Allan Powell: Rand Paul for president?

June 07, 2013|By ALLAN POWELL

The interview was thorough enough to give a fairly clear picture of what one could expect if Paul should achieve his goal. He gave several anecdotal accounts of cases in his book in which federal agents overplayed their power to harm citizens. The cure? Reduce the size and power of the government. His sincerity was obvious. He wanted to display his libertarian bona fides, showing by verbal and body language that he was a certified tea party spokesman.

He surely accomplished this feat when he was asked if his name “Rand” was an attempt to honor Ayn Rand, the novelist. He said that his wife thought that “Randy” was too boyish, but that he had read all of Ayn Rand’s books by the time he was 17. You could say that he went to the Fountainhead for ideas.

The second event of March 10 relative to this story was the tragically sad revelation on “60 Minutes” of a pharmaceutical disaster. A New England drug manufacturer was charged with having unsanitary conditions in a plant that resulted in the death of 48 people and the illnesses (possibly fatal) of 720 other users of the contaminated drug. NECC, the New England Compounding Center, which is now closed, was responsible for this catastrophe. The determination of accountability was now a thorny problem.

NECC, as the firm’s name implies, was permitted to “compound” drugs. This was commonly understood to mean that they were expected to make single portions of each drug for the use of specific individuals who were named. They were not allowed to engage in industrial-style production. Regardless, NECC used a clever ruse to circumvent the rule. They attached fictitious names for each vial of drug and made a fortune in sales.

Who, or what, agency was now responsible to take NECC to task for fraud and contamination? Massachusetts did not act. The FDA did not act because Congress had altered the law in such a way that enforcement was not clear or in doubt. Officers held different opinions about the actual power of the Food and Drug Administration to act. No one, it appears, rose to the occasion, and a gross, human catastrophe was in the making. What was just as despicable, the leaders of NECC withdrew $16 million from the company before filing for bankruptcy.

As Paul moves forward in his quest for the Oval Office, surely he and all of his supporters must grapple with the question as to whether a libertarian point of view is viable in the world in which we live. The NECC case shows the need for regulation to protect our health. We are still in the throes of financial misconduct that brought this economy to its knees. A minimal (i.e. weak) government will open the door to strong corporate power that will squash any reform.

We might admire the libertarian ideal as a personal conviction, but is it a realistic foundation for the competitive, modern marketplace? The famous British writer Samuel Johnson once declared that the easy talk by some flag-wavers made “patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel.” He surely had no interest in condemning those great traits that are said with honesty. Many who profess to love liberty and freedom mean only the freedom to contaminate products for their own enrichment. Johnson was certainly alert enough to recognize the exploitation of words for self-gratification.

In May, Paul praised the CEO of a huge corporation that had paid no taxes. He then suggested the victims of the devastating storm in Oklahoma could recover using mutual community help instead of seeking federal help.

If Paul continues his run for the presidency, I will hazard a bet that he will be unable to convince enough voters to award him the prize. He is white, the successful son of a successful father, and both haven’t the foggiest idea about the actual problems of working-class people. They are a perfect clone of the typical tea party enthusiast.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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