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Rand Paul: 'Principled Libertarian'? Not. | The Nation

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Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

Rand Paul: 'Principled Libertarian'? Not.

I'm guessing Robert Scheer wrote his Truthout piece praising Rand Paul as "a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas" ("...we need more of that impulse in the Congress") before the media firestorm over Paul's long-standing and not-exactly-secret opposition to the l964 Civil Rights Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Although Paul now says that he believes Congress was right to bar segregation in private businesses, his original position is what you'd expect from someone who basically believes private-property rights and business interests trump all and the market will fix any pesky problems. Ergo, Barack Obama is "un-American" to criticize BP for the oil spill in the gulf. On Good Morning, America, Paul dismissed the recent deaths of two miners in a collapse at non-union Kentucky mine that had received 840 safety citations in the past year: "Maybe sometimes accidents happen." So much for the anti-corporate rhetoric Scheer admires in Paul.

As a libertarian, Paul theoretically wants to limit the government 's power to do very much of anything—so it's not surprising that his views coincide with those of Scheer and other progressives on a few items, like the Iraq War, bank bailouts and the Patriot Act. There's one area, though, in which Paul apparently wants the government to play a much bigger role: your womb. Women can forget about the "privacy" and "liberty" Paul touts on his website; warnings against government encroachment on freedom do not apply to female citizens of Paul's back-to-basics Republic. As per his website, we get the Human Life Amendment banning all abortion even for rape and incest, "a Sanctity of Life Amendment, establishing the principle that life begins at conception," a funding ban on Planned Parenthood, and a ban on the Supreme Court taking up abortion-related cases. No wonder he's been endorsed by Operation Rescue founder and general all-around sleazemeister Randall Terry.

As with many of Paul's statements and positions, you wonder if he's thought about them for more than two minutes. How, after all, is a ban on abortion to be implemented except by a massive government intrusion into private and personal behavior? To say nothing of monitoring thousands of medical practices, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies—apparently the only businesses Paul would want to put under government oversight.

In countries where abortion bans are taken seriously, the prospect of performing even the most medically necessary abortion terrifies doctors and hospitals. Law enforcement treats miscarriages as possible crimes. Women and doctors go to prison. How does a police officer showing up at a patient's hospital bed to question her as a possible murderer, with a mandatory investigation of the premises of the alleged crime—her vagina and uterus—square with libertarianism? Like his support for increased Medicaid payment to physicians, a profession he just happens to follow, the exceptions to Rand's libertarianism miraculously track his own preferences. Somehow the market, which is supposed to miraculously produce food that doesn't poison you, cars that don't explode, oil wells that don't pollute and mines that don't collapse, is useless when it comes to forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and making sure doctors make plenty of money.

I've always thought libertarianism was juvenile. Thanks to Rand Paul—and contrary to Scheer—I know now it's also unprincipled.

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