Richard Reeves

The Republican Political Bubble

LOS ANGELES -- In a rather charming video at randpaul2010.com, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate from Kentucky, Rand Paul himself, a libertarian by birthright, says that he was not named for Ayn Rand. The writer is acclaimed as a prophet by many libertarians, although she once said she would rather vote for the Marx Brothers than a libertarian.

No, says Paul. The candidate chuckles and says his first name was actually "Randal." His wife called him "Rand" and it stuck. He goes on to express great admiration for the other Rand, the lady who invented "Objectivism" as a raging individualistic, anti-government political and cultural philosophy in the 1940s. He read all her books and she led him, intellectually, to the Austrian school of "laissez faire" economics and governance -- which finally can mean no government.

I would guess that he has also read Federalist Paper 51, written as an anti-big government tract in 1788 by James Madison. If he has not, he should, although it is probably too late. In the flush of his victory in the Republican primary last week, he stretched his own anti-government attitude to more or less defend segregation and attack government for picking on corporations just because they destroy things like the national economy or the Gulf of Mexico.

This is what Madison could have told him in the paper that famously argued for "checks and balances" in a democratic society:

"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

Ironically, the most recent (and fatally flawed) comparison of men and angels came from the most famous of Ayn Rand's acolytes, Alan Greenspan, who worked for the lady when he was a young man. He went on to great distinction, becoming chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve for 18 years. In explaining how he missed the warning signs of the housing and market bubbles from that lofty perch he said:

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."

Ah, yes. If bankers were angels we might not need a Federal Reserve system.

And they are not the only anti-regulation, anti-government conservatives to ignore the necessary connection between human nature and governance. In last Sunday's New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus recounted William F. Buckley's epiphany on states rights, civil rights and big government, writing:

"One fierce opponent of civil rights legislation, William F. Buckley Jr., admitted as much. 'I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow,' Mr. Buckley said in 2004. 'I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary.'"

Ah, yes. If only those Southern sheriffs and their ilk were angels.

Rand Paul, it seems, is going to try to stay out of sight and sound for a while. He canceled a coveted spot on "Meet the Press" last Sunday. I assume he is sitting down now with friends and advisers to try to figure out how to turn his principles and philosophy into sane political patter. His charm and ideas may have been salable in a Republican primary in a border state, but he sounded like a fool in the days after his Kentucky victory. He may be revealed as a great philosopher. But politics isn't philosophy, or as Peter Finley Dunne said a long time ago, "It ain't beanbag." And governance ain't a tea party.

The Republicans have been thriving on the conventional wisdom that they will do well in November because voters are angry at Washington. That might happen. But the contradictions between human nature and what Republicans are talking about these days could deflate that particular political bubble.

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