The New York Times ran a story today concerning Senator Rand Paul’s (R- Kentucky) prospects for a successful 2016 presidential run. The story, running under the headline “Paul Has Ideas, but his Backers Want 2016 Plan,” focused on the Senator’s inconsistent fundraising and campaign apparatus. The story concentrated on potential weaknesses that Paul has regarding his ability to fundraise and manage a presidential campaign. Among the weaknesses mentioned are his fierce loyalty to his advisors, a distaste for asking for money, and his thin political network of donors. While the New York Times is right to note that these things will affect his prospects as a presidential candidate it appals me that the “Grey Lady” wasted so much space on the strategy, and left little to the actual substance of a potential Paul presidential run.
A free press is essential to the functioning of a democratic republic. The function of a free press is to inform the public as fully as possible on the workings of our public institutions, and the ideas, thoughts, and actions of those that wish to lead us. The New York Times and other media outlets do the public a great disservice when they prioritize political strategy over the actual substance of potential candidates. Political strategy is important, and it does our democracy well when the people understand how the political landscape is manipulated by political strategists. However, when we focus exclusively on political strategy we miss the bigger issues. The important question to ask about a potential presidential candidate is not whether they are capable of raising money and building alliances, but what does this candidate stand for and what do their past actions indicated about how they may approach leadership.
What’s important for us to understand about Rand Paul is not his ability to raise money and make a presidential run, but what he would actually do as president.
Paul is a dyed in the wool Libertarian and he has many radical positions, some of which I support, and others which I find abhorrent. A Paul presidency would mean a radical realignment of our political system towards the extreme right wing. Furthermore, Paul believes that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate against people on the basis of race, has been accused of plagiarism, and wants to reduce or eliminate the income tax. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with his positions and actions, each of these things mentioned above would have profound implications for our country if he were to become president.
If we were to reduce or eliminate the income tax we would need to completely overhaul our entire tax collection system, and quite likely the whole economy. Presidential support for allowing private businesses to discriminate on the basis of race would set the civil rights movement back half a century. And his history of plagiarism casts serious doubt on his integrity and ethical grounding.
With all of this in mind, I ask the New York Times, what is more important? Rand Paul’s ability to raise money? Or Rand Paul’s radical political platform and questionable ethics? If the paper of record believes that we are more well served by understanding Rand Paul’s political maneuvering rather than his radical and deeply disturbing world view then I shudder to think of what will become of our weakening democracy.
By Brian Lehrer