Saturday, March 8, 2014

Christie vs. Paul

I listened to the speeches given at CPAC by Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

Senator Paul's speech was about the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Mr. Paul maintains that our (misnamed) war on terror violates the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, the government has no right to imprison American citizens without due process, even in war time. Nor does the government have any right to personal information without a warrant.

So I'm not a lawyer, but none of the amendments in the Bill of Rights are absolute. To pick the most egregious example, 200,000 Americans were killed without due process during the Civil War. Many more were imprisoned without trial as prisoners of war. Yet nobody says that Lincoln violated the Constitution by pursuing the war. The Founders prohibited "unreasonable searches and seizures," but what is unreasonable in peaceful, civil society may be perfectly permissible in time of war.

Both Presidents Bush and Obama have prosecuted the war on terror as if it were a war. I think they are correct to do so. Any person who puts themselves on the battlefield--regardless of citizenship--forfeits rights of due process. Mr. Paul seems unable to make that distinction.

Similarly, he's all riled up about the NSA spying. Now I agree there are problems, but I also strongly assert that government has an obligation to protect citizens from harm. Technology makes it possible for relatively small groups of individuals to do immense damage, and I support the right of the government to try to find those individuals. So, if you take the NSA's words at face value, they are data mining a vast amount of information scavenged from everywhere looking for leads. I don't know how effective this is, but I have no principled objection to this procedure. Indeed, (assuming it is effective) I'm happy they're doing it.

Two more things about the NSA. First, I'd support a law which says that data uncovered by the NSA cannot be used in a court of law, i.e., the NSA is for military purposes only. This would, I think, eliminate most privacy concerns. And second, the real government threat to civil liberties does not come from the NSA, but rather from the IRS. I find it odd that Mr. Paul and others who are so in a tizzy about legitimate security efforts are willing to overlook the IRS.

Chris Christie opened his talk on a completely different theme, with the story about how he addressed the state firefighters convention. He told them the truth--that unless there was an overhaul of public employee pensions, nobody would be getting any pensions. Despite Mr. Christie's efforts, New Jersey is still very deep in the pension hole.

Mr. Christie's major themes were smaller government, a positive message emphasizing free-market capitalism, and his pro-life position. He stressed that Republicans should be for something rather than merely opposing the Democrats.

Mr. Christie has been dinged by Republicans for three missteps. 1) He cozied up with President Obama just before the November election, which some blame for Romney's loss. 2) He accepted the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare for one year, but vetoed a bill to make the expansion permanent. 3) He's a wuss on gun control, and is generally pro-immigration.

Recently there has been the whole Bridgegate scandal, which certainly betrays a lack of judgement.

I like Mr. Christie. I do wish he hadn't hugged Obama, but I can forgive him that. His "sin" on the Medicaid expansion seems minor--he simply accepted it for one year. There is no permanent buy-in on Obamacare. I disagree with him on gun control, but frankly, I think that issue is decided and his opinion will have no effect on anything. I am pro-immigration.

Both these gentlemen are excellent orators. Mr. Paul is more ideological, almost religious, preaching the cause of Liberty. I agree with the sentiment, but nothing he says is practical. I've learned not to trust utopian dreamers from my Trotskyist days, and that's how I view Rand Paul. I think he's something of a demagogue. There are people whose opinions I respect who've signed up for him--Glenn Reynolds for one. But I can't see it.

Mr. Christie, on the other hand, is a very pragmatic fellow with feet of clay. Instead of soaring speechifying, you get a can-do, practical program, albeit with an underlying moral core. For him, "Liberty" becomes "freedom made possible by small, efficient government." He supports national security, and I think his pugnacious temperament contrasts favorably with Obama's wimpy personality. He has gone out of his way to diss Rand Paul, and supports our national security efforts.

Ron Paul (Rand's father) was a popular candidate in 2012. I could never have voted for him--not even against a Democrat. Fortunately he was too far from the mainstream to be a serious contender. Rand is beginning to sound like his father. That he devotes his CPAC speech to wrong-headed notions about privacy and national security is not reassuring. I certainly will not vote for him in any primary, and he's marching close to the boundary where I can't vote for him at all.

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