Far too much media coverage of politics focuses on the horserace angle--who's ahead, who's behind, who's up or down. It relies on false equivalency: if Politician A says X, then the reporter goes to Politician B, who's sure to say Y. That's lazy journalism, and it doesn't actually inform the public about which position (if any) is actually true, or adheres to the facts as we know them. At TWiA, our mission is to discuss politics through the prism of policy--to look, in other words, at the real-world implications of the things that politicians say and do, to make connections others might miss, and to explain it all in language a lay person can understand. Also to offer suggestions of how you can help somebody in need, to report on what's awesome, and to keep tabs on bears. If you like TWiA, share or repost or tell a friend, and be sure to leave comments, even if they're arguments. Especially if they're arguments.
This Week in Un-American Activities
The word "treason" has a specific legal meaning, so we won't apply it here. But we have to say that Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY) came very close to it when he went to a foreign country, met with the head of state there, and used that meeting to criticize both US foreign policy and the elected president of the United States.
There was a time, not so long ago, when partisan politics ended at the water's edge. When a president was overseas, people back home didn't attack him; the goal was to make sure foreign leaders knew that, whatever our political differences, on the world stage the country was in agreement. And when other elected officials went overseas, they didn't try to institute their own private foreign policy, at odds with the nation's declared policies. (Lt. Col. Oliver North broke that one during the Reagan administration, when he provided arms to a declared terrorist state in order to raise money to buy yet more arms for South American terrorists, counter to a law passed by Congress and signed by the president outlawing that specific action. Since then, though, it's happened only rarely.)
But Rand Paul took it upon himself to meet with the president of Guatemala--one of the deadliest countries in the world, and one that's responsible for much of the recent, and dwindling, influx of children seeing asylum in the US. During that meeting, Paul tried to convince the Guatemalan president that US policy is flawed, and that the White House is solely responsible for that border crisis, as if the White House hadn't hardened the border to historic levels, and had created the conditions in Guatemala that made parents fear for their children's lives, and had signed the bill in 2008 that encouraged children from Central American countries to seek asylum here.
For the record, none of those things are true. Paul says during his chat with the Guatemalan president, "I told him, frankly, that I didn’t think the problem was in Guatemala City, but that the problem was in the White House in our country, and that the mess we’ve got at the border is frankly because of the White House’s policies.”
When Paul's freelance foreign policy came under criticism (and appropriately so), Paul's office's response was that he "did in Guatemala what he does every day in the United States--speak the truth. Career politicians and political parties don't get that, but the American people do. If the DNC and the White House don't see that their shredding of the Constitution and abdication of responsibility for securing our border is the problem, they are the only ones,"
The trouble with that defense is that Paul demonstrably did not speak the truth. We've reported on some of the many things Paul doesn't understand about this country and its laws, so perhaps we can grant that it's woeful ignorance at work here--maybe he really doesn't know that undocumented border crossings are at historic lows, or that President Bush was still in office in 2008 when he, not Obama, signed the legislation allowing sped-up refugee status for children from Central America. Paul is not, as we've seen, a man of sparkling intellect. So it's possible--not likely, but possible--that Paul was saying things that he believes to be true, even though objectively they are not true.
But even that is no excuse for his behavior. The Logan Act of 1948 reads as follows, in its entirety:
"Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
"This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects."
Rand Paul has no authority to conduct foreign policy on behalf of this country. He serves on the Senate's Foreign Relations committee, which entitles him to work on foreign policy legislation before it goes to the full Senate. If he wants to introduce legislation that would make his ideas into official US foreign policy, then fine. He's more than welcome to try. But that's a considerably different thing than going to a foreign head of state and trying to undo, on his own, our existing foreign policy.
Paul will probably not be prosecuted under the Logan Act. Obama-haters will probably celebrate his borderline treasonous acts. But Americans who love their country should recognize this clown for what he is--an unprincipled, intellectual featherweight who doesn't know, or care to follow, existing law or longstanding tradition. He's unworthy of the Senate, much less any higher office. If we weren't so concerned for the eyesight of Kentuckians, we'd suggest he go back to his previous career. As it is, we think he should just retire--preferably away from the country he appears to despise so much. Over the weekend, we saw a pickup truck with this statement painted on the rear window: "If you don't love this country, f--- you and get the f--- out." We think the sentiment's a little harsh--there's room to criticize one's country, after all, and to not love aspects of it even when one loves the whole. But for Rand Paul to try to establish his own foreign policy, and to undermine our president to a foreign head of state, is indicative of his contempt for America. He deserves America's contempt in return.