“Rand Paul’s ideas crash into reality”

This is the title of a rather blistering editorial by the Lexington Herald-Leader criticizing the inconsistency of Senate candidate Dr. Rand Paul’s political views. It’s available at:

http://www.kentucky.com/2010/06/16/1309158/rand-pauls-ideas-crash-into-reality.html

The argument of the editorial can be summarized in the following excerpt:

“At the junction of principle and pragmatism, Paul denounces big government and its costs and intrusiveness, but depends on the little things that big government does for him.”
 
The editorial goes on to say: “In fairness, many of us are guilty of wanting the benefits of something — whether it’s board certification or full campaign coffers — without paying the price.”
 
I have three general thoughts regarding this observation by the Herald-Leader’s editorial board:
 
First, in the 1960s, political scientist Phil Converse conducted a series of intensive personal interviews to learn about the political opinions and ideologies of the American public. Specifically, he wanted find out if people processed political thoughts according to ideologies, or in other words, if Attitude A and Attitude B in most people are “consistent” with one another. According to Converse, a person who wants to cut taxes but at the same time wants to extend government welfare benefits is showing a “lack of constraint” in their political attitudes, and thus does not think ideologically. Turns out that only about 3-5% of Americans were able to base their policy preferences on a particular ideology and demonstrate a reasonable amount of “constraint” in their political attitudes. Thus, it is no small surprise to me when most Americans, including Dr. Paul, report seemingly inconsistent policy preferences. Of course, it could be argued that someone running for the U.S. Senate should be part of that 3-5% who Converse labels “ideologues”… but that’s a debate for another day.
 
Second, this same general phenomenon can be observed in the mass public. Most Americans, when asked, say that they are worried about the national budget deficit and want to trim the budget and cut spending. Yet when pressed further to indicate whether or not they would support cutting spending for a specific budget item (highways, education, military, welfare, etc.), the vast majority of Americans are hesitant to say “yes”. Thus, most Americans want a smaller budget, but they don’t want to cut anything specific from the budget.
 
Third and finally, Dr. Paul’s sentiments can be seen as a reflection of Kentucky’s political culture and history. Professor Penny Miller, in her textbook of Kentucky Politics and Government, writes: “Kentucky has long maintained an ambivalent relationship with the federal government, both depending on the national government and resisting its influence. This dependence-resistance [has] characterized Kentucky’s political past” (pg. 35). It could be argued that Dr. Paul is simply channeling the political culture and values of the state that he is campaigning to represent.
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