By COLEMAN HOPKINS
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky recently announced his candidacy for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The son of former Congressmen and presidential hopeful Ron Paul, Rand Paul has tried to make himself a more viable candidate to win the presidency through a mix of social media and a less harsh, less extreme, libertarian message.
Senator Paul represents the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, and made a name for himself by opposing many of President Obama’s policies and programs. Most notably, he unofficially filibustered the Obama Administration’s drone program, which launched him into prominence despite accomplishing very little.
For a man who has been incredibly critical of the president and his policies, Paul is in a very similar position to then Senator Obama in 2007. Paul, like Obama, is a freshman senator from a fairly partisan state, who carries a message of reform for what he defines as a failed presidency, similar to how Obama pointed at George W. Bush in 2007. In fact, much of Senator Paul’s message revolves around the idea of a transformation of Washington into a more effective, more conservative government.
If you are thinking that this platform evokes Obama’s “hope and change” message, you may be correct. In addition, Paul is trying to position himself as a Washington outsider who desires to fix a broken political system and to take the reins from his ideological counterpart. While Rand Paul diametrically opposes candidate President Obama’s vision of a new kind of government, it is interesting to see the commonalities shared between two men with such divergent visions for the country.
President Obama and Paul also share similar strengths and weaknesses: both are talented and engaging speakers, and possess professional educations including law and medicine. In addition, each suffers from similar criticisms: when then Senator Obama began to campaign for the Democratic Party’s primary, he came under fire for lacking knowledge on the issue of foreign policy. Senator Paul too lacks foreign policy knowledge, and as of late has been pushed by the press about his outlook on various problems, from Israel to Afghanistan. Paul’s handling of such criticisms has not revealed a clear plan on foreign policy.
One area where they are experiencing very dissimilar treatment is in their relations with the press corps. At that time, Senator Obama had the advantage of being treated more favorably by the press, whereas Senator Paul has not faired anywhere near as well. Confrontational questioning led to Senator Paul lashing out on a reporter, chiding her about what types of questions are best to ask. Needless to say, this type of patronizing behavior was not well received.
Senator Paul’s outburst has put his temper onto the headlines and has allowed his opponents the opportunity to craft narratives about his character. However, that is not what is deserving of the American voting population’s attention; there should instead be a focus on his policies, particularly his foreign policy outlooks.
Senator Paul, for better or worse, is a lot like his father, Congressman Ron Paul, from a foreign policy perspective, meaning that he is largely isolationist when it comes to international relations. While isolationism has a negative connotation due to the fact that America was an isolationist country during two nasty European conflicts in the 20th century, Senator Paul’s brand of libertarianism offers some unique foreign policy positions that are appealing to people on either side of the debate.
For example, Senator Paul has been critical of American involvement in foreign wars where national interests were not at stake, which a sizeable majority of Americans would say makes sense. Though Obama is not an outright isolationist, his approach to avoiding conflicts that are not in America’s best interests overlaps with libertarianism in some ways, which could make Senator Paul appealing to anti-war conservatives and liberals.
If Rand Paul were elected, libertarianism would have its first, real test in America during the 21st century. The ultimate test for Senator Paul is to determine just how flexible his libertarian foreign policy positions would be in the White House; policies that allow other countries to solve their own problems and putting America first have been well received by the public as popular ideas.
The Republican Party is far away from selecting a candidate, and before the Spring of 2016 I anticipate many more candidates will throw their hats into the ring, making Senator Paul’s path to the White House all the more difficult. However, I encourage people to look into Senator Paul’s positions on issues, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, as his positions depart from recent Republican Party philosophies, which led the country into Iraq.
Senator Paul will be the first to tell you that he is “a different kind of Republican.” Which is one of his campaign slogans. I genuinely believe that he is due to his unique ideology. If nothing else, Senator Paul’s views should resonate throughout for all candidates.