Kevin Williamson, a libertarian-ish conservative writer for the National Review, wrote a bracingly honest assessment of the limited appeal of Rand Paul’s ideology. (Short story: Most people really love the biggest government programs, like Social Security and Medicare.) This confession against ideological interest naturally antagonized Reason’s Nick Gillespie, who is not only a libertarian-libertarian, but also deeply committed to his belief that libertarianism is always, just you wait and see, on the rise.
Gillespie counters Williamson with a sputtering piece arguing that Rand Paul is poised to seize the center of the American political debate with his innovative proposals, such as saving Ukraine by cutting aid to Ukraine. Gillespie bolsters his thesis with a random collage of factoids:
- There’s a popular movie called Divergent that kind of sounds libertarian
- Various critical articles about Paul have appeared in disparate news outlets, thereby proving that the establishment is threatened by Paul
- Growing numbers of voters describe themselves as Independent (Gillespie does not acknowledge that most self-described Independents are in fact as reliably partisan in their voting habits as self-described partisans)
The one sort-of on-point factoid Gillespie offers is a poll conducted by the libertarian Reason foundation showing that, contrary to the overwhelming findings of pollsters everywhere, voters really do want to cut Medicare and Social Security. The unstated joke here, in case you didn’t catch it, is that every interest group has its own handcrafted polls showing that, if you word the question in just the right way, overwhelming numbers of Americans agree with their position on any given issue. And sure enough, Reason’s poll has its own wording that finds people are really keen to cut Social Security and Medicare. But this poll, just like every advocacy poll, is worthless, because in real politics, one side of the issue can’t control the terms by which it will be debated.
The movie Divergent provides the frame for Gillespie’s paean to Paul. I have not seen the film. Apperently it describes a future in which people are slotted from birth into categories, and those who refuse to follow along are Marked for Death! This theme, explains Gillespie, “sums up Rand Paul.” Because obviously the clearest hallmark of an independent rebel is a candidate who has devoted his entire life to slavishly carrying out his father’s kooky dogma.