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Who's Afraid of Rand Paul?

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Tuesday's election results were pretty good for progressives. The retirement of that windbag chameleon Sen. Arlen Specter is long overdue, and pro-labor forces were able to push Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a runoff in Arkansas. Even the big tea party win in Kentucky has its bright side.

Count me as one lefty liberal who is not the least bit unhappy with the victory by Rand Paul in Kentucky's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Not because it might make it easier for some Democratic Party hack to win in the general, but rather because he seems to be a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and we need more of that impulse in the Congress. What's wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations? Surely it would be better if that challenge came from populist progressives of the left, in the Bernie Sanders mold, but this is Kentucky we're talking about.

Rand Paul, like his dad, is worthy of praise for standing in opposition to the Wall Street bailout, which will come to be marked as the greatest swindle in U.S. history and which was, as he noted on his website, an unconstitutional redistribution of income in favor of the undeserving rich.

"Federal bailouts reward inefficient and corrupt management, rob taxpayers, hurt smaller and more responsible private firms, exacerbate our budget problems, explode national debt, and destroy our U.S. dollar. Even more importantly, any bailout of private industry is in direct violation of the Constitution. It is a transfer of wealth from those who have earned to those who have squandered."

Of course the joker in the deck is the word principled before libertarian, and, as many online commentators have noted, Rand Paul is a bit more inclined to waffle on an interventionist foreign policy than is his father. While he would have insisted on a declaration of war before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, he argues that Afghanistan, where the 9/11 attack was planned, was a legitimate target but that Iraq was not. In either case, as he insists correctly, a congressional declaration of war was constitutionally required:

"If I had been in the U.S. senate I would have stopped them and said no more, we will have a vote. We will declare war with Afghanistan. We will declare war with Iraq. I would have voted for a declaration of war with Afghanistan but I would have voted against a declaration of war with Iraq. But I would have made them vote. And that's the problem, they no longer pay attention to the rules."

In any case, his Republican establishment opponent, Trey Grayson, attacked Paul for his opposition to an interventionist foreign policy as well as for favoring the legalization of marijuana, and on both counts it is a good sign that Kentucky voters rejected those lines of attack.

True, to wax warmly about a potential Republican libertarian senator is an act of desperation for a liberal who still hopes that the federal government might be moved by the embattled band of progressive Democrats in Congress to put the power of the federal government at the service of the needy. But when has that happened recently? With a commanding Democratic majority in Congress and a former community organizer as president, the focus of economic policy in this time of enormous economic pain has been on saving the bankers who created this mess.

With the Democrats trusting our well-being to the likes of Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, who under President Bill Clinton did so much to enable Wall Street greed, would it not be good to have at least one Republican senator questioning the Washington spending spree? Yes, Rand Paul is bad on a lot of social issues I care about, and no, I don't embrace his faith in the social compassion of unfettered free markets. But the alternative we have experienced is not one of a progressive government properly restraining free-market greed but rather, as was amply demonstrated in the pretend regulation of the oil industry, of government as a partner in corporate crime. It is the power of the corporate lobbyists that is at issue, and it is refreshing that candidate Paul has labeled Washington lobbyists a "distinctly criminal class" and favors a ban on lobbying and campaign contributions by those who hold more than a million dollars in federal contracts.

Heresy, I know, but it is only thanks to Ron Paul, the father and hopefully the mentor of the potential Kentucky senator, that we got a congressional mandate to audit the Fed's role in the banking bailout. How bad could it be to have another irascible Paul in the Congress?

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