Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Note To Self: Never Be Nice About The Right

I've been keeping an eye on Rand Paul ever since I gave him credit for at least being entirely honest about his totally lunatic, unworkable beliefs. Specifically, it was refreshing to see a conservative/libertarian finally confess that their approach to the concept of freedom would necessarily make life tough for some groups of people. Clearly, that doesn't make them right, but I have far more respect for libertarians who start sentences with "This will be difficult and seem unfair, but..." than I do for those who insist "Everything would be better for everyone if only...".

Well, since then Paul has been working very hard indeed to demonstrate he's just as bad as the rest of the Republican Party. His libertarian tough-talk has been getting less and less about making hard decisions, and more and more about confusing "freedom" with "getting away with a much as you can".

Anyway, I think he might finally have reached his nadir (though I'm by no means sure I'm right about that) with this slice of villainy:
"The bottom line is: I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules," Paul said... "You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs."

"I know that doesn't sound … I want to be compassionate, and I'm sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?"

Steve Benen notes one obvious take-away here: it's probably not a good sign that Paul doesn't want to have a hand in any legislation about something he isn't an expert in. God knows, we need more brains in politics, and we certainly need politicians to be briefed better, but that doesn't mean they get to wash their hands of any situation they don't want to learn about.

There's something far worse here, though. Claiming shopkeepers rights to refuse sales is more important than customers rights to be served is at least a comprehensible position, even if I think Paul is on the wrong side of it. On the other hand, arguing that a mine won't be able to hire manual labour if its safety record isn't good enough is just completely, mind-bogglingly ignorant. It would be stupid at any time, but with the US in the grips of an unemployment crisis, it pretty much beggars belief.

And the thing is, I'm pretty sure Paul knows this. Why? Because of that last line. Paul has no evidence, as far as I've been able to determine, that the disaster at the mine was anything but an accident. But he's happy to suggest it might have been. Because if it was, it would mean he didn't have to consider the risks of his position. He's put himself in a position where he's saying "Without regulations no mine will have a deadly accident", and the only way he can square that with actual fatal disasters is to question whether they were an accident at all.

It's a fairly common rhetorical trick, actually: you start with your axiomatic principles, and question the validity of any evidence that surfaces that contradicts them. I suspect almost everyone is guilty of that to some extent every now and again, but that doesn't mean this particular brand of reductio ad absurdum that the American right seems to specialise in shouldn't be condemned for what it is. It doesn't matter whether it's logically incoherent, whether you exonerate those responsible, or blame the victim: the principal tenant that less regulation means more awesome must never be allowed to face criticism or counter-evidence.

In short, I spoke too soon. Either Paul is just another cynical opportunist, or he's completely insane.

Or both. It's probably both.

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