Rand Paul begins his Time op-ed about Ferguson with a good point: One concrete way politicians can lessen discrimination in the criminal justice system is by reforming policing practices and the war on drugs. “Michael Brown’s death and the suffocation of Eric Garner in New York for selling untaxed cigarettes indicate something is wrong with criminal justice in America,” the Kentucky senator writes. “The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and put police in a nearly impossible situation.”
But Paul's meandering argument unravels from there. Going into full libertarian mode, he writes that "we all hold a certain degree of responsibility for our lives and it’s a mistake to simply blame others for our problems." He says, unbelievably, that "no law" can possibly reform the criminal justice system. Then he points to the "link between poverty, lack of education, and children outside of marriage is staggering and cuts across all racial groups."
It sounds a bit like another one of his rambling speeches. And then there's this:
I have no intention to scold, but escaping the poverty and crime trap will require more than just criminal justice reform. Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to relearn that not only are we our brother’s keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn’t include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.
Paul is essentially arguing that escaping poverty is not just a matter of criminal justice reform, but of character reform, too, on both the individual and community level. Of course, in scolding the poor, he also manages to scold government assistance. Lift yourself up, he's saying, because the government can't—and shouldn't—do it for you.
Paul's references to "lack of education" and single parenthood are the only nods toward the systemic socioeconomic issues that make it so hard to escape poverty. And character's hardly the reason for it. For starters, it's the lack of job training and opportunities, inner-city schools' inability to attract top talent, and the struggle to put enough food on the table (the link between learning and nutrition is well documented). And guess who has the power and means to address many of these problems? The very government whose laws Paul has no faith in.