The Devil You Know: Marco Rubio’s Failings vs. Rand Paul’s Insanity

As I watched Marco Rubio bat down strawmen during his response to the State of the Union address last night all I kept thinking was “this is ridiculous.” The man suggested that President was somehow anti-capitalist despite President Obama’s continued commitment to finding solutions that partner both public and private actors, with the latter taking the dominant lead. The hopeful Republican messiah suggested the recent economic disaster was not the result of predatory lending and corrupt corporate leaders but rather the result of government interference in the free market.

If Rubio were a doctor I wouldn’t be surprised if he suggested to his obese patient that the reason for his heart attack wasn’t that he ate too many fatty foods but that the government was keeping him from eating too little of it.

Rand Paul's policy suggestions are both delusional and dangerous

Rand Paul’s policy suggestions are both delusional and dangerous

But as bad as I initially thought Rubio was, my respect for the man’s sanity increased exponentially as I sat through the “Tea Party’s response” to the State of the Union address. Led by genuine crackpot Rep. Rand Paul, this incoherent riposte included not only strawmen but straight out delusions, piled on top of potentially disastrous policy prescriptions.

This contrast between Rubio and Paul truly elucidated the divide in the American conservative movement between reasonable but misguided conservatives who mainly attack strawmen rather than the actual substance of their opponents’ platforms and the close-minded ideologues that live in an imaginary world where the answer to every problem is less government and greater empowerment to corporate leaders. This second group exaggerates the current state of government’s tyrannical behavior while flat out ignoring the very real and growing effects of tyrannical behavior from the private realm.

Paul’s hysteria extended across all areas of governance, diplomacy, economics, and social policies.

On the foreign policy front, he suggests that the United States could cut aid to “countries that are burning our flag and chanting death to America.” I congratulate Paul for developing a foreign policy that an angry eight-year-old would most likely devise after Bobby and Jenny were mean to him.

But I have a few questions about this proposition. How many citizens of a country is the threshold for cutting off aid? Do the anti-American protests have to be state-sponsored? Does the ban on foreign aid for these countries just include any nation with citizens criticizing the United States or will there be guidelines for what constitutes an “unacceptable” act of a foreign people’s free speech? Many Iraqis, of different ethnic and religious bent, often protest against American policies and/or Western decadence—so if we must cut off aid to this fledgling democracy has Paul thought through the consequences for regional stability from such an action? What about the stability of Pakistan? Or Libya? Or Sudan? Or Nigeria? Or Somalia? Or numerous other nations that depend on outside assistance for relative stability yet experience the occasional or regular anti-American or anti-Western protest?

And when Paul suggested that we cease our dealing of F-16s and Abrams tanks to the still-evolving post-Mubarak regime of Egypt, has he thought through the repercussions of not engaging the new regime—reaching out to secular actors and liberal Islamists, helping balance power between the old military regime and the currently-elected Muslim Brotherhood political faction, combatting the rise of Salafist and jihadi parties within the polity, and aiding a powerful Sunni ally against Shia Iran’s continuing attempts at regional hegemony?

Yeah. I’m sure Paul has thought this all through.

His economic prescriptions are equally asinine. The Tea Party politician seemed to suggest our budget deficit (which has been decreasing) is leading to our printing of more money and thus “we pay higher prices every time we go to the supermarket or the gas pump” with “the value of the dollar shrink[ing] with each new day.” I’m not sure which world Paul is living in but inflation has basically been a non-factor and our budget deficit continues to shrink as job growth expands, and tax revenue increases from higher rates on top earners and the expiration of the Social Security tax cut.

But I guess in the imagined Paul universe, none of these established facts is actually occurring.

Paul also argued for a cut in the corporate income tax and the implementation of a flat income tax. With empirical data (aka reality) clearly showing that increased profits for most corporations and growing incomes for the richest top one percent of Americans has had zero effect on remedying the stagnant incomes of most Americans and the shrinking of the middle class, I remain at a loss as to how this solution will help job growth at all. And for a man so concerned with the evils of budget deficits, I’d really like Paul to explain how a flat income tax will help raise the necessary tax revenue for deficit reduction.

If Rubio is a doctor who suggests his cholesterol-laden, obese patient isn’t eating enough fatty foods, Paul is the one who physically force feeds his patient cheesy hamburgers wrapped in bacon and demands that the patient take up using cocaine.

But perhaps the most outlandish claim Paul made during this speech was his adamant assertion that Obama’s recent executive orders on gun control and mental health services amounted to an “imping[ment] on the Second Amendment.” In these perfectly constitutional executive orders, the president seeks to implement effective background checks for gun purchasers and attempts to set up a more efficient mechanism for tracking lost or stolen firearms. This seemingly sane, common sense policy is somehow tantamount to denying the people’s constitutional right to “keep and bear arms?” To follow this logic, countries with radical Islamists must suffer the consequences of foreign aid cuts—which may negatively affect social programs, infrastructure, and regional security— for their people’s exercise of free expression, but Paul will be damned if the U.S. enacts laws that prevent radical Islamists on terror lists from purchasing AR-15′s in America at a gun show or through the internet.

The insanity in this worldview cannot be more transparent.

So if there’s one thing I hope of the Republican party in its near future, it’s that the Rubios of the movement—those who remain relatively reasonable—don’t fall to the hysteric, ideological appeal of the frenetic Tea Partiers who seem immune to compromise or acknowledging facts counter to their worldview. For, this would not only be pernicious for the Republican Party but for America itself and its two-party system as a whole.