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Outsiders vs. Insiders: The Senate (and America) could use more ‘grandstanding’ from Rand Paul

Whenever a conservative Republican congressman or senator separates from his party on an important matter it invites the peculiar notice of reporters. After all, the chattering class loves a juicy story – and if there’s someone stirring up intra-party trouble it’s invariably boosted to the lead item in newspapers and cable news shows within moments.

Such was the case last week when Kentucky Senator Rand Paul declared he’d had enough of the GOP’s big Senator Rand Paulspending hypocrisy and took it upon himself (by invoking senate rules) to delay a vote on the federal budget, therefore assuring the measure wouldn’t pass in time to avert another (albeit brief) government shutdown.

Many conservatives (at least those who were still awake) cheered Paul’s principled action as a relief – finally there was someone willing to stand for the brand of fiscal discipline the party’s candidates so enthusiastically tout every campaign cycle. The fact Paul gave in to the leaders’ wishes shortly afterwards wasn’t puzzling – Paul knew he couldn’t stop the inevitable train wreck on his own -- but he’d made a point. Good for him.

Naturally the establishment didn’t see Paul’s endeavor in quite the same way. Sarah Rumpf reported at RedState, “Part of the frustration with Paul is the view that he is right about the issue of spending but wrong in his timing and approach to the problem, according to a top Senate Republican aide who spoke to RedState on condition of anonymity.

“The annoyance with Paul was exacerbated by what was viewed as grandstanding: our source pointed out that Paul was offered the budget point of order, which would have given him the time and opportunity to voice his objections without derailing the bill, but he refused. Our source also noted that Paul took time away from the Senate floor to do several cable news hits (we are aware of him appearing on at least Fox News Channel and CNN), instead of continuing to study the bill or discuss his objections with his fellow Senators.

“The fact Paul was offered additional time to speak after the shutdown began at midnight but declined — no longer during prime time television hours — can only add to the frustration.”

Yeah sure, Paul shut down the government just to get his face on TV; that makes a lot of sense. Paul had his reasons but certainly they weren’t self-promoting and there’s another view “out here” that the senate needs about fifty more Rand Pauls and a lot fewer stuffy establishmentarians who vote for anything that buys them a good night’s sleep -- even if it causes nightmares for future generations to pay for all the irresponsible actions now.

One Bloomberg journalist reported some of Paul’s Republican colleagues “fumed” at his actions and leadership member Sen. John Cornyn chastised Paul publicly for inconveniencing the staff. In other words, it’s okay to “inconvenience” Americans to pay for $300 billion in additional borrowing but if senate staffers have to spend a few extra hours at their desks – wow, that’s a horrible thing.

I recall there were similar rejoinders to Senator Ted Cruz’s principled stand in 2013 when the Texan single-handedly shutdown the government in a futile attempt to satisfy party campaign promises to defund Obamacare before it went into full effect.

Then, as now, elites assert such public spectacles are basically just naked grandstanding, egocentric demonstrations put on by individuals craving fame for themselves. The dictionary defines grandstanding as “seeking attention or admiration, to show off in order to impress people, especially spectators.” Synonyms include showboating, impressing, show off, play to the gallery, ham up and attract attention.

Paul clearly wasn’t doing this for his own sake alone – and if he offered cable news interviews in the midst of the kerfuffle it’s just because he’s doing his job, informing the public of what’s happening in the inner workings of the far-off capitol where people we elect are spending our tax money in a manner no family or business would ever do. Paul’s a hero, not a villain. He’s one of a few who’s actually keeping his word – and the ruling class hates it.

We should recall it was only a few months ago Paul was physically assaulted in his own front yard by a leftist neighbor because the man didn’t like what Paul stood for in Congress. Anyone who accuses Paul now of grandstanding for his personal political benefit should realize acting on principle sometimes contains unforeseen consequences – even when doing yardwork. Though he’s slowly recovering from his injuries Paul clearly isn’t back to where he was before the attack. Would anyone relish such attention?

