Rand Paul’s Reality

Sincerity — if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Rand Paul gave the world a master class in the practical application of George Burns’ famous joke about the entertainment industry. A consummate libertarian of the performer class, Paul spoke in the U.S. Senate last week about his unwillingness to support any more military aid to Ukraine. His speech was passionate but controlled, principled but colloquial, pugnacious but collegial — and loaded to overflowing with half-truths, distortions, and ominously framed commonplaces. Sincerity faked like only a true professional can fake it.

You may watch it below; in fact, I urge you to watch it, from start to finish.

This is a brilliant example of the rhetorical trick of throwing an uninterrupted litany of ideas at the listener, taking no time — and thus allowing no time — for any one idea to be assessed and critiqued in rational terms.

Consider this impressive run, from early in the speech:

There’s a lot of things that we need to fix in our country, before we borrow money to try to perpetuate a war in another country. When will the aid requests end? When will the war end? Can someone explain what victory in Ukraine looks like? President Biden certainly can’t. His administration has failed to articulate a clear strategy or objective in this war, and Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive has failed to make meaningful gains in the east. With no clear end in sight, it looks increasingly like Ukraine will be yet another endless quagmire funded by the American taxpayer. That’s why public support for the war is waning.

“…before we borrow money to try to perpetuate a war in another country.” But since the only reason there is a war in the first place is because Vladimir Putin ordered a full invasion of Ukraine, does not refusing to “perpetuate a war” entail simply acquiescing to a quick and complete Russian victory? So why doesn’t Paul phrase his sentence this way: “…before we borrow money to try to prevent Vladimir Putin from re-annexing Ukraine, successfully intimidating the West into silent compliance with his expansionist aggression, and emboldening himself for future adventures.”

“When will the aid requests end?” I don’t know, but I assume it will be about the time Putin stops occupying Ukrainian territory, attacking Ukrainian civilians, and kidnapping Ukrainian children. Indeed, isn’t that sort of self-evident? Paul’s question, carefully breezed through among a list of other, equally breezy questions, is clearly meant to be rhetorical, but that is only because there is a reasonable answer for it, but an answer he prefers the listener not have time to think of.

“When will the war end?” Presumably, it will end either when Putin concedes defeat and pulls out his troops or when Ukraine surrenders its land to a tyrant. The fact that neither of those outcomes seems likely in the near future, at least under current conditions, forces one to consider which outcome one would prefer, and which outcome aligns better with America’s long-term national interests: a defeated and severely weakened Putin or a victorious Putin emboldened by the knowledge that the West lacks the nerve to stand up to him.

“Can someone explain what victory in Ukraine looks like?” Actually, yes, it would be quite easy to do for anyone who was not trying to dishearten Americans with a paint-by-numbers picture of futility. I’m sure even Rand Paul could do it himself, if he were not so adamant about repeating Tucker Carlson’s translation of the Russian media’s script. Victory in Ukraine looks like Ukraine rebuilding its cities after a Russian military retreat.

As for the Biden administration’s inability to articulate a clear strategy or objective in the war, that is certainly true — but this fact could serve equally well as a case for clarifying and enhancing U.S. support for Ukraine, which might conceivably have brought the war to a satisfying end by now, unlike the piecemeal promises and dithering that the White House has used to drag things out, at the expense of so many Ukrainian lives, not to mention so much American popular goodwill toward Ukraine’s cause. Hence, while factually correct, Paul’s criticism of the Biden administration does nothing to strengthen his case for abandoning Ukraine, after all its losses and destruction, to be swallowed up at last by a Putin who has been so successfully thwarted for so long, which would effectively entail snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, all because Rand Paul thinks Russia rebuilding the Soviet empire under the rule of a murderous and conscienceless KGB despot is nothing to worry about, or not America’s problem. Wishful thinking at best on that one, I would say. Rand Paul is to American geopolitical diminution what Janet Yellen is to American economic disintegration: a genius at cocooning passengers in ennui by painting “Sweet dreams” on the deck of their sinking ship of state.

“…and Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive has failed to make meaningful gains in the east.” That sounds remarkably like pro-Russia propaganda, intended to sink Western morale, given that the counteroffensive is still ongoing, and has been hampered precisely by U.S. heel-dragging on half-promised weapons support.

