. Antitrust was bipartisan, and both parties carried on anti-monopoly politics up through the Reagan years, when not only were antitrust policies gutted and abandoned, but even when used — such as Clinton’s antitrust suit against Microsoft, probably the biggest and most consequential antitrust action of the past few decades — the Administration went out of its way to completely de-politicize the action, keeping Microsoft an isolated, technocratic case rather than using it as a way to reignite the national tradition of anti-monopoly politics.
As a rule, both parties have become reluctant to use antitrust except as a technocratic tool to reset an overweening imbalance; and whereas anti-monopoly politics used to be about protecting farmers, producers, small businessmen and the like, in our neoliberal era, antitrust is narrowly applied to protecting consumers — with the exception of the landmark Techtopus antitrust suit that recently busted up Big Tech’s wage-fixing conspiracy.
Google, Amazon, and Apple are among the big-name firms that have been fighting the Obama Administration’s tepid (by pre-Reagan standards) but costly antitrust actions. Facebook/Palantir billionaire Peter Thiel, a libertarian and Paul backer, recently set tongues to wagging by arguing in favor of monopoly, and against Silicon Valley cant about the cult of innovation. To some it seemed that Thiel was just being his outrageous contrarian self; but in fact, he was invoking the classic laissez-faire principles of robber barons like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan as they consolidated their industries and their power.
Which brings me to Ron Paul’s incredible speech in defense of Microsoft and monopoly in 1999, in the heat of the Clinton Administration’s antitrust suit, while pushing his pet legislation: Abolishing all antitrust laws and regulations, the FTC, and anything that holds back private monopolies from expanding their empires – supplicating to the John Galts and Bill Gateses of America:
“Mr. Speaker, by now, the Microsoft antitrust case should have caught every Member's attention. This is a good time for Congress to reassess the antitrust laws.
“...There is nothing more annoying than a government bureaucrat or Federal judge gleefully condemning a productive, enterprising capitalist for doing a good job. These little men filled with envy are capable of producing nothing and are motivated by their own inadequacies and desires to wield authority against men of talent.
“Judge Jackson condemned Microsoft for being a `vigorous protector of its own self-interests.' Now this is to be a crime in America. To care for oneself and do what corporations are supposed to do, that is, maximize profits for stockholders by making customers happy, is the great crime committed in the Microsoft case.
“Blind to the fact that there is no conflict between the self-interest of a capitalist and the consumers' best interests, the trust-busters go their merry way without a complaint from the Congress which could change these laws.
“Only blind resentment drives the economic planners and condemns business success, good products, low prices, and consumer satisfaction while undermining the system that has provided so much for so many.
“We should then suppress the envy which drives the anticapitalist mentality.
“The Bill Gateses of the world can only invest their money in job-creating projects or donate it to help the needy. The entrepreneurial giants are not a threat to stability or prosperity. Government bureaucrats and Federal judges are. But strict enforcement of all the ill-inspired antitrust laws does not serve the consumer, nor the cause of liberty.”
It was as though Ron Paul had spent all of 1999 locked in a bird cage in Gates Gulch, volunteered for some bizarre macaw brain transplant experiment, only to be shooed out in November onto the House floor to frighten and distract everyone with his Gates-worshipping macaw-chitter.
This is the real Ron Paul, and the real libertarianism — the meat and potatoes that rarely gets fed to the pro-pot/antiwar college kids, but gets circulated around the corporate lobbying offices bigtime. Gutting antitrust and freeing up private monopolies is foundational doctrine for libertarians.
Fast-forward to 2013, and Apple is now the Big Tech behemoth, with the largest market capitalization (equal to the total GDP of countries like Switzerland or Turkey) —and largest cash reserves—of any company on earth. Apple was also exposed as one of America’s worst tax evaders, costing the government billions through shady offshore tax avoidance schemes. As senators on both sides of the aisle railed against Apple for damaging the country’s treasury, Rand Paul took the opportunity to declare his outrage … at the elected representatives of the people for daring to criticize a powerful private government like Apple:
“I frankly think the committee should apologize to Apple.
“I am offended by a government that uses the IRS to bully groups such as the Tea Party but I am also offended by a government that convenes a hearing to bully one of America’s success stories.
“If anyone should be on trial here, it should be Congress.”
Along with antitrust laws, taxes top the concerns of Big Tech titans. Rand Paul wants to scrap the tax code entirely and replace it with a regressive national flat tax — just like his father, who proposed a number of constitutional amendments outlawing the income tax, and replacing it with a regressive flat tax...
