Friday, May 21, 2010

Political Self-Destruction 101

You've probably heard that newly-anointed Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul had a very long 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday evening. First, he went on Rachel Maddow's show and suggested that the public-accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was so problematic that he might have voted against the entire act had had he been in Congress then. (For some of us, he actually made it worse by suggesting that the law should not ban people from carrying weapons into restaurants. If the Long Branch could do it, why not us?)

The Paul tried to walk it back, saying that, yes, the federal government may ban racial discrimination in private business. That may have been less of a change in his position than it may sound like; I don't hear his original comment as saying that the Constitution prevents legislation to outlaw discrimination, just that it's a bad idea. Not exactly a full-throated endorsement of the Civil Rights Act.

Then, at about 2:00 p.m. yesterday, Paul said that he does not support repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which puts him on the same page as every member of the US Congress and everyone this side of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation. And, by saying that he does not favor repeal of an act that's sacrosanct, he raises the question of whether he actually does.

Finally, at about 5:00 p.m., the would-be senator told CNN that, yes, he would have voted for the law had he been in Congress when it came up.

Quite a first day as his party's candidate. Welcome to the big leagues, Dr. Paul.

This incident tells us several things about Rand Paul, and the forces he is said to represent. First, he is an ideologue, and one who has not thought through the implications of his philosophy. The problem with libertarianism is that, carried to its logical conclusion, it leads to results that are anything but liberty. May a group of people, exercising their individual rights, form a lynch mob?

Then, too, Dr. Paul (he's an ophthalmologist) seems proud that he is not a "professional politician;" rather than serving an apprenticeship in local or statewide offices, he makes his first attempt at what is often called the second-highest office in the land. But legislating is a skill. It needs the ability to master detail, to deal with multiple issues at the same time, to understand the implications of positions on bills--even those that might not be immediately apparent--and to negotiate. Senators vote on trillions (that's "trillions" with a "T") of dollars in appropriations and borrowings each year. The Senate is no place for amateurs.

Update: The hits just keep on coming. Today on Good Morning America, Rand Paul accused President Obama of putting his "boot heel on the throat of BP," and called criticism of the company "un-American." That's going to endear him to the 98 percent of Americans who think the government isn't grinding that boot heel in hard enough. And doesn't he realize that the company is BRITISH Petroleum?

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