“With no clear end in sight, it looks increasingly like Ukraine will be yet another endless quagmire funded by the American taxpayer. That’s why public support for the war is waning.” No, public support is waning because the Republican Party has been deeply infiltrated with pro-Putin populists and apologists, who have inured a goodly portion of the public to relativistic surrender as a pro-America stance. The fact that Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson do not sound like complete outliers and pariahs within their factions of the elected GOP and the GOP-friendly media, but rather sound increasingly like the mainstream of their party, as Rand Paul is demonstrating here, is a major part of the reason for the waning public support. Normalize cynical skepticism and relativistic moral arguments on tribal lines, and, particularly in an America increasingly lost in myopic self-indulgence and “fake news” nihilism, it will be very difficult to maintain any sense of purpose where issues of long-term national security, basic judgments of good and evil, and the imperatives of maintaining functioning alliances and national strength in an age of intercontinental weaponry and mass-manipulation technology, are concerned. In other words, arguments like Paul’s are pretending merely to cite “waning public support” while actually attempting to promote it.

Later in the speech, Paul lays out a similar string of “facts” related to Ukrainian government actions during the war itself, including questionable political moves and allegations of misappropriation of aid money. However, Paul uses the rapid-fire approach again to dull the mind to nuances, timelines, and detailed explanations. For example, he talks about Zelensky’s banning eleven political opposition parties, including one holding over forty seats in the Ukrainian parliament — ignoring the fact that this took place in the early weeks of the war, not recently, and that the party with forty parliamentary seats was a pro-Putin party whose leader had been under house arrest for months before the war, charged with treason for his close ties with the Kremlin. A question for Senator Paul: If his country had just been invaded by China, and was in the midst of a war of survival against an occupying Chinese military, would he be sanguine about an American political party which had been working covertly with the Chinese Communist Party to undermine the American government, and whose party leader was a close personal associate of Xi Jinping, holding a substantial number of seats in Congress and remaining a functioning political party in good standing during that war? The same goes for Paul’s further citing of raids in certain Orthodox churches — overtly attempting to scare Christian conservatives away from Ukraine (and towards…?) — which churches were known or suspected of serving as pro-Russia propaganda agencies in the midst of the invasion. Is this anti-Christian oppression, as Paul ominously implies, or a legitimate act of national self-defense which any country in similar circumstances would have to contemplate, and would likely carry out, for the same reasons that Ukraine did?

Enough said. Paul, an intermittently rational politician, is showing the typical weakness of the Paul family’s libertarianism on foreign policy, as well as the GOP grassroots’ Trump-era weakness for demagogic populism and moral relativism. The entire speech is loaded with such obfuscations and outright falsehoods. 

As I have said before, however, my point is not that there is no case to be made against economic or military support for Ukrainian defense. There is a case to be made. But that case is radically undermined by those who, like Paul and the populist “nationalists” he is pimping for, make fallacious or viciously manipulative claims about the war itself, or the Ukrainian government’s actions, in order to sway public opinion against war funding on morally hazy grounds — as though Ukraine were the problem, and hence, by implication, as though Putin were a mere misunderstood victim in this “quagmire,” rather than the one and only true cause of it. It would have been nice to hear Paul say, “Russia is the problem, Putin is the villain, and I hope to God that Ukraine wins the war completely and without compromise — but America cannot afford to get embroiled in such an effort at this time, just though the cause truly is.” But he said no such unambiguous thing, nor do I ever expect him to, since to speak thus would undermine his purpose, which is to win the support and admiration of people whose sentiments lean toward Putin, and who hate not the Russian invader and poisoner, but rather the elected president of Ukraine, whom Candace Owens, a true weathervane of the loyal Trump cultist faction of the GOP, said she would like to punch in the face — on the basis of a statement which she deliberately distorted and misinterpreted in order to make him look as bad as possible, of course, just as Paul is doing in this speech.

Sincerity — Rand Paul has faked it pretty well here. As for whether he’s “got it made,” in the sense of achieving his political entertainer’s aim in this case, namely the abandonment of Ukraine to Russian tyranny after all the loss of life and obliterated infrastructure precipitated by the hope the Ukrainian people and their leaders have been allowed to ride on so far, thanks to the financial and rhetorical support of a duplicitous and fair-weather friend who has decided he prefers an empowered and palliated Putin in the end — well that remains to be seen. 

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