Just a few hours after Paul gave this speech in defense of poor Apple, he held a fundraiser dinner co-hosted by Google NetPAC; and a week after that, Rand Paul was in Silicon Valley meeting with potential billionaire donors.
According to Fortune, he was “met with a hero’s welcome.”
By this time, Senator Paul had already introduced the Orwellian named “Anti-Trust Freedom Act of 2012” and the “Anti-Trust Freedom Act of 2013”—bills abolishing just about every historic antitrust law. As the Antitrust Institute described it, “Cartels, for example, would be legalized and private rights to damages for overcharges eliminated. Mergers to monopoly and near-monopoly would be legalized.” It was almost a carbon copy of his father’s many attempts to repeal all antitrust laws going back to the Sherman Antitrust Act—which was used to break up the Techtopus wage-theft cartel.
Ron Paul: Advocate for military intervention
So now we know why Rand Paul was almost the Silicon Valley billionaires’ favorite, before his campaign chiefs and SuperPAC managers were rounded up by the FBI. On these and many other pro-business issues, the Pauls and the libertarian movement are extremists for capitalism and for protecting the interests of the one percent.
But what about the headline-grabbing platforms that libertarians managed to claim as their own — anti-interventionist, anti-war, pro-legalization of drugs, pro-privacy?
When Rand Paul gets attacked for allegedly turning his back on libertarianism, his critics point to his hawkish opposition to Obama’s historic agreement with Iran; and to Rand Paul’s kickoff campaign promise to boost defense spending by nearly $200 billion in the next two years. Those who accuse Rand Paul of apostasy contrast this with his father, whom, they (falsely) claim, was always a principled anti-interventionist, always against wasteful military spending, and never shifted his positions and principles the way his son apparently has.
Now for a reality check: Ron Paul’s inconsistent, at times incredibly hawkish positions on military interventions and military spending.
The most shocking, damning bit of recovered Ron Paul history I've come across is that in June 1979, as Nicaragua’s brutal dictatorship under Somoza was losing its grip on power to leftwing Sandinista guerrillas and a popular national uprising, Ron Paul signed an open letter with dozens of rightwing Congressmen calling on President Carter to intervene militarily in Nicaragua to prop up the dictator and suppress the leftist uprising. The open letter signed by Rep. Paul was published as a full-page ad in the New York Times. At the time, it shocked and alienated some of the true-believer libertarian activists, people like Milton Mueller, then editor of the Libertarian Review, these days a leading figure in the Internet governance community and professor at Syracuse.
Back in 1979, Mueller described Ron Paul’s open call for military intervention into Nicaragua “disgraceful,” writing,
“Representative Paul is not consistently libertarian on foreign policy issues. He is to be commended for his stand on troop withdrawals. But his signature on a full-page ad calling for U.S. intervention in Nicaragua is, frankly, disgraceful.”
The ad that Ron Paul signed onto is classic far-right, reactionary Republican militarism. A “principled” Ron Paul would’ve been more supportive of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, which by American presidential standards is the least interventionist presidency of the Cold War, if not the entire 20th century (the Harding-Coolidge years were a litany of gunboat diplomacy Marines and Navy interventions all across the globe, from Turkey to China and points in between).
The full page ad appeared in the Times on June 18, 1979, on page A15. It shows a big left arm reaching down from Cuba, stabbing Nicaragua with the sharp end of a sickle, blood pouring down from Nicaragua’s communist wound. The headline: “CONGRESS ASKS: PLEASE, MR. PRESIDENT, NOT ANOTHER CUBA!”
The letter reads,
“Your continued inaction and lack of support for the Nicaraguan people and their legal government headed by President Somoza would condemn them to the same systematic totalitarianism which has denied the Cuban people their basic human rights for two decades.
“The result has been greatly increased terrorist activities in Central America and disturbing political developments in a number of Caribbean nations.
“If the United States takes no action to thwart encroachment by Soviet surrogates in Central America, we will shortly find that the Soviet Union will control an area bordering on two oceans stretching from Panama to the vast oil reserves of Mexico.
“Therefore we urge you to:
--Stop the influx of weapons and logistical support to the Nicaraguan revolutionaries from Cuba and Panama;
--Stop the use of Costa Rican territory as a staging area for Nicaraguan revolutionary terrorists; and
--As a signal to the Free World that the United States continues to support its allies against Soviet-baked aggression, restore U.S. military aid programs to Nicaragua.”
