Would President Paul Ever Stand Up to His Party?

Following the defeat of his amendment that would give Congress the right to vote to verify border security as a condition of permitting the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants to go forward, Senator Rand Paul has decided to oppose the immigration reform bill.

While the immigration bill has many flaws, it is certainly a pro-liberty bill on balance (and I am not quite the open-borders absolutist that some libertarians are, but the current state of immigration control is deeply illiberal and contrary to the best American values). Moreover, the bill’s bad aspects are almost entirely the result of the demands of “border security hawks” like Paul and his fellow right-wingers. Even if Paul really is, deep down, a libertarian of sorts, it seems he is likely to stick with whatever the right wing of his party wants. That bodes poorly for any future Paul presidency. Presidents tend to adapt to the culture of the executive bureaucracy: witness Obama’s u-turns on civil liberties issues. Paul’s actions on the immigration bill suggest that he lacks the courage to buck his party even for a popular cause. As Will Wilkinson put it at economist.com,

The energetic ideological base of the Republican Party is a nationalist, identity-politics movement for relatively well-to-do older white Americans known as the “tea party”. The tea party is interested in bald eagles, American flags, the founding fathers, Jesus Christ, fighter jets, empty libertarian rhetoric, and other markers of “authentic” American identity and supremacy.

Does Rand Paul really want to go down in history as a standard-bearer for that ilk? It seems so.

13 thoughts on “Would President Paul Ever Stand Up to His Party?

  1. Trolls are coming for you. Be afraid.

    Seriously though, I’ve never bought his act anyway. He’s far more ambitious than his dad. He has no shot at president, because he has no compelling ideas to offer most people.

  2. How can the immigration bill possibly be regarded as “pro-liberty”? That, I don’t see. It’s full of preferences, favors and logrolling. Those undermine the foundations of liberty.

    1. Those aspects of the bill are regrettable, but the overall thrust of the bill remains pro-liberty. In DC nothing gets done without pork, unfortunately.

      1. Maybe define what “pro-liberty” means to you rather than just making an assertion. I don’t see it. To me it is discriminatory, harming those who have obeyed the law and rewarding those who broke it. It’s more appropriate to call it “pro-legalization” since it essentially legalizes the residency status of illegal aliens. How about we make a list of everyone who would have liked to have immigrated over the last 20 years but didn’t and we legalize them too? The bill itself will do nothing about re-forming and enforcing immigration law. Twenty years from now we’ll have another 12, 15 or 20 or more million who will need to be legalized. That’s how this political game works. And, what happens to all of the low skill Americans who currently, and will in the future, be competing with resident illegals? Oh, … ya, that’s where the pork comes in, right? That’s Bernie Sanders’ pork-for-the-workin’-man goes. We’ll have to disagree, it seems, on the “pro-liberty” claim. I just don’t see it.

      2. Well, it’s clear you and I have very different conceptions of liberty. Liberty includes a (defeasible) right to move across morally arbitrary political borders. It is legitimate to keep out those who are diseased or criminal, and, in exceptional circumstances, to regulate the flow of migrants to maintain good order, and it is also legitimate to limit citizenship to those who can demonstrate support for the values of a free society. Beyond that, however, the state has no legitimate role in limiting immigration, and those who break unjust laws (“illegal aliens”) are closer to heroes than villains.

      3. That’s a simplistic understanding of rights and a convenient definition of legitimate and illegitimate roles of the state. Nonetheless, it’s your opinion and your blog. Good luck with them.

  3. How broad are we defining pork now that we’re viewing the Senate immigration bill as full of logrolling and favors?

    Are there earmarks?


    Does it set up different systems of entrance for different sectors of the economy and different types of immigrants?

    Yes, but are we really at the point in which trying to tailor government policies to the needs of different sectors and industry is pork?

    Is having a lower marginal tax rate on capital compared to labor pork now?

    1. Good questions. I would consider the extra money spent on building a border fence and hiring more ICE agents to be “pork,” of a sort. But again, that is only in the bill because the restrictionists are demanding it.

      1. Your second point above suggests that it is not pork at all – or that at worst there is a baptist and bootlegger coalition in which some of the supporters honestly believe that such spending would advance the national interest. I find nothing unusual about a state, by definition, trying to police its borders and determine who can enter and exit. If you don’t like states, fine – I can see the point. But assuming you aren’t an anarchist, this would seem to be non-controversial as far as the state having a just authority to do so. Now whether it passes a cost-benefit test is another thing. As Milton Friedman noted, there are advantages of illegal immigration in a welfare state context. Moreover, there might be other good reasons not to build a fence or have more ICE agents running around the desert.

      2. Yes, I think it is Baptists and bootleggers, because the expenditure involved ($1.5 billion annually) is out of all proportion to any reasonable estimate of the marginal harm that could be prevented.

        I don’t think one needs to deny the moral legitimacy of states (although I do — but this doesn’t imply anarchism as it is usually defined, though that is another issue) to hold that there are fairly robust moral constraints on what states may do to limit people’s freedom to move into the territory they govern. Presumably, a state may not, for instance, deny entry to refugees who endorse the liberal character of the state and are themselves fleeing a totalitarian regime that will kill them if they are sent back. Or selectively accept immigrants on the basis of race. To assert the legitimacy of the state and its prima facie moral right to control its borders is merely to begin the analysis of current US policies, not to end it. In my view, current US policies would not stand up to such an analysis even for someone who believes that the US government is legitimate.

      3. Another thought – a liberal state might want to protect the liberal aspect of it against future illiberalism by allowing a safety valve in the form of relatively easy penetrated borders….

  4. “Liberty includes a (defeasible) right to move across morally arbitrary political borders.” This has worked so well for the Europeans, bringing in hordes of people who have no intention of working and whose goal is replacing Western government with Sharia.

    The best line I saw about allowing massive immigration is “welcome to your new rulers – remember what happened to American Indians.”

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