Rand Paul and the Limits of the 'Tea Party' Revolution

Article excerpt

Rand Paul, Republican candidate for US Senate from Kentucky, is perhaps the closest thing there is to a 'tea party' candidate. In that light, his recent controversial comments are telling.

On Tuesday, Rand Paul showed the possibilities before the "tea party" movement with his landslide win in Kentucky's Republican primary for US Senate.

Since then, he has showed the tea party's limitations.

In the past five days, Mr. Paul has made several elementary political errors.

He has equivocated on whether the Civil Rights Act was right to force private business to comply.

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He has called the Obama administration "un-American" for saying its job was to keep its "the boot on the neck of BP" in the Gulf oil spill.

And he has said that the search for blame in the West Virginia mine accident might be fruitless. Sometimes "accidents happen," he said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that rookie candidates sometimes "stumble."

The comments do suggest political naivete. But to cast them off as merely the product of political inexperience is perhaps to gloss over one of the greatest challenges facing the tea party movement as it seeks to influence politics.

To remain true to the tea party ideology - to go beyond the Beltway horse-trading and firmly stand on the principles of a smaller, less-intrusive government - is, in some instances, to occupy a spot on the political fringes that is anathema and in some cases abhorrent to many in the American mainstream.

What the tea party wants

While Paul's comments are political gaffes, they do not appear to be too far afield from tea party doctrine - to the degree that such a thing exists.

The battle flag of the tea parties has been the Revolutionary War "Don't Tread on Me" banner. But the enemy to liberty, in this instance, is not the British, but the overbearing American government itself.

The tea parties' 10-point Contract From America includes "restore fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government in Washington." As if to underscore the point, it also includes: "demand a balanced budget" and "end runaway government spending."

Paul has been anointed to carry this gospel to Washington, and in each instance, Paul's comments last week spoke to the desire to lessen the grip of the American government on its people - in this case, business.

In theory, almost all Republicans have this aim. The difference between Paul and more mainstream Republicans, however, has been his apparent willingness (or inability not to) speak the pure doctrine of Barry Goldwater libertarianism - regardless of the political costs.

Paul is burrowing deep into political theory. …