Two days after Ron Paul’s call for American military intervention on behalf of Somoza, a member of Somoza’s private militia, the National Guard, was caught on film forcing an ABC News cameraman to lie on the ground face down, and was executed with a point-blank shot to his ear. Film of the execution was played on TV news nonstop for days. That clip sure as hell burned itself into my nightmares as a 13-year-old news-junkie. As soon as it aired in the US, Carter was forced to denounce Somoza’s regime, and the dictator fled to Miami for good a month later.
Paul fully supported the inane reasoning behind Reagan’s shameful invasion of Grenada a few years later in 1983, explaining,
“It now appears that there were troops and advisers in Grenada from Libya, Cuba, Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, East Germany and North Korea...If that is the case, I fail to see how anyone can believe that Grenada posed no threat to our well-being.”
In this century, after the attacks on 9/11, Ron Paul voted in favor of Bush’s AUMF—the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. The only person in Congress to vote against the AUMF was Oakland’s progressive representative, Barbara Lee, and Ron Paul hasn’t forgiven her for making him look bad. Earlier this year Ron Paul let his inner racist out of the bag, telling an interviewer that Rep. Lee and her black progressive colleagues opposed war only to divert the money into food stamp programs for their lazy black constituents.
In the laundry list of hypocritical votes that “principled libertarian” Ron Paul cast over the years, nothing is as damning as his vote for the AUMF. It should be one of those votes that ruined his brand for good, but he’s never held to account for it by his biggest boosters, who should know better. By voting for the AUMF, Ron Paul made himself a direct accessory to nearly all of the worst crimes of both the Bush and Obama administrations that he’s campaigned against.
The AUMF is the legal justification for everything from drone wars and targeted assassinations to bombing ISIS and torturing enemy combatants.
Here is a partial list of policies under presidents Bush and Obama given legal justification by the Ron Paul-supported 2001 AUMF law:
- targeted drone assassinations, including targeted assassinations of American citizens beginning with the first assassination of an American in Yemen, Kamal Derwish, in 2002, and carrying on through the Obama Administration;
- detention of “unlawful enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay and “black sites” across the world;
- using military tribunals to try Guantanamo Bay detainees;
- Obama’s ongoing bombing campaign against ISIS;
- the arrest of American citizen Jose Padilla as an “unlawful combatant” on US soil and transfer to a military prison without due process;
- use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e. torture) on suspected terrorists;
- the NSA’s warrantless bulk surveillance program, first exposed in late 2005 in the New York Times and confirmed in 2013 in leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden
This is it: The laundry list of everything libertarians and their pitchmen have been telling us is wrong with the country, that only a “principled libertarian” like Ron Paul could fix. It was voted into law by none other than Ron Paul. Indeed the AUMF was intentionally written with all of these policies in mind, according to one of the law’s authors, John Yoo.
Kennedy Truth Squad
It keeps getting uglier in a grim, familiar far-right sort of way, with every layer you scrape off the Ron Paul myth, exposing the actual record. Not only did he support military intervention in Nicaragua, he also railed against giving Panama back its canal, insisting America keep its imperial land grab right up through 1999, long after all the other right-wingers had given up.
Dr. Paul also volunteered his name to a far-right smear campaign called “The Kennedy Truth Squad,” one of a series of smear campaigns set up by the notorious Republican dirty ops sadist Terry Dolan (a vicious homophobe who died of AIDS in the late Reagan years). Ron Paul’s “Kennedy Truth Squad” was one of a series of smear operations targeting liberal peace candidates including George McGovern, Frank Church (of the Church Committee), and Ted Kennedy.
Newspaper ads from Ron Paul’s “Kennedy Truth Squad” attacked Teddy from the pro-war right, calling him,
“the most anti-defense member of the Senate. You favored the Panama Canal Treaties, SALT, and establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.”
The Ron Paul group’s fundraising mailer called on “patriots” to “warn our fellow Americans about Edward Kennedy’s disarmament record”:
“As the Russian menace grows, Senator Edward Kennedy lends his powerful voice to the Liberals’ SALT II chorus.”
But the most stunning line of attack that Ron Paul agreed to put his name on was the group’s accusation that Teddy Kennedy was making it difficult for the FBI to break into Americans’ homes and spy on us, thereby making us vulnerable:
“And here at home Jimmy Carter and Kennedy have joined forces on a new FBI Charter that all but eliminates effective spying on terrorists and foreign agents.
