Some reasons have been advanced by other residents of the gated community for the attack on US senator Rand Paul by his neighbor Rene Boucher. Though both Boucher’s lawyer and Paul’s spokespersons have said that the cause was not political but a ‘trivial’ dispute , it may have had an underlying political cause arising from Paul’s adherence to libertarian philosophy, especially when it comes to property rights.
Libertarians tend to view the ownership of property as giving them strong rights over what they can do with it. That is all well and good up to a point. The problem is that Paul also chose to live in a gated community and such places tend to have homeowner’s associations (HOA) that have restrictions on what one can do. Apparently Paul was growing pumpkins, setting up a compost pile, and doing other landscaping in his yard that may have ignored HOA regulations. In a nutshell, he was not the kind of perfect neighbor that gated communities seek.
If these reports are correct, the problem seems to be that Paul seems to want the privilege of living in a gated community without accepting the restrictions.
This kind of conflict is ever-present in any community because there are always restrictions on freedom of behavior but most people realize that they have options other than ignoring the rules. A colleague of mine, an engineering faculty member, was a short-wave radio enthusiast. He wanted to put up a really high antenna in his back yard to pursue his hobby but the suburb he lived in that is adjacent to mine, an inner ring suburb of Cleveland, had restrictions on antenna height. He chose to move far away from the city so that he could have the antenna he wanted.
My own suburb also has many restrictions, so many that I jokingly say that I live in a police state. But I am willing to live with them in return for the benefits the community provides me, even though I find some of the rules irksome. People have successfully challenged some of the restrictions. There used to be a rule that one could not put up ‘For Sale’ signs on one’s yard. This local law was apparently passed at the time when segregation by race was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in the mid-20th century and one had the phenomenon of white flight, the mass migration by white families out of an area when black families started to move in. Many of the properties in my suburb had had restrictions that prevented black and Jewish people from purchasing them. When it became clear that such restrictions would be declared illegal, the city decided to open up before being forced to do so but imposed the yard sign rule to prevent white people seeing signs on their neighbors’ lawns and panicking and moving out. The city was successfully sued many decades later (after we moved in) and there has been no white flight despite the yard signs appearing.
So one has the option of fighting the fighting the rules or moving or choosing to not move into an area that has rules one does not like. What Paul seems to have decided, if the news reports are correct, is to simply ignore the rules he did not like. While I can see that this would annoy some of his neighbors and the HOA, a direct physical attack on him that broke six ribs and could have caused his death seems way out of proportion to the level of aggravation and is still somewhat mysterious, especially since the two had reportedly not spoken to each other for ‘many years’.
To make the issue even more confused, Paul himself seems to be casting doubt on the landscaping motive for the attack. Other neighbors are also challenging the notion that this was a lawn order inspired attack. Furthermore, Boucher pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge, when I fully expected him to agree to a plea deal to avoid jail time. Now the case will go to trial and those usually produce embarrassing disclosures unless a deal is made later.
Trevor Noah of The Daily Show is also confused and tries to make sense of the feud.