Rand Paul At CPAC: The Point of No Return

Senator Rand Paul is not without a sense of humor, as he demonstrated with a bit of prop comedy, highlighting the “stupidity of government” with a gas-powered alarm clock the EPA has approved as an “energy-saving device.”  He can also be blunt, as when he criticized the spending cuts proposed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Republican from Paul’s own state of Kentucky, by saying “it’s too little, it’s not enough, it’s too timid, and we must be more bold.” 

He’s a loyal son, using a CNN interview to cheerfully inform Donald Trump that his chances of winning the presidency are “less than my father’s,” after Trump told the Ron Paul cohort at CPAC that their man had a “zero percent” chance of sitting in the Oval Office.  Rand Paul nevertheless looked a bit annoyed with his dad’s most ardent supporters during his own CPAC presentation, which they interrupted more than once.

Such are the contradictions of the freshman Senator from Kentucky, slapped with a media caricature of eccentricity because he asks big questions about an insane system.  The romance of Big Government has no appeal to Rand Paul.  He has calculated the doom of Obama-style socialism to four decimal places, and he has no patience for symbolic gestures or feeble half-measures.

“My aim is not to pass bills, but to repeal them,” Paul explained, “especially those that do violence to the Constitution.”  He acknowledged that his job as a Senator is to represent the interests of his constituents, and insisted “the main interest of my constituents is liberty.”  He pursues that interest in the shadow of a system whose critics were told to be silent until it began to implode… and are now denounced as “extremists” for laying out the drastic measures required to save it.

Paul is especially eager to beat the Commerce Clause monster back into the basement where it belongs.  “For sixty or seventy years, we worked with the notion the Commerce Clause means we can do anything,” he said, illustrating his point with the infamous Wickard v. Filburn case from 1942.  As Paul explained it, farmer Filburn was slapped with a fine for growing too much wheat, even though he used the surplus for his own consumption.  The fine was justified under the Commerce Clause because Filburn’s home-grown wheat made it unnecessary for him to engage in interstate commerce, and thus affected the price of wheat in other states. 

This was the pivotal act of judicial hocus-pocus which transformed the limited government of the Founders into the leviathan of the New Deal, and Paul thinks it’s time to find a counter-spell.  He sees a revolution brewing if the Supreme Court upholds the Florida judge who struck down ObamaCare, hoping it will begin the unraveling of Wickard v. Filburn unlimited-government jurisprudence.  At stake will be the answer to “whether our government can be restrained by the Constitution.”  For this reason, he emphasized the importance of winning presidential elections with strong conservative candidates, because “it is important who sits on the Supreme Court.”

Paul warned we are approaching the “point of no return,” where the national debt equals the entire output of our economy – a limit he notes Japan has already passed, and from which no government has ever recovered.  To avoid passing this point, he asserted, “we must be more bold” than declaring spending freezes, or passing puny symbolic spending cuts.  His concept of boldness includes abolishing the entire Department of Education.

He also insisted those bold spending cuts must include entitlements, like Social Security and Medicare, coupled with “a long and hard look at our military budget.”  This was the most contentious line of his speech.  “The most important duty of government is national defense,” Paul acknowledged, “but the doubling of our military budget over the last 10 years has not been spent wisely.”  Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who would later take the stage to accept the Defender of the Constitution Award (and insist on sharing it with the men and women of the United States Armed Forces), responded to this assertion by pointing out that defense bills have been just as liable to gain a coating of pork-fried earmarks as any other legislation. 

It remains to be seen whether trimming this fat would be good enough to satisfy Rand Paul’s call for “compromise” on spending cuts from conservatives.  It’s fair to say there is plenty of room for “long and hard looks” at everything, when you’re creeping around inside the haunted house of a $3.6 trillion federal budget.

Whatever one’s opinion of his specific proposals, Rand Paul is commendably forthright in saying that we cannot solve a massive problem like government insolvency by thinking small.  When he asks the Tea Party faithful to join him in “defending the Constitution,” he cautions them it won’t be an easy task.  The hour is late, and the timid content themselves with dreams of bravery, while the bold prepare to get a little crazy in doing battle with utter madness.