“If this Kennedy-Carter plan becomes law, most break-ins by our FBI agents could be treated like any felony. How much longer can our nation survive if the FBI’s work becomes a crime?”
As the Associated Press reported, in late 1979,
“Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a member of the squad, said it would expose Kennedy policies ‘which if they are pushed, we believe, will ruin America.’”
And so Ron Paul, according to the group’s mailer, was to travel America to warn of Ted Kennedy’s dangerous plan to keep the FBI from breaking into everyone’s homes, and to sign disarmament treaties with commies:
“We’re ready to warn the nation. Leading Congressmen like Ron Paul from Texas, and Bill Royer from California are scheduling news conferences and speaking tours.”
Ron Paul’s “Kennedy Truth Squad” was just one of a cluster of right-wing campaigns run by Terry Dolan in the late Carter years. Other campaigns affiliated with the smear operation succeeded in destroying Sen. Frank Church of the Church Committee hearings fame, the one politician who came closest to reining in America’s Cold War intelligence agencies and violent covert operations; and they ended the Senate career of peace candidate George McGovern, spending millions on red-baiting TV ads accusing McGovern of “touring Cuba with Fidel Castro while the energy crisis was brewing,” and a series of scare-ads showing an empty missile silo, with a voice-over darkly warning: “Senator Church has always opposed a strong national defense.”
Those are Ron Paul’s people. That is the extent of his “principled” commitment to fighting the US empire and surveillance apparatus.
Why would Ron Paul’s son take such a hard, suspicious line against Iran, when his father, we’re told, was so reasonable?
Answer: Because his father was an Iranophobic bigot.
Four days after Iranian students seized the US Embassy and took 50 American hostages, Rep. Ron Paul exploited the white-hot anti-Iranian anger by introducing a piece of legislation called “The Iranian Student Expulsion Act”. Dr. Paul’s proposed law would cut off all federal funding to any American higher education institution that allowed Iranian students to enroll.
Next, Rep. Paul co-sponsored a bill expropriating Iranian assets and handing the money to the families of the US hostages.
Shortly after proposing the mass expulsion of all Iranian students from America, Rep. Paul published an editorial attacking Jimmy Carter as a weakling who was selling out the US Empire, once again whining about his pet piece of imperial booty, the Panama Canal:
“Why do we succumb to the threats of a Torrijos, give away our canal, and then pay the Panamanians to take it?
“Why do we engage in wars like Korea and Vietnam on the other side of the world, and allow Communist conquest 90 miles from our shores?
“Why do we put up with the Iranian takeover of our Embassy while continuing to subsidize Iranian students here, train Iranian pilots, allow Iranians to receive welfare and then watch as our guests condemn America in daily demonstrations?”
Rep. Paul also found a way to merge the national anti-Iranian fever with one of his greatest political dreams: Abolishing Social Security and welfare. Barely a month after the hostages were taken, Rep. Paul claimed that an anonymous “whistleblower” from the Social Security Administration told him that “9,000 Iranians are receiving Supplemental Security Income checks from Uncle Sam.” Foreshadowing Ronald Reagan’s mythical welfare queens, Ron Paul claimed that among the thousands of Iranian nationals drawing welfare checks were “an elderly couple who own a $200,000 house near Washington, a $30,000 condominium in Maryland, and have a $12,000 savings account at a Washington bank.”
Rep. Paul tried capitalizing on his fake hysteria about Iranian welfare queens to introduce a law—co-sponsored with Larry McDonald, head of the John Birch Society—that would abolish welfare to non-US citizens.
My Country For a Spook
Like Carly Fiorina today, in 1983, Ron Paul recommended immediately halting all negotiations and talks with the Soviet Union after they accidentally shot down a passenger plane that had accidentally strayed over Soviet airspace. The reason why Rep. Paul wanted to cut off all talks and risk war was because one of the jet passengers was his good friend: John Birch Society president Larry McDonald.
Dr. Paul’s libertarian answer to a dangerous series of accidents was laid out in his op-ed headlined, “What To Do? End All Negotiations” in which Paul called on President Reagan to “recognize the Soviets for what they are — ruthless murderers who cannot be trusted,” and therefore to “end all negotiations with the Soviets, and reduce diplomatic relations to a bare minimum.”
