Rand Paul's Anti-Libertarian Fence
By Staff News & Analysis - June 26, 2010

Rand Paul (left) Electric Border Fence Baffles Cornyn, Libertarians … Republican Senatorial candidate Rand Paul wants to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. It's a rather ho-hum proposition in the larger context of conservative ideas — except that Paul wants that fence to be electric and he wants it built underground. Among the variety of proposals to stem illegal immigration along the southern border, the construction of an underground electrical fence appears to stand alone on the extreme. There is little contemporary evidence of other Republican officials proposing such a project, even among the most conservative of the bunch. Indeed, when approached in the halls of Senate several weeks ago and asked about the idea (though not told who proposed it), National Republican Senate Committee Chair John Cornyn (R-Tex.) assumed it was a joke. "I have not heard that," the Texas Republican said. "Underground? What would happen? How would that work?" – Huffington Post

Dominant Social Theme: Keep track of those migrants any way you can.

Free-Market Analysis: We have written about Rand Paul in the past expressing some hesitation about the race he is running. We wondered if he would have done better to use his hard-fought platform as a bully pulpit to educate the public about free-market themes instead of apparently compromising and muddying his message. But Rand Paul is not a libertarian (he says) and as can be seen from the excerpt below (which we have quoted before), he positions himself as a Constitutional Conservative, whatever that is.

"His [Rand Paul's] success so far has the GOP establishment fighting back. In his ads, Grayson is attempting to paint Paul as a kook whose beliefs are outside the mainstream. Which may explain why on several issues, Paul is edging toward the center. Pure libertarians, he says, believe the market should dictate policy on nearly everything from the environment to health care. Paul has lately said he would not leave abortion to the states, he doesn't believe in legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine, he'd support federal drug laws, he'd vote to support Kentucky's coal interests and he'd be tough on national security. "They thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross, but I'm not a libertarian," Paul says between Lasik surgeries at his medical office, where his campaign is headquartered, with a few desks crammed between treatment rooms. "Frankly, I'd rather be coming from the right than from the left like Grayson, who not too long ago was a Democrat and Bill Clinton supporter." (Grayson voted for Clinton in 1992 before switching parties and entering politics in the mid-1990s.) – Time Magazine

Let's see. Rand Paul is positive about the drug war and about "national security" – which means in some sense he supports America's many, serial overseas adventures. He believes the label libertarian is an "albatross" which presumably surprised his father who ran for US president on the libertarian ticket. Now, Rand Paul has come up with the idea of an electrified underground fence along the border between Mexico and the US and sending out helicopters to arrest migrants when they pass over the fence and trip the detectors.

While this may be seen as a bit of a loony idea to begin with (what happens when a coyote walks across the border?), the problem we have with it is the same one we had when we heard about Rand Paul's other positions. They seem like variants on the larger Anglo-American imperium. From our point of view – given what we understand of his father – we expected Rand Paul to run a race that would be both competitive and educational. He has succeeded with the competitive part, but unlike his father we fear he is sacrificing the educational element.

Actually, Rand Paul's positions lead us even to wonder exactly what is he in the race for. Does he really want or need to be in politics so badly that he is willing to stuff himself into a rhetorical, anti-libertarian straight-jacket. The positions he is taking, including this latest one having to do with an electrified, underground fence, seem to us to be less libertarian, less constitutional, and less conservative than they are NEO-conservative.

The late, great Austrian economist Murray Rothbard was a close friend of Rand Paul's father, Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex). Rothbard, like Paul, abhorred America's myriad overseas adventures and was no fan of the "drug war." We don't think Ron Paul is much of a drug-war fan either, but we know for a fact that Ron Paul treated his presidential campaigns (both of them) as educational endeavors. He didn't think he would win, but he hoped to bring some new ideas to the national table that he shared with Rothbard and other free-market thinkers.

One of the most extraordinary parts of Ron Paul's Republican presidential campaign was the effective way he pointed out that America's foreign ventures were not predetermined or necessary affairs. This had an extraordinary effect on the American psyche, not right away but as time passed Paul's message percolated. Today, both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are under attack in America as they rightly should be. They have contributed nothing to America's fundamental security but have certainly raised additional enemies abroad and contributed to the erection of a police state domestically.

Ron Paul went on to build an influential national liberty community supported by donations of those who believe in his rhetoric and are willing to put time and money behind the free-market and libertarian causes that he espouses. If one wants to leave a safer and more orderly civil society for one's children, this would seem to make sense to us. Ron Paul's defeats at the ballot box only led to a bigger political program and more influence than he might ever have dreamed of.

But if one runs on a platform that is both pro-war and pro-drug war, it doesn't seem to us that very much is left of a bully pulpit from a free-market standpoint (assuming that was what Rand Paul was originally after). Rand Paul is doing what he needs to do to win an election but in the process he may be switching off a vast constituency of quasi-libertarians types (growing all the time) who would have given him truly national support. Of course, it is entirely possible that Rand Paul believes in the various positions he espouses; in fact it would be cynical to impute anything else. But that makes his run all the odder as, given the nature of many of his positions, he sounds in a sense no different than a lot of other conservative Republicans.

The idea of running an electrified fence across the border between Mexico and the US may or may not be a kooky idea. But it is one more statist solution of the type we would expect to come from the right wing of the Republican party, not from a libertarian-oriented campaign or even a "constitutionalist-conservative" one. We would much rather have heard Rand Paul discuss how government welfare programs and government control of "public" lands encourages migrants to come to the US and abuse a system of generous public benefits. It is the welfare state itself and public ownership that facilitate illegal immigration. Not only that, but it is very obvious that brain-trusts within both the Republican and Democrat parties seek a closer merger with Mexico and surreptitiously encourage the very migrations they claim to oppose.

Rand Paul could have brought up all these issues. Presumably as a Constitutional Conservative he believes in some of them. Instead, he has made an issue of an electrified fence which sounds as if he means to electrocute Mexican people as they try to cross the border. Obviously Rand Paul was trying to present a "practical" solution to an intractable problem. But from our point of view, this is a good example of how politics as usual – playing to win – only debases the debate and further confuses political positions. Now, no doubt, many who oppose a libertarian or constitutional agenda will claim falsely that proponents of such agendas have suggested the forced electrocution of Mexicans.

After Thoughts

We fear that it may be too late for Rand Paul to build directly on his father's constituency. Many who support his father may by this point be less enthused about the son. In this sense, we write with a good deal of sorrow, that it may be a missed opportunity for both Pauls. Over the past two years, since losing his presidential run, Ron Paul has built a national freedom movement comprising thousands of committed individuals young and old that is gaining in influence and support every day. The son may win the election and lose a legacy.

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