Bill Maher gave Rand Paul quite a heartfelt welcoming on his show last night, even asking his audience to give Paul applause, and they did. The applause Rand got then, and throughout the show, is more than any other Republican has gotten, except for his father Ron Paul of course. That alone speaks volumes to the ability of libertarians, even libertarian-republicans, to appeal to other political demographics besides their own.
The show started off comically, with Bill asking Rand about his appearance on the cover of TIME magazine as “The Most Interesting Man in Politics”. Paul joked that it didn’t even mean he had to be very interesting, and Maher was quick to agree with him on that point.
While they joked about the irrelevance of being interesting in politics, Maher still agreed with the sentiment that Rand was the most interesting. He made the case that Rand Paul was the only one who got the ‘GOP Memo’ that the party would have to market to other groups, besides old white men, in order to win the next presidential election. It’s true that the GOP did release such a memo, and from Rand’s recent speeches at Berkeley, and to the National Urban League, it appears he’s the only one who’s read it.
While Maher is right on that one, the memo the GOP should have released would have been one that recognizes the importance of libertarian issues. Ron Paul voters and libertarians are the ones that cost the GOP the election in 2012. They didn’t vote for Obama obviously, but they did stay home and refuse to vote for neo-con Romney. The numbers are very clear there. Hopefully the GOP, and Rand Paul, can learn from those mistakes, and make a more serious effort to appeal to libertarians in 2016 by accepting more of our issues.
Bill Maher then expanded on Rand Paul’s efforts to expand the Republican Party’s base by mentioning his efforts on criminal justice reform. Paul has put forward bills that would reduce sentencing for non-violent drug offenders, and reinstate voting rights for former felons. He’s actually been working with liberal Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey on that issue which shows that he can cross party lines to get important work done.
Rand mentioned a specific example of someone he knew that grew marijuana in college and received a felony conviction for it which ruined his life. Paul believes that that man should have his record expunged and his voting rights restored. Bill Maher agreed, but joked that Paul should stop referring to him as ‘his friend from college’ and that ‘it didn’t ruin his life’.
That playful banter continued in the exceptionally lighthearted interview when Bill Maher asked Rand Paul about coal and the environment. That’s one of the areas where these two men have some substantial disagreement. Rand joked that Bill was breaking up, to make fun of politicians that dodge tough questions, but he did follow through and answer the question later.
Paul proposed a moderate solution that emphasized the negative effects of environmental regulations on jobs, even though there were important health benefits gained from them. Rand also mentioned a bill he would be proposing in the future to deregulate alternative energies and encourage innovation. This was the one area that Bill Maher and Rand Paul really disagreed on. There was quite a bit of debate about “alarmist” environmentalists, and the “religiosity” of those people. Bill defended those antics of course, but they basically agreed to disagree in the end.
Then Maher moved on to one of the biggest areas of agreement between libertarians and liberals: foreign policy. True liberals, ones that don’t support Obama, are just as anti-war as libertarians. We’d both love to see the end of American nation building and the military industrial complex.
That’s where Bill Maher related Rand Paul to his father Ron Paul for the first time. Maher mentioned Ron’s willingness to speak truth to his own party, and his acceptance of their misguided booing. Ron never took back what he rightfully said about U.S. foreign policy and the two war parties because it was the truth, and a message that the people needed to hear. It may have cost him election, but he was right.
Bill used that example in order to clarify whether Rand was in agreement with his father on this issue. Specifically, he questioned Paul on his position on ISIS. While Rand has called the current war illegal, Rand did get into hot water with strict anti-war libertarians when he said he might be in favor of Congressionally-authorized bombing campaigns in Iraq. Maher didn’t seem concerned about that, but instead about the fact that the Joint Chiefs had said ground troops would be needed. A ground war in Iraq is something that all libertarians are firmly against. That didn’t stop Obama from doubling troop strength in Iraq last week though.
Rand clarified that he was never for, and still isn’t for, sending in any ground troops whatsoever. He said he would have never voted for the Iraq War when it began, and that it “wasted trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives”. Paul couldn’t have been more right there, and sounded exactly word for word like his father. Both have criticized the GOP, and recognized that toppling secular dictators leads to Islamic fundamentalism, and fractured states.
Rand tried to minimize his support for airstrikes saying that they would only be for protecting the legitimate U.S. interests in the region such as the U.S. embassy and consulates. While some libertarians may disagree with that, it’s a somewhat reasonable position. He also mentioned voting against any action in Syria, and voting against sending money and arms to rebels there.
The interview concluded with one of Rand Paul’s most memorable quotes from the entire interview. When Bill Maher asked him if he would stand by his quote from 2000 that the “war on drugs is an abysmal failure, and a waste of money”, Rand Paul replied like a true libertarian. Paul said that he absolutely stood by that quote and that he would “do everything to end the war on drugs”. That’s a quote that should make all libertarians happy.
Rand Paul really showed his true libertarian colors in this interview. Those colors have appeared muddled recently, as Paul played the political game with the GOP coming up to the last election. He’s building alliances within the GOP to shore up his chances in 2016, and while it might not be preferable, it is probably necessary.
It’s nice to see that when given the chance to discuss issues on his own terms, Rand Paul’s innate libertarianism shines through. That’s the candidate that Libertarians want to see in 2016. Sure, Paul is going to have to pretend to be more conservative and more Republican to win the GOP primaries, but if he remains true to himself, and his father, this libertarian will have no problem voting for him in 2016.