Earlier this week, I was pleased to get an opportunity to interview Rand Paul, the Republican Party’s nominee for the Senate in Kentucky. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!
To begin with, a lot of people assume you and your father have almost identical views. Can you give me a couple of areas where the two of you disagree on the issues?
Well, one of the similarities is that we both believe that government should be strictly limited by the Constitution. We’re both strict constructionists. We think that big government has grown a lot since the Great Depression because of an overly expansive view of the Commerce Clause. So we agree on that.
I think we also both agree that national defense is the most important function of federal government. I think I tend to say it over and over again with a little more emphasis in my speeches than he might. With regard to foreign policy some people would argue that he doesn’t want to intervene in any parts of the world. My argument would be that there are two extremes. One extreme would be that you don’t intervene anywhere. The other extreme would be that you intervene everywhere. And I think we’re closer to the point where we intervene in maybe too many places and we might want to come back and intervene in less places than we do intervene in.
We’re both proponents of declaring war. This hasn’t been done since World War II, but we think it would make going to war much more succinct, much more important, and there’d be a much bigger national debate when we go to war if there actually were a declaration of war.
Now that brings me to the second question. Privately when I talk to conservatives about you, they love your respect for the Constitution, your tough attitude on spending; so they like you a lot. But one particular concern I hear that crops up again and again is foreign policy. Conservatives say, “Is he anti-Israel? Would he be OK with Iran getting nukes? How’s he feel about the war on terror?” Could you address those concerns and let people know a little bit more where you stand on those issues?
Well, I think you know our national security and our defense is the most important thing the federal government does. It is an enumerated power and it’s something that will always be first on my mind when considering what our government should be doing.
With regard to Israel, I think we do have a special relationship. They’re a special ally. They’re the only democracy in the Middle East and I will not vote to condemn Israel for defending herself. I think that summarizes it fairly well.
Sure. How about Iran and nuclear weapons? Do you have any thoughts on that?
I think that Iran having nuclear weapons would destabilize the Middle East and it’s not a good idea. I’m in favor of the U.S. not subsidizing corporations that do business with Iran. I’m also in favor of…not doing business with companies that do business in Iran….There’s no reason we should be subsidizing companies that are doing business with a country that seems set on destabilizing things in the region.
Now, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the left side of the blogosphere and whom they talk about. I’ve got to tell you, after Sarah Palin, you seem to be the candidate liberals on these blogs are the most terrified of. Why do you think that is? You’re public enemy number two I would say right now…
Yes, I know — I’m bordering on number one some days. I think they do fear a victory for the Tea Party and I’m seen as a victory for the Tea Party. They also want to vilify the Tea Party. They want to make the Tea Party into something that it’s not. The Tea Party really is about trying to fix a government that is truly broken and doesn’t obey any rules any longer. The things I talk about with the Tea Party, though, when you actually talk about them, you’ll find 70 and 80 percent of Democrats actually will agree with the things I’m proposing.
Term limits, if you poll term limits with Democrats, the vast majority of them actually support them. If you poll a balanced budget amendment, most Democrats actually will favor a balanced budget amendment. If you poll that the idea that the legislature should read the bills before they vote on them, most people tend to agree with that. I’m proposing they wait one day for every 20 pages — and that usually draws a few chuckles, but at the same time I’m serious. They tell me I need to wait to purchase a gun. I tell them you know what, you need to wait to pass legislation.
I haven’t heard anyone else put that out there, but that is a really good idea.
I think we should enumerate where in the Constitution that each bill gets its authority. Like in the health care act, they say, oh well, the Commerce Clause. Where does the Commerce Clause say the federal government can come and tell you that you have to buy insurance? I think we really need to have big national debates over these issues. I think the issues that I just mentioned are not in any way right wing or extreme. I think they’re actually very mainstream messages about fixing a government that doesn’t obey any rules any longer.
Now your opponent Jack Conway has said he supports the health care reform that passed. How do you feel about it? Would you support repealing or replacing the bill and how do you think it would impact health care in this country if it’s not repealed?
I think it’s going to increase costs for a lot of business. It will lead to more stagnation in the business community as people are unable to afford this new insurance mandate. I’m for repealing it. I’m for de-funding it. I’m for eliminating the mandate on it.
But, it really shows a fundamental of, I think, misunderstanding of the Constitution — and Jack Conway actually stands up and he says, “I’ve got a copy of the Constitution and where in it does it say that you have a right not to have insurance?”
Well, that is such a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution that I spend half my time trying to instruct him because the Ninth and 10th Amendment say, if the power was not granted to the federal government, all the rest of the rights, they don’t even have to be written out, are rights that are left to the states and the people. So he thinks because it wasn’t a right not to have insurance, that all of a sudden you don’t have it. He thinks all rights had to be listed in the Constitution, which really is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution.
Now, surprisingly, given that coal is very important in Kentucky, your opponent has supported Cap And Trade. What do you think that bill would do to the economy of Kentucky and the economy of the nation as a whole if it’s passed?
Well, we get about 90 percent of our electricity from coal. So it will be a disproportionate tax on Kentucky and some Kentuckians might pay $1,000 more in their utility bills. It’s somewhere between a $500 and $1,500 per year increase in your utility bills. So it will be a big tax on the consumer, and that’s everybody. So, I think it’s a non-starter for him. I think he’s going to really get clobbered once everybody knows that he’s for this cap and trade bill.
