Rand Paul isn’t a libertarian: criminal justice edition

Rand Paul’s evolution from dyed-in-the-wool libertarian to generic Republican as he dives headfirst into primary season is not news. He has regressed to the mean on marriage, science and, depending on who he’s talking to, foreign policy.

But one of the few remaining areas that Paul could claim credit where his primary opponents couldn’t was on criminal justice. A vocal opponent of the War on Drugs, Paul is thought to be one of the few Republican candidates who can credibly challenge Hillary Clinton on issues that lie at the intersection of race, economics and justice.

Well, at least he was until yesterday. Discussing the recent protests over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, Paul explained the protests in the context of a “lack of fathers” and a “lack of a moral code” before quipping that “I came through the train on (sic) Baltimore last night, I’m glad the train didn’t stop.” He ended his answer by saying that “there can be no excuse for the behavior” that protestors have engaged in, referring to the clashes with police, looting and rioting that has taken place in Baltimore over the last few days.

Here’s the audio, via Media Matters:

There are a host of explanations for why Baltimore is in a state of emergency right now, the first of which being that Freddie Gray’s death was an all-too-common case of the police exercising unnecessary force on a black man who posed no threat to their life — and then fudging their report. One could also look to, as Baltimore Orioles executive John Angelos did, the decades of economic neglect in Baltimore — and subsequent civil rights degradations — that have created dire, unstable conditions in the city. Furthermore, as President Obama noted today, the current round of violence came after non-violent protests were largely ignored by the nation and its media for over a week.

Finally, as Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic wrote yesterday, perhaps definitively, the residents of Baltimore have legitimately rejected the notion that calls for nonviolence by the authorities are being made in good faith:

Rand Paul, via Creative Commons

Rand Paul, via Creative Commons

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.

If you can acknowledge all of those factors and still say that the uprising in Baltimore is, first and foremost, caused by black people misbehaving moral decay brought on by the breakdown of the nuclear family, then I’ve got a caucus in Iowa to sell you.

When Ferguson turned violent, Rand Paul was there calling for the demilitarization of the police. In response to the Freddie Gray protests, Rand Paul had a chance to seize the mantle he’s previously held to take a stand against police brutality in a similar fashion. Instead, he dog-whistled and joked about black people being immoral and violent.

His transformation into a mainstream Republican is complete.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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