The Tea Party Goes to Washington, by Rand Paul

February 8, 2012 at 20:02 (Book Reviews, Mediocre Books, Philosophy, Politics) (, , , )


To glance the crudely-sketched comic on this book’s cover and take in the name emblazoned above its title, readers might fear the worst. How much political theory can really be compacted into a two-hundred page book? Which chapter might detail a raving warning about Liberals murthering us in our beds with the guns they’ve plucked from our patriotic hands?

But it is a welcoming surprise to find that Senator Rand Paul does not quite fit his caricature. He is full of the whimsy and self-important gas that most politicians of this age are, and his book is equal parts a clarion call to casual libertarians, and waffling autobiography. For the first fifty pages or so, Paul speaks softly and waxes conciliatory. He goes so far to acknowledge that some of the points he makes have another side to them, and that some of the issues he is most passionate about have good counter-points to them.

“…saying that libertarianism isn’t conservatism is like saying communism isn’t socialism or progressivism isn’t liberalism–yet, it’s amusing the degree to which some people still seem to think the two philosophies are incompatible or exclusive.”

-The Tea Party Goes to Washington

Speaking in a literary sense, it is difficult to take any writer seriously who refuses to recognise his own faults, or who makes pretend that his opponents are fiends in human guise. It is hard to stomach the blustering tirades of writers whose fanaticism pours out colourblind manifestos rather than carefully constructed arguments. Rand Paul is guilty of neither of these sins; not here, anyway. For this reason his book remains palatable, and will not be too difficult to read through to the end, for Republicans, for Democrats, or for the rest of us.

It does grow difficult, however, when his passion and fervour take him in dangerous directions. Where he stoops to childish parroting of stock phrases and hackneyed slogans, long bereft of any real meaning and designed for emotional impact only. To a rational reader, his constant invocation of the ghost of Reagan, the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, liberty, small government, freedom, the spectre of communism–all these are swiftly denuded of any actual meaning, and become as useless as old socialist dogma about the working class, the bloodstained flag, the bourgeouise, the reactionaries–and all that claptrap. Seldom does he stop to explain what he even means with some of his key phrases.

“My father also made the point that Obamacare, or the very concept of having a ‘right’ to healthcare, undermines not only the free market but some of the most basic precepts of American life and liberty.”

-The Tea Party Goes to Washington

Does he believe in the liberty to speak one’s mind, the liberty to wreak vengeance upon one’s enemy, the liberty to starve in the street, the liberty to own tanks, or the liberty to give children halucinogens? He never really explains. His definitions are fuzzy around the edges, and limited to one or two hard cases that are nonetheless themselves without context.  For instance, he loudly trumpets his cause against domestic espionage and wiretapping, presenting it as an obvious case where the Fourth Amendment is being violated. He may very well have a point there; but he makes a very poor show of demonstrating his point, contenting himself instead with leaving the point as self evident. This hurts him when he comes to more complex issues. He is simply not willing to venture beyond his catchphrase politics.

So what of this book? It makes a pretence of being some kind of systematic treatment of the Tea Party’s beliefs, but it is long on rhetorical posturing and short on substance. Rand Paul makes a fairly convincing case here that he is not a bad person, but that does not necessarily make him a good politician, or a good writer.


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