We're now in a particularly creative period for the political press, when the 2016 presidential campaign is definitely getting going, but journalists aren't yet required to spend long stretches of their lives following candidates from one soul-sucking living room meet-n-greet to the next across Iowa. That means that when something new and different comes up — like, say, Rand Paul dabbling in a little vaccine trutherism — reporters can say to themselves, "That's interesting. I wonder if he believes in any other crazy things?" And then they can spend some time looking, and talking about what they find.
In that spirit, Talking Points Memo reminds us of a story they did in 2010 that I think I missed at the time. It concerns comments Paul made in 2008 while campaigning in Montana for his father's presidential campaign, about a conspiracy theory known as the NAFTA Superhighway. Briefly, the theory says that there is a secret plan to build a highway 400 yards wide that stretches all the way from Mexico across the United States to Canada, the purpose of which is to unite the three countries in a single political entity known as the North American Union, under which American sovereignty will be lost and the dollar will be replaced with a currency known as the Amero.
As it happens, I have a bit of an interest in this topic, because around the time that Rand Paul was talking it up, I had a colorful little debate about it with Lou Dobbs, who had been pushing the theory on his CNN program. Basically, I asked Dobbs if he had any actual evidence that such a conspiracy exists, and in response he yelled at me for a few minutes. Like any good conspiracy theory, this one grabs snippets of truth and weaves them into a fanciful and sinister tale; one of those snippets is the Trans-Texas Corridor, a large and controversial highway project proposed by Rick Perry in the early 2000s. Though the project would be only in Texas, people like Dobbs were convinced that it was just one part of the secret plan, and after they started building the highway in Texas, they'd just turn north and head for Winnipeg, and before you knew it America would be nothing but a memory, our distinctiveness as a unique nation left to suffocate under miles of asphalt.
In the face of a lot of local opposition to the proposal, Perry's administration eventually gave up on it, and frankly I have no idea whether people on the right still think the NAFTA Superhighway is in the offing. But in 2008, Rand Paul was right on board with the conspiracy theorists. Here's the transcript:
Q: What does Ron Paul want to do to fight the prospect of a North American Union and an Amero?
Rand Paul: Well I think publicizing it is the first thing, publicizing that it's going on. Trying to get the legislature to stop it, through official acts of Congress. You know any time he talks about it, though, the media tries to make fun of him as if it doesn't exist. But I think in Montana, your state legislature has talked about the North American Union. Texas has had several votes about the corridor, they just call it a different name, they call it the trans-Texas corridor.
Q: It comes right through here.
Rand Paul: Yeah, it's the same thing. It's gonna go up through Texas, I guess, all the way to Montana. So, it's a real thing, and when you talk about it, the thing you just have to be aware of is that, if you talk about it like it's a conspiracy, they'll paint you as a nut. It's not a conspiracy, they're out in the open about it. I saw the YouTube of Vincente Fox talking about the Amero. So, it's not a secret. Now it may not be [inaudible] tomorrow, but it took 'em 20 or 30 years to get the Euro, and they had to push people kicking and screaming into the Euro.
But I guarantee you it's one of their long term goals to have one sort of borderless, mass continent.
It's all there: the superhighway to Canada, the Trans-Texas Corridor, the Amero, the North American Union. And who's this "they" Paul keeps referring to, pulling the strings and discrediting the people with the courage to speak the truth? If you have to ask, you're obviously one of the sheep. You need to open your eyes, man.
Over the last year or so I've praised Rand Paul multiple times for his political skills, particularly in working the media (see here, for example). But I think this is going to be one of Paul's biggest problems as a presidential candidate — not that he'll be tarred with his father's views, but that he spent so long marinating in his father's world.
You see, most politicians who get to where Paul is work their way up by climbing the political ladder: they run for city council in their town, then maybe mayor, then they become a state rep, then a state senator or congressman, and finally run for the Senate. That experience makes you a creature of the place where you come from and party that nurtured you. Along the way your views will come to reflect their concerns and their consensus about policy.
But that's not the path Rand Paul followed. Whatever his talents, he's a United States senator because he's Ron Paul's son. Over his time in Congress, Ron Paul developed a small but fervent national constituency, made up of some ordinary libertarians and a whole lot of outright wackos. That constituency was greatly expanded by his 2008 presidential campaign. Despite the fact that Paul had plenty of interesting and reasonable things to say, it's also the case that if you were building a bunker to prepare for the coming world financial crash and ensuring societal breakdown (and possible zombie apocalypse), there was only one presidential candidate for you. When Rand Paul decided to run for Senate in 2010, having never run for anything before, the Ron Paul Army mobilized for him, showering him with money and volunteers. He also had the good fortune to be running in a year when Republicans everywhere were looking for outsider, tea party candidates, so he easily beat the choice of the Kentucky GOP establishment in the primary.
You may remember that early on, and unseasoned Rand Paul got in trouble for his ideas about things like the Civil Rights Act. But he quickly discerned what was acceptable and what wasn't, and he set about moderating his views, sanding down the rough edges of libertarianism to find something that would fit more neatly within the Republican Party while also finding issues where he could say something distinctive. It's been very effective, but you can't erase the past.
And I'm guessing there's more in Paul's past that will be of interest now that we're getting into the 2016 campaign. I don't mean scandalous behavior, I mean scandalous notions. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are a dozen more videos like this one out there, in which the now-respectable senator says some alarming things to groups of people who revere his father in all the elder Paul's eccentric glory. I could be wrong, of course—the NAFTA superhighway and vaccines causing autism may be the only conspiracy theories Rand Paul has ever entertained. But we're going to find out.