On Wednesday, Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul wrote an op-ed for USA Today. I won’t recap the entire piece here but he basically distinguished between a libertarian and a constitutional conservative, siding with the latter. When many of you saw that I started a political blog based on my falling “somewhere between the two main parties,” you probably thought that sounded like a libertarian. That’s at least what libertarians and undergrad political scientists want you to think- socially liberal like the Democrats and fiscally conservative like the Republicans. The best of both worlds, you might say. And yes, for your information, that’s how I might describe myself. Fortunately for me, that’s not what being libertarian or constitutionally conservative means. The scenario I just described is not quite practical. It’s almost there, but collecting/spending tax revenue, dealing with programs which are already in place or have legal deadlines making it impossible to end them, and a myriad of other logistical problems in Congress make it a better theory than practice.
Does that mean that you just give in to the powers that be and concede defeat?
Hardly. At the same time, you can’t go around promising things that can never or will never exist in our current system.
I’m for less government in all our lives and paying less taxes too. As far as being responsible with defense spending, limiting nation-building and allowing state/local level involvement with critical issues (all mentioned by Paul)- who wouldn’t be for that? But no one wants to talk about or admit what would be sacrificed or lost to do some of these things. Nation-building, which needs to be addressed immediately notwithstanding, the other measures would come at the cost of something else. Now, that “something else” might be something that Rand Paul is also against, but it might be something that a person relies on to survive. Ok, now I’m starting to sound like a liberal.
But the example Paul uses in his piece about the relationship between states and the federal government is when states issued their own currencies. Seriously, Rand. That’s the example you went with. After an articulate description of what his ideal political relationship might look like, he hits us with this completely timely example. What could be less plausible today? Succession maybe.
Similarly, he gives examples of how local communities should be able to support themselves and if not, local government would intervene and if local government couldn’t help, state government would get involved with the federal government as the last resort of the citizenry. In that same breath, Paul gives the examples of families and faith organizations being the lowest rung of community support. Again, this is too idealistic. What if you don’t have a family or a faith? What if those are the primary institutions failing us today? Then, what?
Libertarians and constitutional conservatives are right. They are, in my opinion. The only problem is- they are right in a classroom or in a vacuum or on paper. They are not right in the real world. A world that is complex and mixed up with lots of gray areas.
That’s where I have trouble because I want to find middle ground and I want workable solutions for the real world. I’m not about to say that the Democrats or Republicans are doing any better (but at least the Democrats are trying something). But the bottom line needs to always be, how does this decision or piece of legislation impact the real world (families, the budget, future spending, risk/reward, etc.).
Too many politicians are living in a dream world where political utopia is possible on one hand or implementing programs and spending money doesn’t have any consequences on the other. We need to get serious about solving this country’s problems and the only way we’re going to do that is to get serious about our rhetoric and our expectations of what’s possible.