Rand Paul is the gift that keeps on giving. The would-be non-politician politician has established himself as a principled man, willing to take bold stands, to tell the truth, a modern day Mr. Smith dressed up in libertarian garb. He and his Tea Party crowd aim to throw out the bums who have betrayed American principles and restore the country to its first principles, its constitutional principles, and they do not intend to let typical politics get in their way.
After stumbling over his own quibbles about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, his handlers deemed him not ready for primetime, yanked him off a previously scheduled appearance on a Sunday talk show, and sent him to "message discipline" classes. Alas, they did not prevent the GOP’s Senate candidate in Kentucky from telling a Russian interviewer, "We’re the only country I know that allows people to come in illegally, have a baby, and then that baby becomes a citizen. And I think that should stop also." All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Mind you, it was the failure to enforce the clear intent of this amendment that led to the Civil Rights movement and to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Paul has now stated he would not repeal. In the Jim Crow South, the dominant political powers connived at the disenfranchisement of blacks from their civil rights and now, Mr. Paul, questions whether or not those rights of citizens should be withheld from the children of immigrants. His pedigree is an ugly one.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is pretty clear on this point. It states: "
His statement is also telling because of the way he describes the problem which is surprisingly accurate and, just so, undercuts his argument. Paul states "We’re the only country that allows people to come in illegally…" Exactly. For years, American business with the tacit complicity of the government has winked at our neighbors south of the border: "C’mon over! We aren’t going to prosecute you." A law that is systematically unenforced at some point loses the force of law, if not juridically, in the scale of justice. Now that it suits the politics of GOP primaries, everyone wants to crack down on undocumented workers but their culpability is severely diminished by the actions of employers and the inactions of the government on this side of the border.
There is another, more ironic, difficulty with Mr. Paul’s stance. This is a man who has said, and said repeatedly, that he is a "constitutional conservative." He has insisted that every law passed should state in its first article where it is justified in the text of the Constitution. Well, Mr. Paul, where in the text of the Constitution does it permit the Congress to change the birthright of an American citizen? This is not the first time that Mr. Paul’s idolatry of the Constitution has been at odds with one of his poll-tested policy requirements. He calls for term limits for members of Congress, but the Constitution is quite clear on the subject of qualifications for office and it did not set term limits for members of Congress. So, what Mr. Paul is saying is that the text of the Constitution is sacrosanct, except when it’s not, and he gets to decide which is which.
So much for principles. Paul’s conservative constitutionalism is not the principled stance it appears. It is akin to Antonin Scalia’s textualism regarding the Constitution. He is in favor of strict, textualist analysis of the Constitution, and opposed to judicial overreach, except when he is not. Remember Bush v. Gore? That judicial putsch, too, betrayed the partisanship of the Court in a way rarely seen, and without all the rhetorical garb about textualism. Something similar is going on with Mr. Paul. Throughout the primaries, he dressed up his simplistic anti-government spiel with some high-minded phrases, as he sought to portray himself as a principled, stand-up guy, an independent who was not part of the status quo and was going to Washington to shake it up. Alas, turns out he is just another politician, albeit one singing a different tune. Every time he is forced to back-off some outrageous claim, he looks more and more like a typical politician.
The Tea Party may blow off some steam, and they may yet win the election in Kentucky. But, they are not going to return America to first principles because, despite their rhetoric, we are already there. Obama and the Democrats have not betrayed American principles. They have articulated the kind of progressive principles that date back to Jefferson and Jackson and Roosevelt. They are progressive, not conservative, principles to be sure but they are as American as Apple Pie. The language about "taking back the government" is partisan cant, not principled argument. Ask the man who wants to gut the Fourteenth Amendment.
Michael Sean Winters