How Did Rand Paul Become a Liberal Hero?

by David Freedlander Sep 29, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

He’s from the far corner of the right, but he’s to the left of most of the Democratic Party on key progressive issues like war, drug policy, and over-incarceration. Liberals tell David Freedlander why they’re embracing the Tea Party darling.

He came to Washington railing against the party establishment. Once in the Senate, he became one of that body’s foremost critics of war and of increased military spending. He drew national attention for his defense of civil liberties. His use of the real, live, stand-up-and-shout-them-down filibuster took an axe to moribund, genteel traditions of the upper chamber of Congress.  He called for the restoration of the voting rights of felons, a little-remarked-upon issue except to civil rights activists, but one that could tip the balance of electoral politics in key states. He even is pushing for legalized hemp.

Is this liberal hero Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont? Of course not. This lefty hero is Rand Paul, the Republican from Kentucky, who during a period of liberal retreat has somehow emerged as one of the nation’s most articulate defenders of progressive values. Look no further than a Wednesday earlier this month, when Paul testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee against mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders. Citing statistics that showed that young minority males were far more likely to face longer prison sentences than other groups, he sounded like a class warrior: “Why are the arrest rates so lopsided? Because it is easier to go into urban areas and make arrests than suburban areas.”

And it has won Paul some plaudits in unlikely corners, with stalwart liberals like Medea Benjamin writing that Paul should be commended for his anti-war stance. The liberal website has regularly praised Paul’s stances, and the site’s founder, New Left journalist Robert Scheer, has regularly sung the Kentucky Senator’s praises on a nationally syndicated radio show he appears on.

“I have a lot of problems with Rand Paul,” said David Sirota, the liberal author and blogger, citing his positions on the economy and on a woman’s right to choose. “But I think that on issues concerning national security and the domestic security state he is as right as anybody in the Congress—and there aren’t a lot of people in Congress who are good on those issues.”

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