In fact, he’s actually determined that he might get clobbered and so he started to back away from it. But his initial responses were that he was in favor of that and Obama’s health care plan, both of which poll at about 30 percent in Kentucky. So, he’s going to have a tough time with his liberal ideas because Kentucky is generally a conservative state.
Jack Conway also supports citizenship for illegal immigrants and said he was troubled by the Arizona immigration bill. Do you support the Arizona immigration bill and do you believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to have American citizenship?
I do support Arizona’s right to control immigration and I think it shows the federal government is not doing their job. But it’s the states that have to pay for a lot of the benefits for illegal aliens. They’ve got to pay for the schools, the health care, everything else. So, I think they have a right to ask if you broke the law before you came into the US to sneak all these government services.
I also think that we need to have the courts review whether or not if you break the law to come into the U.S., whether your child would be a citizen just by being born here. Some point of the 14th amendment say you can’t do that. But the 14th amendment actually says that you will be a citizen as long as you are under the jurisdiction of the United States. Many argue that these children that are born to illegal aliens are really still under the jurisdiction of the Mexican government. I think we need to fight that out in the courts. If we lose, then I think we should amend the Constitution because I don’t think the 14th amendment was meant to apply to illegal aliens. It was meant to apply to the children of slaves.
I agree with that. Now let me ask you a question that’s similar to one I asked your father when I interviewed him. During the tail end of the Bush Administration we heard a lot of talk about the North American Union. Now that the Bush Administration is out of office, if someone said to you, “What do you think about the North American Union today,” what would you say?
Well, there was a lot of discussion of it. I think there were five or six state legislatures that passed legislation or resolutions opposing not necessarily a North American Union, but I think they were opposing the trans-Texas corridor. This is basically a big road that was being built and a lot of them opposed this because of the eminent domain that was going to be used in building this large road. This road was going to take up quite a bit of land. So there was a lot of people, some of the traditional people who do fight the abuse of eminent domain were opposed to this. So quite a few state legislatures did vote for that and vote against this corridor from Mexico to Canada.
So basically if someone asks you, you’d say, “Hey there’s no North American Union going on, there’s no Amero being created?”
I don’t know about a lot of that. I would say that there are people who believe that as a philosophy – believe that we would do better without country borders or without sovereignty of nations. I’m not one of those. I think it’s important that the U.S. maintain its sovereignty, maintain its borders and I would not be in favor of that.
For about 30 years before they got the Euro and before they got the European Union and a European parliament, there were people who argued in favor of having a unified Europe. Some of those people who have that same philosophy do argue that for our country. It’s not a philosophy that I’m in favor of.
Now the minimum wage undoubtedly keeps under-skilled workers from being hired. Ideally, do you think we should have a minimum wage?
Well, we’ve been debating the minimum wage since about 1905 in our country and there were probably about 30 or 40 famous Supreme Court cases. Some time in the latter part of the 1930′s they did decide that the federal government, at least at the Supreme Court could decide minimum wage laws. So I think you’re exactly right that if you set the minimum wage at such a rate that the wage is higher than what the market judges should be the rate, then you have unemployment.
So, for example, if tomorrow you said I’m a great humanitarian, I’d love the minimum wage rate to be $20 an hour. Well, you can do that and that will help the few people who keep jobs. But, let’s say McDonald’s had 20 people at $10 an hour — now they may have 10 people at $20 an hour. So it really creates unemployment. On the face of it, people will say, “Well, now these people make a better wage.” Well, they do, but they don’t see the unemployment that was created by doing that.
Now although conservatives were happy to see BP agree to pony up $20 billion for cleanup, there were a lot of serious concerns about the way Obama handled it. He essentially went on TV and told America he was going to force BP to give 20 billion dollars for the government to use any way they saw fit. I’ve heard a lot of concerns about that. What are your thoughts? How do you think he should have handled that?
First of all, I’m a big believer in the idea of capitalism. Businesses should make a profit because profit directs resources to the consumer in the most efficient manner. It’s the reward that drives the activity and work of businesses. Along with profit though comes responsibility and I think you have to be responsible for what happens, accidents or otherwise, in the process of you doing your business. So I think BP does have to be responsible and has to pay for their cleanup and I think there’s no question of that.
As far as how the rhetoric comes out of the presidency, I have said that I don’t like the statement that Ken Salazar made. We shouldn’t have a member of one of the President’s cabinet saying he’s going to put his boot heel on the throat of BP. I think if we want BP to clean up the mess, which I do, I think it would be better if we don’t have a President who by some appearances, tone, and rhetoric seems to be indicating that he’s trying to drive BP out of business — which I don’t think is a good idea.
Last question. If an undecided voter in Kentucky walked up to you and said, “Rand, why should I vote for you instead of Jack Conway in November? How would supporting you instead of Conway help my family? How would it help Kentucky? How would it help the country?” If someone said that to you, what would you reply?
I’d reply that the debt is consuming our country. Federal spending is out of control and it threatens not only your kids and grand-kids, but it threatens the economic future of our country. We have to elect people with the guts to cut federal spending and cut the debt. Jack Conway is a career politician. He’ll be more of the same. He’ll be one more vote for Harry Reid and President Obama and I think they’re both running the country into the ground. I think there’s no question that we need some outsiders, some people who will do something about the deficit.
Rand, I really appreciate your time. Thanks a lot!
Thank you, John. It was nice talking with you.