Rand Paul will run for president in 2016. The freshman senator from Kentucky, and heir apparent to his father’s base of support, hasn’t announced anything, but he is clearly behaving like a candidate. Over the weekend Paul was in Iowa trying to convince evangelicals that they can feel comfortable supporting a hypothetical Paul candidacy.
One of the primary tasks that Senator Paul has when he talks to groups like this is to distance himself from his father. After all, the elder Paul’s libertarian constitutionalism earned him the enthusiastic support of young voters in 2008 and 2012 and the eternal scorn of older evangelicals. Personally, I find the criticisms of Congressman Paul by Christian groups a mixture of curious and hilarious. He’s been married to the same woman for 55 years, vigorously supports homeschooling, opposes abortion and is open, although humble, about his Christian faith. That guy wasn’t worthy of the evangelical vote, but Newt Gingrich was? Guess that whole character thing doesn’t matter after all. But, I digress.
The reality is that Christian groups generally view libertarianism as one step shy of the gates of hell. Following the junior Paul’s Iowa speech, one skeptical pastor stated, “Straight libertarianism has nothing Christian about it.”
Well, I suppose that depends on how you define “straight libertarianism.” You can poorly define any political philosophy so as to make it un-Christian. You could, for instance, point out that conservatives’ enthusiastic support for bombing innocent people in other countries is fairly un-Christian. That one never seems to make the evangelical voters’ hit list, though.
Where the road gets tough for Senator Paul is in attempting to quell the fears of conservative Christians while still retaining his father’s more libertarian base. This has already begun to backfire on him as his quote, “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican” has begun to make the rounds on the internet. To say that the libertarian community is not accepting these comments well is an understatement. The senator is already on thin ice with people who consider him to be more of a politician, and therefore less politically pure, than his father. Comments like those he made last week only add fuel to the fire.
Being both a Christian and a libertarian I have the somewhat unique experience of seeing both sides of this story. If anyone is asking, my response to Rand Paul is a big ol’ shrug of the shoulders. To begin with, even though I was an avid Ron Paul supporter in 2012 I disagree with the whole notion that one guy is our best hope for freedom. Only one man who has walked this earth can make that claim, and his father was considerably more important than Ron Paul. But beyond this, I don’t really see the issue for either Christians or libertarians. In Rand Paul, Christians are going to have a guy who is just libertarian enough to make them uneasy and libertarians are going to have a guy who is less libertarian than his dad. That’s just who he is.
Ultimately, the primary issue with Rand Paul, and really any federal politician, is his position on the Constitution. Forgotten in all the hubbub over his infamous, “I’m not a libertarian” statement was the end of that quote: “I’m a constitutional conservative.” That’s really the only thing I care about and from what I’ve seen in his short political career, Rand Paul is well-educated on the Constitution and principled enough to follow it.
If he recognizes the limitations placed on the federal government by the Constitution, I could really care less what he thinks about the legalization of drugs. On the Constitution he is certainly light years ahead of any of the non-Ron Paul Republican presidential candidates over the last several elections.
I think both Christians and libertarians ought to focus less on the question of his libertarianism and more on his adherence to the Constitution. Maybe at some point down the road Christians and libertarians will walk in perfect harmony, but for now they can at least recognize that the common enemy of freedom and virtue is centralized power. Perhaps Rand Paul gives us the chance to support the rare federal politician who recognizes constitutional limits on the federal government.