We Republicans, even including RINOs, tend to associate demagoguery—vague promises and appeals to emotion, fear and prejudice—with the Democrats. The rhetoric of such promises and appeals is sometimes lofty but often banal. Sadly, the first two announced contenders for the Republican nomination for President, Senators Cruz and Paul, have amply demonstrated that the disease is bi-partisan.
Senator Cruz got things started with his announcement that included a generous sampling of conservative bromides, but he was outdone by Senator Paul. We are indebted to Alexandra Petri, writing in The Washington Post for assembling a composite of their offerings in her April 7 column, “Rand Paul and Ted Cruz secretly gave the same speech.” The entire column is worth reading, but the part we enjoyed the most was a segment worthy of the late Frank Sullivan’s classic “Mr. Arbuthnot, the cliché expert.” (Readers unfamiliar with Mr. Arbuthnot should become acquainted with him and can find a sample here.) Ms. Petri’s contribution:
Even two candidates as different as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul wind up sounding like carbon copies. Here are their answers to the catechism of the candidate. See if you can guess whose was which. I can’t, and I assembled this myself.
Q: Is it time?
A: It’s time.
Q: What is it a time for?
A: “It is a time for truth. It is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States.”(1)
Q: What else have we come for?
A: To take our country.
Q: Where must we take our country?
A: “We have come to take our country back.” (2)
Q: From whom must we take America back?
A: “We have come to take our country back from the special interests.” (3)
Q: How would you like to be heard?
A: “Loud and clear.” (4)
Q: Did you love your life in a small town?
A: I love my life as a small-town doctor. (5)
Q: And small businesses. Do you envision a good future for small businesses?
A: “Imagine small businesses growing and prospering.” (6)
Q: Do you want a return to prosperity?
A: “I want to be part of a return to prosperity, a true economic boom that lists all Americans, a return to a government restrained by the Constitution.” (7)
Q: Is the American dream an incredible opportunity?
A: “The incredible opportunity of the American dream, what has enabled millions of people from all over the world to come to America with nothing and to achieve anything.” (8)
Q: Are we a city on a hill?
A: “A shining city on a hill.” (9)
Q: What must we do for the promise of America?
A: Reignite it. (10)
A: Restore it. (11)
Q: Have you been able to enjoy the American Dream?
A: “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to enjoy the American Dream.” (12)
Q: Do you worry that our sons and daughters will not have the same opportunities?
A: “I worry, though, that the opportunity and hope are slipping away for our sons and daughters.” (13)
Q: Does the promise of America seem closer or farther?
A: “The promise of America seems more and more distant.” (14)
Q: How do young people feel about the future?
A: “Today millions of young people are scared, worried about the future, worried about what the future will hold.” (15)
Q: Are you the one to fix it?
A: “I have a vision for America.” (16)
Q: Is this message for all Americans?
A: “This message of liberty is for all Americans, Americans from all walks of life. The message of liberty, opportunity and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you’re white or black, rich or poor.” (17)
Q: Is Washington broken?
A: “Washington is horribly broken.” (18)
Q: Does Washington have the answers?
A: “The answer will not come from Washington.” (19)
Q: Should our foreign policy encourage chaos?
A: “We also need a foreign policy that protects American interests and encourages stability, not chaos!” (20)
Q: Whom should God bless?
A: “God bless you. God bless America.” (21)
Q: Is God’s blessing on America?
A: “God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet.” (22)
Cruz: 1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 19, 22
Paul: 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21
To the extent that Senator Paul provided specific proposals in his announcement they were not particularly impressive or reassuring. For example:
–Senator Paul endorsed the repatriation of overseas profits. This is an unoriginal but useful idea that has bi-partisan support, and the difficulty has been and remains finding agreement on the terms. There is, in any case, little likelihood that it would “bring back manufacturing jobs that pay well,” as Paul promised. Nor would taxes on the repatriated profits necessarily finance “new highways and bridges.”
–Paul spoke with some eloquence of the failings of schools in inner cities, but his only solution was to offer choice to students in such schools. While we support school choice, it is hardly a complete solution and Paul gave no clue as to how he would accomplish even that (having elsewhere advocated abolishing the Department of Education.)
–Saying that the government revenues were $3 Trillion, Paul urged that we simply spend no more than that amount. But how to do that? Paul did not tell his audience and he made no mention of the very detailed proposals that he has made in the past which incorporated extraordinary—and extraordinarily unrealistic–cuts. We will not burden readers of this blog with an analysis or even a summary or of those proposals but they can be found at Vox.com “This is what Rand Paul actually wants to do as president.” Suffice it to say that they involve the abolition of some entire department and agencies and the emasculation of others.
On matters of foreign policy, Paul appeared to edge away from the neo-isolationist posture that he had previously articulated, and in which he had appeared to have taken a position somewhat to the left of Barrack Obama. The net effect of his recasting was to leave his listeners very much in the dark as to what sort of course he would pursue.
–While Paul referred to “radical Islam,” saying that (unlike Obama) he would call it by its name, he gave no clue as to what actual strategy he might follow, only exclaiming that “I will do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind.” Russia, and its adventurism in Ukraine, and the threat it poses to NATO and Eastern Europe, received not even a glancing mention.
–With respect to Iran, Paul supported, as we do, the idea that a deal with Iran, should be subject to Congressional approval, but added that he would “oppose any deal that does not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” What exactly he meant by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, one cannot say, as Senator Paul did not tell us.
–Paul attacked a familiar whipping-boy of the right, foreign aid, saying that we should be building bridges at home rather than abroad. He ignored the fact that foreign aid amounts to a tiny portion of the federal budget, and that most of it is devoted to military aid, largely spent with American suppliers (and very little in building foreign bridges).
Perhaps the most specific and alarming of Paul’s proposals concerned the surveillance programs conducted by the NSA. Paul has been a longtime critic of the NSA and even brought a lawsuit against the agency which has since languished, largely out of sight, in a federal court. He took this occasion to proclaim that “[A]s president on day one, I will immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance.” It may be that Paul believes that not everything the NSA does is unconstitutional, but he has not explained what, if anything, of its programs he would preserve. We have discussed the NSA programs in previous blogs and our own view that while civil liberties are a legitimate concern, the NSA programs are constitutional and a vital part of our national security.
On the whole, the idea of Senator Paul as Commander in Chief is enough to make us nostalgic for the image of Mike Dukakis wearing a helmet and riding in a tank.