Alas, he never won a primary. He did get national attention as a serious member of the field, and rose, anyway, to the point where national columnists mentioned him. The two references I remember were someone writing that he was the only candidate who seemed completely consistent, and another saying that Paul apparently wished that all financial transactions be carried out in pieces of eight. Maybe not such a bad thing, I thought later that year, when the stock market crashed and paper net worth dropped trillions seemingly overnight. So Ron Paul had made his mark.
Soon after that campaign ended, he made it clear that he, well into his seventies, would not be seeking the presidency again. He did, however, have someone to pass his legacy on to – his second-oldest son. Rand Paul, named of course after matron saint of libertarianism Ayn Rand, was himself a physician, and became a United States Senator from Kentucky two years later. Only 47, he had plenty of time to take on the mantle of a good cause. I shared the hope that someday I would want to support him as I had his father.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Now, three years from his senatorial election, I know Rand Paul best from two comments he made. The first was when states began sanctioning same-sex marriage, and he said that if that became law, next would be people marrying non-human animals. Earlier this month, he laid an even larger egg. He said that lengthening unemployment benefits would be a “disservice” to those out of work for more than six months, that such payments would be “causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”
Now for the facts. There are now 4.1 million Americans jobless and still looking for work for 27 weeks or more. Although the unemployment rate has improved greatly over the past several years, the American Job Shortage Number is down below 20 million, and secondary employment measures have fallen also, that 4.1 million hasn’t budged. That means more people than live in the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee combined lost their jobs in June or earlier, and ever since have kept plugging – reading who knows how many job ads, probably making innumerable phone calls, and applying for large numbers of positions – and have got nowhere.
Rand Paul, apparently, thinks they keep doing these things insincerely. But the anecdotal stories would amaze anyone steadily employed for a long time, with literally thousands of applications filled out. These people are in all kinds of careers, blue-collar as well as professional, and, despite what must be serious discouragement, they keep looking. Millions more have left the labor force, contributing to a participation rate lower than at any time since the Carter administration. Sure, some would prefer to draw their average of $300 per week instead of actually doing paid labor, but study after study shows most would rather get back in the game, and the laws say anyway that someone who refuses an offer to work gets no benefits that week.
Libertarianism, a brilliant concept, may have passed its moment. In the 1990s, a healthy looking young man tried to panhandle from me in the streets of Orlando. After he was out of earshot, I said to my companions “Get an expletive deleted job! There’s three percent unemployment!” I stand with that opinion – for that time and place. He could easily have been hired at, if nowhere else, a restaurant where he would have received not only enough money to live on but free food. Yet markets only work when people have something to trade, and if all they can offer is their labor, they need protection of some sort when that turns out to have no value.
What I dislike most about the younger Paul is not that he is a disappointment. It is that he did not inherit his father’s open views. When he made his same-sex marriage comments, against common sense as well as on the wrong side of history, he was playing to Republican voters. I don’t know if he really believes 4.1 million long-term unemployed Americans, many with job-searching histories few as consistently privileged as him have ever approached, are moochers, but what he said must have sounded good to many of the nation’s Republicans.
Rand Paul is almost certain to run for president, in 2020 if not in 2016. Support him if you see fit, but don’t be fooled. Factoring in his view on abortion, which he thinks should be illegal in all cases, he is not the libertarian he calls himself. He is not his father either. And that is not a good thing.