Book review: “The Tea Party Goes to Washington” by Senator Rand Paul

AP exam reading ended today. I used my last few hours here in Daytona Beach to sit in the shade by the ocean, feel the breeze, and read a book: The Tea Party Goes to Washington by my new senator Rand Paul. And yes, I recognize the embarrassing juxtaposition (beach / Rand Paul book), but I wanted to see if it would be a good book to assign to my Introduction to Politics course this fall to help start discussions on topics like the purpose and role of government, as well as the modern state of American political parties.

The first half of the book reads like a personal biography. Senator Paul describes his youth and upbringing, as well as his 2010 campaign for the Kentucky senate seat. The second half lays out Rand’s views on a handful of key political issues: foreign policy, debt and taxation, entitlement reform, etc. He also spends a chapter describing the origin and organizational characteristics of the Tea Party movement. He’s very quick to emphasize, almost defensively, that the Tea Party is concerned about the size of government and the national debt, and not motivated by racial or cultural “anxieties”.

Many on the political left like to mock Rand Paul for being a “crazy Tea Partier”. While he’s certainly a Tea Partier, I personally don’t find Senator Paul to be crazy. He’s articulate in his explanations and well-informed about the issues and policies that he supports. I do not agree with every argument that Rand makes in his book, but I respect his arguments because, for the most part, he expresses them in a moderately sophisticated fashion and defends his views, for the most part, without resorting to low-brow “bumper sticker” talking points. For example, he’s able to explain the difference between conservatism, neoconservatism, and libertarianism in a more or less accurate fashion and also explain why he is a conservative, but not a neoconservative nor a libertarian. This is a level of political sophistication that I am not accustomed to reading in books written by politicians. (The glaring exception to this was the chapter on the “Obamacare” health care reform plan, where he defends the “death panel” rhetoric and is very selective about the information he presents on the health care bill.)

Senator Paul is also no loyal-party-line-toting partisan Republican. He’s equally brutal in his criticism of the neoconservative dominance of the Republican Party as he is regarding the Keynesianism economic policies espoused by the Democratic Party. He is scathingly critical of Republican security issues the Iraq War, the excessive length of the Afghanistan War, the Patriot Act, and airport security “patdown” measures. He also attacks TARP, economic regulations, the Federal Reserve, and earmarks.

Whether you love him or hate him, I think that, at the very least, we could all agree that Senator Paul is not a panderer. He sticks up for what he thinks is correct and doesn’t care if everyone in the world disagrees. Some would call that irresponsible and unproductive, while others would call it admirable. I’ll let you make the call on that one.

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