When Rand Paul started seeing the next president of the United States in the mirror, there was an obvious problem: his father’s legacy–which he had loyally supported–of foreign affairs heterodoxy, an especially abrasive aspect of which was longstanding opposition of U.S. aid to Israel. Yes, of course, Paul the Elder (and until recently, the Younger) wanted to eliminate all U.S. foreign aid. But he went out of his way to offend people who wanted to make an exception for Israel.
Since by 2012 U.S. solidarity with Israel (or more accurately, with Bibi Netanyahu) was rapidly becoming the closest thing to an ironclad foreign policy requirement for Republicans, Rand Paul moved away from the old man’s position in a series of steps. First, he traveled to Israel and expressed all sorts of positive things about the country and toned down his stance on foreign aid from a cutoff to some sort of distant-sounding phase-out. Second, he stopped talking about eliminating aid to Israel and started talking a lot about eliminating aid to Israel’s enemies and rivals, most notably the Palestinian Authority. Third, he cleverly cast that position as a “Stand With Israel” Act just as tensions between Israel and the Palestinians began to boil over once again.
And fourth, he’s now denying he ever opposed foreign aid to Israel. Seriously.
Aside from representing a sort of symbolic parricide, this gambit is based on a weasel-word interpretation of what it means to “propose” something, per this report from Yahoo’s Chris Moody:
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Monday denied that he once supported ending federal aid to Israel — an idea he proposed as recently as 2011.
“I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.”
Paul, who was in Omaha campaigning for Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse before a three-day tour of neighboring Iowa, may not like it when reporters bring up his proposal from three years ago to end all U.S. foreign aid — including to Israel. But that was in fact his position.
In 2011, the newly elected Paul proposed a budget that would have cut $500 billion from the federal budget in part by cutting off foreign aid to all countries, including financial grants to Israel….
“I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” Paul said in 2011 during an interview with ABC News. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”
He even pointed to Israel as an example of a nation that doesn’t need foreign aid because of its own wealth.
I think Paul would be better advised to say he’s changed his mind on aid to Israel than to claim he’s been there all along. He wouldn’t be the first or last pol to have a sudden metamorphosis on an issue or two before launching a presidential bid. But he’s now getting a reputation for being slippery and defensive about his own past associations and statements; he regularly gets angry if anyone suggests he questioned the constitutionality of key elements of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which of course he did.
You have to assume he’s taking this tack to depict himself as a victim of liberal media bias, always a good ploy on the Pizza Ranch circuit in Iowa. But I suspect it will also create some tensions at the next Paul family reunion. The old man never trimmed his sails like this.