Let some candidates seek the middle. Rand Paul is comfortable in the muddle.
Some have said the junior senator from Kentucky is the most “intriguing” of the possible Republican presidential candidates for 2016.
But if he is the most intriguing, it is not because he is the most interesting. It is because it’s so hard to figure out just what he is saying.
Abortion? That ought to be easy for a conservative such as Paul, right?
Not so fast there.
“I think the debate is about when life begins,” Paul said, stating the problem but not the solution, something he has become very adept at doing. “Is it OK for an 8-pound baby to be aborted one week before delivery? If the mother says she’s anxious and wants to ‘kill myself,’ you can have the abortion one day before it’s due.”
Paul was speaking at the University of Chicago in an event sponsored by its Institute of Politics. His questioner was the institute’s founder and former Obama aide, David Axelrod. And Axelrod tried to pin Paul down several times. But it was like trying to pin down quicksand.
Axelrod asked Paul to state when he thinks life begins.
“My personal religious belief is that life begins at the very beginning,” Paul said.
He then said that currently, the abortion debate in America is between those who believe in “all life and no abortion” and those who believe in “all abortion and no life.”
“I think the law will come down in between,” Paul said. “I think the public is in the middle.”
Or in a muddle as to just what Paul believes the law should be.
But how about affirmative action and college admission, seeing as that has been in the news this week?
“There was a time when we needed special protections, but we’ve come a long way,” Paul said. “But I think a person ought to be accepted on character or scores.”
But don’t some children suffer because they go to schools in poor neighborhoods and get a second-rate education?
“If poverty is causing lower scores,” Paul said, “let’s fix the problem.”
Politics can include the art of saying nothing — some men have been elected president by saying nothing at all but saying it well — but it is hard to see Paul surviving the modern-day presidential primary meat grinder of debate after debate with a campaign based on platitudes.
Asked about U.S. intervention — a sticky issue with libertarians, who usually favor no intervention unless terrorists are actually landing troops on the shores of New Jersey — Paul dived quickly into the muddle once again.
He said the argument is between two extremes, “those who would fight nowhere” and those who would fight “everywhere all the time.”
But is that really true? Is it really that simple? And what foreign policy would President Paul derive from that keen analysis?
“Let’s try not to be Pollyanna about making the world ‘safe for democracy,’ ” Paul said, using a phrase coined by Woodrow Wilson 97 years ago and rarely invoked today.
But wouldn’t Paul intervene to prevent an atrocity overseas like the Holocaust, even if U.S. security were not at stake? Axelrod asked.
“Haiti, after the earthquake, yeah,” Paul said. “And atrocity in Africa? Yeah, we can help to corral other countries.”
But a real problem, Paul said, is how much the United States wastes every year on foreign aid.
“Government-to-government aid is the history of corruption,” Paul said. “Almost invariably, the money is stolen. We should vastly reduce foreign aid, especially to countries where they burn our flag.”
Moving right along, how about pollution?
“We should minimize pollution,” Paul said. “But we have gone completely crazy with pollution laws.”
It was not all Looney Tunes. At one point, Paul quoted Marx. Not Karl but Groucho.
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it and then misapplying the wrong remedies,” Paul said, giving Groucho full credit.
But I think Paul believes this joke is revealed truth. And he believes that it is safest to not look for trouble, to make no real diagnoses and apply no remedies whatsoever. That way, you offend the least number of people.
It may not solve any of America’s problems, but it could get a guy elected.
“I don’t say that the president is a bad person,” Paul said, referring to Barack Obama. “But I worry about the next president and the next.”
I do, too.