Rand Paul's Blinkered Libertarianism

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Rand Paul at a book signing at LPAC 2011 in Reno, Nevada.

Even if you disagree with Senator Rand Paul's broader politics, there's something inspiring about a politician willing to speak at length—and at some discomfort—for what he believes in. That's even more true when you consider the subject—civil liberties. Paul joins many other civil libertarians in his disdain for targeted killings, the administration's drone policy, and its general approach to due process.

Still, for all of Paul's eloquence on this sphere of civil liberties, he's decidedly less interested in the other areas where government uses the threat of force to compel action. Paul's brand of civil libertarianism—the war on drugs as assaults on freedom—doesn't extend to women's bodily autonomy. In his two years as the junior senator from Kentucky, Paul has supported "personhood" legislation (which would outlaw abortion and put major restrictions on several forms of contraception), threatened to permanently ban the District of Columbia from using its own funds to provide abortion care for low-income women, co-sponsored the "Life at Conception Act"—which would declare embryos legal persons from the "moment of conception" (which betrays ignorance of pregnancy as a process)—and attacked Roe v. Wade as "one of the most horrific judicial travesties in the history of our nation."

In Rand Paul's world, the government would all but mandate birth for pregnant women, regardless of their wishes, their finances, their physical or mental health, or the condition of the fetus. Does your child have a terrible defect that ensures stillbirth? Too bad.

None of this is to discount Paul's work on due process, but it's worth noting the extent to which his view of liberty is blinkered, with little room for the rights of women. This, it should be said, is why it's critical for liberal Democrats to step their game up and adopt a more confrontational stance toward President Obama's drone program and broader national security policies. We need more politicians to break with the Washington consensus on foreign policy, and it would be even better if those same politicians understood the extent to which "civil libertarianism" goes beyond police powers and national security.