Rand Paul and Offending… Almost Everyone

Rand Paul is a self-proclaimed libertarian, and most of the time, his policy platform reflects this. He’s not a fan of government interference in private lives. He loathes the NSA. He’s far more isolationist than his peers in the race. He favors simplifying the tax code down to a flat rate. And, much to the delight of stoners everywhere, he’s a fan of legalizing marijuana. While many of the GOP contenders shy away from the subject, not wishing to offend traditional members of the base nor isolate Millennials, Rand Paul has no problem standing loud and proud in the name of weed. As the Denver Post reports:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s trip to Colorado this week includes a first for a presidential candidate: a fundraiser with the marijuana industry.

The Republican is raising money Tuesday at the Cannabis Business Summit in Denver in what an industry trade group is billing as a history making event. “Never before has a major-party presidential candidate held a reception at a cannabis industry event, and NCIA is proud to host Senator Paul,” the National Cannabis Industry Association said in an email promoting the event, which was first reported by Yahoo News.

The minimum donation to attend the Tuesday event is $2,700, according to organizers.

Taylor West, the group’s deputy director, said the private “VIP reception” is designed to let marijuana insiders hear from Paul, who supports legislation to legalize medical marijuana and give the pot industry access to banking.

Paul’s position may be popular with young voters and consistent with a libertarian worldview, but it’s another example of the uncomfortable demographic straddle he’s facing. Scaling back on practices associated with a police state and legalizing marijuana are incredibly appealing to younger voters, but on issues like access to abortion, he’s way out of sync. Apparently when he says small government, he means small enough to fit in my uterus.

And then there are issues where adherence to a libertarian philosophy of governance makes him unpopular with the majority of the electorate on both sides of the aisle. Paul’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality is the perfect example of this. While the rest of the GOP field issued condemnations that ranged from curt to incendiary, Paul had to take it a step further, arguing that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.

There are certainly good reasons to keep the government out of marriage. After all, preferential treatment in the tax code on the basis of relational status is arbitrary and unfair to those engaged in alternative relationships, and arguably cheapens what marriage is intended to mean. But in his op-ed for Time, Paul manages to offend basically anyone with an opinion on the matter, affirming his support of “traditional” marriage before going on to state:

The government should not prevent people from making contracts but that does not mean that the government must confer a special imprimatur upon a new definition of marriage.

Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.

Talk about stepping in it. For those who oppose marriage equality for religious reasons, Paul’s characterization of marriage as a matter of contract law is an offensive minimization of what they view as a holy union. For those who believe in marriage equality, his steadfast commitment to the whole “marriage is one man and one woman” way of thinking is narrow-minded, antiquated, bigoted. And frankly, when considering historical context, it’s a classic, transparent form of marginalization that dates back to the days of separate but equal — a work around for those who oppose same sex marriage but don’t want to be accused of intolerance. Plus, while it might treat all potential unions the same, it also serves to reinforce class-based privilege. As Amanda Marcotte writes for Slate:

Paul’s plan to privatize marriage rather than share it with gay people is reminiscent of how segregationists reacted to Brown v. Board of Education. Rather than allow their children to go to school with black students, white people throughout the South started private, often religious schools, nicknamed “segregation academies.” It wasn’t just schools, either. As my colleague Jamelle Bouie explained recently, the decline of the public pool is also a symptom of this reactionary urge to privatize an institution rather than share it with people who conservatives consider undesirable. That the same logic is being whipped out by Paul is no big surprise. This is a man who famously opposed the Civil Rights Act that made the “privatize instead of share” goal harder to achieve.

But although this strategy has a lengthy conservative pedigree, it’s hard to imagine it really taking off as a way to shut gay people out of marriage. If the government really did stop issuing standard marriage contracts and couples were forced to write their own contracts, all that would do is make marriage a privilege of those who can afford lawyers. It wouldn’t preserve marriage as a right for straight people—it would just turn it into a benefit for the wealthy.

This is the challenge Paul faces as a Libertarian. When he sticks to his guns, he turns off the Conservative base AND alienates social issue voters on the left. It’s also representative of the dominant problem with Libertarian ideology. While the “hands off” approach to governance is appealing in theory to both small government enthusiasts and “live and let live” progressives, it doesn’t work in reality. Greed guides business. Privatization serves as a proxy for discrimination. Self-interest leaves the most vulnerable among us to fend for themselves on an uneven playing field. We don’t live in Utopia, which is why government intervention is often necessary, if imperfect.

Paul is unlikely to abandon his Libertarian ideals anytime soon. Unfortunately for his presidential bid, that leaves him in a precarious position with the electorate. But who knows? Get the nation stoned enough, and maybe he’s got a chance.

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