Daily Archives: May 21, 2010

The Rand Paul Conundrum

Question in e-mail:

Any thoughts on Rand Paul?

Yeah: I suspect Rand Paul will have to decide whether he wants to be libertarian, or if he wants to be elected.

I think we’ve already gotten a bit of that answer already, with his hasty sprintback (or as I think he would prefer to have it seen, clarification) on the matter of the Civil Rights Act of ’64, which he wants us to know we should have totally voted for had he been in Congress at the time, rather than busily pooping himself as a baby. He’s still philosophically iffy about whether the law should really have applied to private business, etc. as a matter of free speech, but he wouldn’t have let that stop him, as regards theoretically voting for the bill. He’s also complaining about how the left (specifically, Rachel Maddow) are using this to sandbag him, although the complaints do have the tone of “how dare they examine the final analysis implications of my philosophical positions!” Yes, well. That will happen from time to time.

But, you know what: If these are Rand Paul’s positions, then he gets to live with them and as extra added fun he gets to live with his political opponents using them as if those positions were pinatas, and they were kids with bats, trying to get at the sweet, sweet electoral candy inside. Welcome to the big leagues, Rand; you have fun now. It also highlights the fundamental difficulties that libertarianism (in either the little “l” or big “L” variant) has in that place called reality, among which is that however theoretically attractive it would be to live in a libertarian world where everyone was cool with everyone else and the government was tiny and far away, in reality everyone isn’t cool with everyone else and (for example) there are still people who really would kind of prefer not to have those funny-colored people in their shop, or diner, or whatever, and on balance it wasn’t a horrible thing for the government to step in and say that’s not what we do.

So, we’ll see. I think it’s possible some places in the US to be more or less libertarian and still get elected — Paul’s father does it with the 14th Congressional district in Texas, for example. But Paul’s running for senator of an entire state, not just for representative of part of it, and that makes a big difference. I suspect the Democrats are going to have fun with him as a tea party proxy; unlike Sarah Palin, who at the moment at least understands she’s better off in the entertainment wing of the GOP than the “attempting to get elected” wing, Paul is trying to get elected and so his positions have real world implications.

So I suspect that what we’ll end up seeing is Paul walking himself back from a few other libertarian positions over the course of the electoral season in order to make himself palatable to that fabled political middle. This is not a particularly courageous prediction on my part mind you — walking toward the middle is what most politicians do during the general election, and so Rand Paul will not be notable in his attempt to do so. But I’ll tell you what; it would be more interesting for everyone involved if he didn’t.

One Small Detail Regarding The Big Idea

In my wanderings out there on the great big electronic Web-like thingie we call, uh, the Web, yesterday I saw someone praising The Big Idea and saying that she could always rely on the book recommendations I make through it.

Naturally, I’m delighted she finds The Big Idea so useful — that’s the whole point, to introduce you the readers to works you might want to read — but I do want to add a small point of clarification, which is that when I select books for The Big Idea, what I’m mostly going by is release date, not by content or (importantly) by my own personal feelings about the book. If an author/publicist/editor asks if a particular date is available, and it is, and the book meets my inclusion criteria, I’m likely to offer them that slot. With a very few exceptions, that’s been my selection process.

What I think this reader is responding to is not my selection of books and authors to highlight, but how the authors themselves are writing about their books here. Which is I think one of the really excellent things about The Big Idea: it isn’t in fact about me, and what I like; it’s about the author telling you what makes his or her book worth your time to read. All I do is provide the space and an intro paragraph and then get out of the way.

So, if The Big Idea is doing a great job of helping you find books, I’ll take credit for the basic idea and offering up the space. You’re welcome. But the people who are doing the real heavy lifting here are the authors themselves. The credit for the success of the feature goes to them.