All this over a loathsome crypto-fascist spook, Larry McDonald, who co-founded a Red-baiting private intelligence group, called “Western Goals,” which as the press described it, “spied on just about everyone.”
If Ron Paul was president at the time, we might not be here today, all on account of a Georgia reactionary freak who kept files on millions of Americans.
Treaties are for suckers
Rand Paul’s opposition to the Iran deal shocked and angered his libertarian true-believers, who argued that Rand was betraying his father’s legacy. That’s if you didn’t know his actual record—which was a record of opposing all treaties with countries you disagree with, period.
Ron Paul made it clear he opposed all treaties, but particularly treaties with hostile powers. That’s why Ron Paul was so opposed to the SALT I and SALT II nuclear arms reduction treaties that he threw his support behind Ronald Reagan’s run in 1976. President Ford was a detente president who initially oversaw the winding down of the American empire and the military budget; Reagan ran on ramping up both the Cold War and a 30% boost in the military budget, and in 1976, Ron Paul threw everything he had behind Reagan’s hawkish challenge to Ford.
Dr. Paul panic-mongered against the SALT arms reduction treaties, claiming they would “probably lead to permanent US weakness and make the Soviet Union the undisputed military superpower in the world.”
A few years later, Dr. Paul offered this paranoid Cold War explanation for why he opposed all such treaties:
“Just the fact of negotiating and signing treaties is illogical, in my estimation, and seems even more so when you think about the people with whom you are negotiating. Communist dictators don't believe in truth; truth to them is relative. It's determined by the State. So it seems at best unwise to think that the Soviets understand such treaty negotiations on your terms. The purpose of a foreign policy is to provide a national defense. Period.”
The Biggest & Most Dangerous US Military Boondoggle
While Ron Paul spent the '70s and '80s railing against disarmament treaties with the Soviets, he also stood out as one of the earliest and biggest promoters of Star Wars — the single biggest military boondoggle in Pentagon history. The “missile defense shield” drained tens of billions of dollars out of the federal treasury and into some of Ron Paul’s donors pockets in Houston, the district he represented in those days. Of course, the phony missile shield never worked, but it remained the centerpiece of Ron Paul’s libertarian military strategy.
In 1983, well after Reagan’s defense budgets had already doubled and tripled the federal government deficit, Reagan announced his Ron Paul-backed “Star Wars” missile defense boondoggle. That same year, Paul joined the leading “Star Wars” lobby group along with a bunch of ex-military generals. Never mind that America’s budget deficit soared in those first few years under Reagan—Ron Paul insisted we needed to spend tens of billions more chasing the Star Wars monkey, even if it only meant fattening up defense contractors with mega-billions more in tax dollar money.
How is Rand Paul’s announcement that he would boost defense spending by another $190 billion over two years any less libertarian?
Both have proposed federal right-to-work laws which would outlaw a corporation’s right to enter into a closed-shop agreement with a union—not that this would be twisting corporations’ arms, but it does go against the alleged “principle” of libertarianism by using federal government coercion to impose labor relations. They want to privatize Social Security and Medicare, abolish all social welfare and food stamp programs, abolish government funding for public schools, abolish all environmental laws, national parks and forests, endangered species protections, fuel emissions laws, civil rights laws and laws against racial and sexual discrimination...
What Is A “Real Libertarian”?
So the question we have to return to is: What is a “real libertarian”? The long and short of it: Originally, in the 19th century, “Libertarianism” meant socialist-anarchists or anti-state socialists in the workers’ movement in Europe. The word “libertarianism” was appropriated by a big business lobby group set up at the start of the Cold War, the Foundation for Economic Education, regarded by libertarians as the founding organization of the libertarian movement . . . but which a 1950 House committee investigation into illegal lobbying activities described as the most well-funded Big Business lobbying front that America had ever seen, backed by a who’s who of the Fortune 500. The FEE Big Business “libertarians” appropriated the word from the radical left, and turned the meaning on its head so that liberty would mean freedom from labor unions, government regulations, taxes, democracy, and basically anyone not rich.
I’m not much of a Chomsky citer, but the professor’s glib description of the twisted genealogy of American libertarianism is worth quoting:
“Remember that the United States is out of the world on this type of thing. Britain is to a limited extent, but the United States is on Mars. So here, the term 'libertarian' means the opposite of what it always meant in history. 'Libertarian' throughout European history meant 'socialist-anarchist.' The worker's movement—the socialist movement—sort of broke into two branches, one statist, one anti-statist. The statist branch led to Bolshevism and Lenin and Trotsky and so on; the anti-statist branch, which included left-Marxists like Rosa Luxemburg, kind of merged with a big strain of anarchism into what was called 'libertarian socialism.' So 'libertarian' in Europe always meant 'socialist.' Here, it means ultra-Ayn Rand or Cato Institute or something like that. But that's a special US usage having to do with the—there are a lot of things special here."