For his part Paul took to the op-ed page to explain his motivations in greater depth. In a piece titled “Congress Is Full of Hypocrites. I Took a Stand,” Paul wrote at Time on Friday, “I simply asked for one thing in this broken process: a 15-minute vote on whether those caps should or should not be broken. The furor this request set off among leadership, the wailing and screeching among Big Government advocates in Congress and in the media — well, you would think I had asked them to shut down forever…

“Seven hundred pages of bill, spending over 500 billon new dollars. It’s a lot to throw at someone the day of a shutdown deadline. But of course, the leaders knew that. They count on no one to challenge them. They count on rubber stamps and yes-men who will fight them ‘the next time.’

“Yesterday, I wanted to show my colleagues and the voters that sent us that the time is now. Our debt is $20 trillion and growing, and our party seems to only want to be fiscally conservative when they’re in the minority. We now control the House, Senate and White House, and we should stand for less government and less spending. Instead, we see a massive increase that would make President Obama cringe.”

I disagree with Paul on that one – Obama’s not cringing, he’s laughing. The former president is probably lounging comfortably in his six million dollar opulent Georgetown mansion reflecting back on all the times he pushed hapless dolt Mitch McConnell to the brink – and won. Obama’s not even president anymore and Chuck Schumer’s accomplishing the same dirty aims. For all his attributes President Trump is no fiscal conservative – big spending doesn’t bother him as long as Congress writes the checks.

During his speech on the senate floor, Paul said “When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party.”

Paul’s right. The common belief is Democrats prefer domestic social spending while Republicans favor the military, but in reality both parties run up the tab whenever it’s their turn to control the government’s purse strings. A good argument could be made having a Democrat president is preferable for managing spending because Republicans fight harder to keep the deficit down when they’re in the minority. Democrats don’t care a lick how much government spends – they’re hardly a check on today’s GOP largesse.

It could also be said Paul draws additional establishment ire because he’s one of a handful of Republicans who doesn’t automatically toe the party line on defense spending. Whereas the vast majority of Republicans, President Trump included, called for bursting the budget caps on military outlays Paul sought to keep them in place.

Paul is correct again; why shouldn’t the defense department have to tighten its own budgets to conform to twenty-first century reality and the exploding national debt? Conservatives such as Pat Buchanan have argued for years that America’s costly post-WW II commitments in Europe and Asia no longer fit with contemporary necessity. Why, for example, are there over twenty thousand U.S. troops stationed within shooting distance of Kim Jong-un when the South Korean military is more than capable of defending its border against any conventional attack?

Meanwhile President Trump is making progress in forcing NATO members to pay more for their own protection but his campaign “threats” to end the alliance don’t seem to be coming to fruition. Russia remains a menace in Eastern Europe but there’s no way the United States should risk provoking another world war should Vladimir Putin go off the rails and invade one of his smaller neighbors.

Paul’s had the guts to speak out for foreign policy realism and he’s suffered an enormous backlash from the establishment because of it. Of course Rand will always dwell in the shadow of his libertarian-to-the-core father Ron, but it’s still great to see a conservative in Washington who isn’t afraid to speak up when the situation calls for it.

There was another bit of against-the-grain courage exhibited just a few days ago, this time from an unexpected source. Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner reported, “Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus indicated that he believed President Trump has the correct instincts when it comes to his social media habits, though he admitted he was initially resistant to the way the president tweeted as a candidate.

“Reflecting on MSNBC about time spent with Trump during the campaign, Priebus said: ‘I would be the guy, 'Don't tweet this. Do tweet that. Don't this, don't that.' And others chimed in, even the first lady and the family.’

“’But at the end of the day, he goes through the whole campaign, he's listening to people like me saying, 'Don't tweet this, don't tweet that,' and he tweeted it, and he won,’ he added. ‘So, I'm at a place now on the whole tweeting issue that I think more or less people like me were wrong, and people like him were right.’”

Who would’ve thought an ever-cautious elitist like Reince Priebus would buck the popular pundit trend of bash-Trump’s-tweets-all-the-time. Priebus’s earned a reputation as a man who tried to keep the establishment leash on Trump, but maybe he’s come to see the light. Trump’s instincts were pretty right-on in the 2016 GOP primaries and in the general election – perhaps the president needs a little slack in assessing the wisdom of his own social media habits.

The same goes for Rand Paul. Paul is a rare breed in Washington today, a politician who’s more concerned with the long game than he is about short-term expediency. America survived another government shutdown, but will it be so fortunate in the years to come? Time will tell.

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