What do Winston Churchill and Rand Paul have in common?
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, considered by many to be the greatest statesmen of the 20th Century. In reading various articles commemorating the occasion I was struck by the widespread opinion that Winston Churchill could never be elected to a political office today in Britain or the United States. The reasons are several. He was perceived by contemporaries a gadfly, confident and opinionated to the point his detractors found arrogant. He spoke out for his beliefs even when unpopular, and even when Conservative party leaders preferred silence. Above all he was a font of ideas, solutions, and opinions that he freely expressed without pausing to consider who might be offended. In today’s politics, the thinking goes, he would be viewed as gaffe-prone and controversial. He would certainly be unable to maintain what is today called message discipline, i.e. restricting himself to a few focus-group-approved sound bites supposedly necessary to win over 21st century voters.
Hmm. Confident, stands up for his beliefs to the point of annoying party leaders and, worst yet, fails to censor every word that comes out of his mouth. Does that remind you of anyone in today’s field of potential 2016 presidential candidates? Of course I’m talking about Rand Paul. I’m not here to speculate what Winston Churchill’s views would be on contemporary politics, though his ever-present theme of standing for liberty against tyranny suggests that he and the Senator would agree on much. Nor am I here to speculate what Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) 80%’s views would be on the issues facing the British Empire during Churchill’s lifetime. What I am here to argue is that, like Churchill, Paul expands the conversation. Churchill didn’t just accept the political reality of his time and try to ride it like someone hopping on a train. He drove in his own direction, and tried to tow the world along with him. Sometimes he even succeeded. Of course it remains to be seen whether Paul will also succeed. Obviously, Paul’s accomplishments to date don’t measure up to Churchill’s. But at least he’s trying.
“Now we have ‘adequacy.’ What is adequacy? Adequacy is no standard at all. It is simply what His Majesty’s Ministers at any given moment, surveying what they have got, choose to say is adequate.” Churchill. Churchill’s point then and my point now is that it’s not enough maintain the status quo. We must from time-to-time go on the offensive and stand up for ideas that are considered controversial. Political correctness has done enormous harm the intellectual breadth and depth of debate. The media-academic complex, by defining certain ideas as offensive and therefore verboten, has narrowed the range of acceptable debate to a platform so limited that conservatives are afraid to even argue for their ideas.
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Churchill. “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.” Churchill. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention that the Democrats intend to make the next election about the unequal sharing of blessings. Thus we need someone who is unafraid to talk about the equal sharing of miseries. Socialism, in order to make things more “equal” has a tendency to make everyone poorer and less free. Rand Paul has stood almost alone among Republican hopefuls in hammering the liberty issue, and affirmatively making the argument that excessive government harms people. Indeed, he wrote an entire book about how excessive government tyrannizes ordinary people. Mixing writing with politics is another Churchillian trait.
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Churchill. “When eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.” Churchill. If Republicans fight only on the ground chosen by their enemies they will lose. Maybe not immediately, but gradually as the ratchet effect of taxes, regulations, and government power goes ever upward. We need voices that aren’t afraid to gore anyone’s sacred ox. We need to argue that supposedly inviolate entitlements need reform, as Rand Paul did when he recently argued that America’s disability system needs reform. The self-appointed keepers of political correctness labeled this a “gaffe,” insensitive to America’s disabled. Yet it’s an argument that needs to be made. The disability system is insolvent and has seen a doubling in enrollment during a time when Americans have gotten, on average, healthier. It must be changed if we’re to protect it for the people that truly need it and somebody in the Republican field must be unafraid to openly make that argument.
“Socialism would gather all power to the supreme party and party leaders, rising like stately pinnacles above their vast bureaucracies of civil servants no longer servants, no longer civil.” Churchill. We need politicians that don’t dance around the issue of entrenched government power, but squarely confront the need to strip vast bureaucracies of most of their power. We need to make the argument that the welfare state is perpetuating poverty, rather than relieving it, by providing too few incentives for industry and encouraging people to look to their political masters for sustenance. We know we’ll be accused of fighting for the rich, called insensitive to various identity groups, and perhaps even labeled as racists. We can’t let that stop us any more than Churchill let the fact he was booed in the House of Commons and called a warmonger stop him from standing up to Hitler.
“One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!” Churchill. The 2016 election, after 8-years of the biggest-government President in U.S. History, is a historically rare opportunity for advocates of liberty and small government. The Republican Party must not squander that opportunity by running away from all the dangerous issues. There are millions of people that have watched their insurance premiums go up, and the quality of their insurance decline, as a result of government meddling. We need someone to stand up and draw that connection. It’s not enough to say the Democrats are wrong in their demagoguery; we most point out how we propose to make this country better for the American people. We need to hammer conservative ideas to help the poor, like charter schools and vouchers, and a welfare system that rewards people for acquiring skills and going back to work. We need to hammer the fact that ending corporate welfare, a big giveaway for the rich, is a conservative idea. We need to make the positive argument that liberty makes everyone’s life better.
It remains to be seen whether the American people can be persuaded to embrace a comprehensive platform of liberty. But they might surprise you. Even in his own time, during his long wilderness years, people thought Churchill would never be Prime Minister. They were wrong then, and I think those who say Churchill could never be elected today are wrong. I think a bold advocate of liberty can win today. Maybe I’m wrong. But the only way to guaranty we lose the argument is if we’re afraid to make it. Let us “arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Churchill.