So you see, already we have a big problem when anyone here starts talking about who’s a “real libertarian” and who isn’t, when all the libertarian candidates and ideologues they reference are anti-socialist, anti-labor to their core.
It’s not a paradox; it’s more like contrarianism ad absurdum.
But there are some impressive, adaptable features to libertarianism that suggest where it might be headed. In one sense, it is entirely consistent—pro-business, pro-wealthy politics taken to logical extremes in ways that standard conservatives don’t. The flexibility comes in what libertarians emphasize—the batshit rightwing agenda, which is most of the program—or the quasi-left side of libertarianism, which allows them not just to co-opt young activists and progressives to their ranks, but more importantly, to allow billionaires from heavily progressive regions to give to far-right pro-business candidates and front groups, while maintaining the appearance of financing a pro-pot, anti-war leftist politics.
Emphasizing the left side of libertarianism became a priority when Bush ruined the conservative brand in 2005-6. After that, you suddenly saw the activation of libertarianism’s left flank, and Ron Paul, who’d been lurking the halls of Washington power for decades like the Ghost of Confederates Past, found himself suddenly transformed into a pro-pot antiwar hero, the George McGovern for Millennials. (If George McGovern was actually a sleazy, far-right, war-mongering racist corporate whore, that is.)
What we’re seeing now is the political environment rapidly transforming—now that the Bush catastrophe is safely forgotten and no longer acutely embarrassing, the Republicans’ primary voting base is revealing itself to be in a far more radical-rightwing mood than it has been in memory, backing only the meanest, most vicious, racist bigots in the race. Rand Paul’s libertarian schtick isn’t flying. It’s not novel-sounding the way Ron Paul sounded in 2008; it’s not contrarian, not after all those years of overexposure to Ron Paul’s bug-eyed wheedling. The base doesn’t care about NSA spying or overseas military adventures the way they sort of pretended to—they just don’t want a black Muslim socialist leading the imperial machine, that’s all. So there’s really no interest anymore in the left side of the libertarian brand.
Meanwhile the outreach to progressives never went much deeper than the celebrity leftists who spent years tirelessly promoting Ron and Rand Paul—Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Wolff, Julian Assange, Daily Show hosts...To everyone’s surprise this year, Democrats, liberals and leftists are swooning over an old socialist—something the Democrats wouldn’t be caught dead doing during the Cold War, or the Clinton Era, or….
What the Bernie Sanders phenomenon means for the libertarian project is that it’s making it harder for libertarians to redefine progressivism in a way that blurs the line between the right- and left-wing ends of libertarianism’s politics, because Sanders focuses almost exclusively on economic issues: on inequality, on wealth redistribution, on fighting against the coercive power of billionaires and corporations over the rest of us, and so on. The mainstreaming of soft socialism, in our era of unprecedented wealth inequality and downward mobility, means that libertarians may have to move back to their far-right base to maintain influence.
These are strange times, in which coherent politics are totally lacking, everything is in flux, and everything is potentially up for grabs. As always, the best organized and funded stand the best chance. But things are so volatile and unstable that some political coherence combined with charisma could upend everything in ways we can’t imagine.
As for the libertarianism’s left-feint, it looks like it’s going back into hibernation soon, just as it did after Reagan took power, and the Kochs shut down the left-feinting version of libertarianism they’d built up in the '70s, in favor of far-right libertarianism that dominated and integrated into the GOP establishment in the 1980s and 1990s, up through Bush’s presidency.
In that case, we should expect to hear a lot more from Rand Paul about his homophobia, his opposition to abortion and his opposition to Civil Rights laws; his opposition to legalizing drugs; his support for using drones to kill American criminals who rob $50 dollars from liquor stores; his plans to build a massive hi-tech underground electrified fence/helicopter base on the border with Mexico; his declaration of war on ISIS, his Christian fundamentalism, his extremist pro-gun positions, and so on.
The libertarian for that right-swing is already in place: Ted Cruz. The question for Silicon Valley billionaires is: How can they support a Ted Cruz, and not look like total assholes back home?