Saturday, May 22, 2010

Democrats and the Tea Party

Rand Paul with his Republican Senate primary victory in Kentucky has suddenly become the media poster boy for the Tea Party movement.

It's great that the Dems have a chance to use Rand Paul to force the Republicans more generally to own the Tea Party ideology and all the unpleasant baggage that goes with it. But they sure have a hard time doing the obvious a lot of times. Dave Neiwert's and John Amoto's new book Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (2010) does a great job of showing how the Tea Party works as the shock force of the Republican Party. And that's the point that the Democrats really need to drive home.

The problem is that our sad excuse for a press corps is mostly incapable of processing a character like Ron Paul as anything but a left-right fight within the Republican Party. In reality, the Tea Party is the face of the Republican Party out of power. The difference between "establishment" Republicans and Tea Party Republicans is the difference between the clean-shaven look and the three-day stubble look. The first time I hear some Pod Pundit contrast Rand Paul to that bold "moderate" Maverick McCain, I'm gonna hurl. That would be the bold Maverick McCain who endorses the Arizona "papers please" law and panders shamelessly to the white xenophobia and racist vote.

If the Democrats were a real fighting political party instead of, well, the Democrats, they would make the Republicans eat their support of xenophobic anti-immigrant laws and show how that unites the Rand Pauls and the great Maverick McCain along with the rest of their Party. The 1964 Civil Rights Law is not actually at issue right now. But anyone who today support Papers Please laws would have opposed the civil rights laws of 1964 and 1965.

Of course, getting that across would require the Democrats to exert some actual leadership instead of using their normall just-enough-to-get-by approach. I wish they could enough of whatever it is they need be willing to stuff OxyContin politics down the Republicans' throats for once.

This column by Peter Wehrner, a veteran of the Reagan and both Bush administrations, Republicans Should Repudiate Rand Paul's Civil Rights Stand Politics Daily 05/21/2010 is a good example of how the Republicans can finesse something like this. The clean-shaven types can tut-tut about the excessive rhetoric of those unruly Tea Partiers, which will give the press corps a hook on which to hang their script of the left-right struggle inside the Republican Party.

Digby has a great post on Rand Paul, Dr Fringe Hullabaloo 05/21/2010, in which she draws on a post by Bruce Wilson on Paul's links to the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which promotes a more intensely theocratic and authoritarian ideology than most of the Christian Right: Rand Paul Keynoted 2009 Rally for Far-Right Constitution Party Huffington Post 05/20/2010. One thing he discusses is the points of agreement between libertarians and liberals on some points, particularly on some foreign policy issues.

Far-right isolationism of the type supported by Rand Paul and his father Ron is largely the flip side of the unilateralism shared by the neocons and the Cheney-style isotionalists. The isolationists want to "Get US out of the UN", as the famous old John Birch Society sign had it. The John Bolton types and the neocons want to bully the UN into submission so that it is nothing more than an instrument of American policy. Their basic contempt for the UN and everything it stands for is basically the same.

Isolationists are generally also bitterly opposed to the whole concept of international law applying to the United States, which the neocons and Cheneyists are in practice, as well. The "libertarians" and Christian Reconstructionists aren't into the "pro-Israel/pro-Likud" position of most Christian Rightists. Because a lot of them really, really don't like Jews.

Pat Buchanan seems to me one of the best incarnations of this brand of isolationism. His seemingly anti-imperialist foreign policy positions are a part of his xenophobic, European-centric (i.e., white-centric) worldview.

Isolationist sites and publications like and The American Conservative publish some decent criticisms of US interventions in places we probably shouldn't be intervening. And they publish pieces by leading war and policy critics like Andrew Bacevich, Gareth Porter and Glenn Greenwald who don't share the Pat Buchanan worldview. But for most isolationists, their non-inteventionist stand when you look at it closely differs from Republican neocon and Cheneyist views mainly in being more xenophobic, more crassly mililtaristic, and more contemptuous of international treaties, allies and laws of war.

To more than a minor extent, the antiwar positions of isloationists are a bait-and-switch game to get people drawn into their broader ideology. The American Conservative is currently featuring a defense of Rand Paul by Jack Hunter, The Meaning of Rand Paul 05/21/2010: "It’s no surprise that in any discussion about government intrusiveness and private business, race-obsessed liberals immediately equate free will and free markets with Jim Crow." I don't really see any strategic left-right alliance being built around that. Rightwing isolationists really are not peace-and-love hippie sorts, I would say.

Or as Tristero puts it, also at Hullabaloo in Libertarianism: Not Ready For Primetime. Never Will Be. 05/21/2010: "The only good ideas in libertarianism are those that are already part and parcel of liberalism."

More on the general topic:

Joe Conason, The roots of Rand Paul's civil rights resentment Salon 05/21/2010

David Corn, Rand Paul: An Anti-Government Conspiracy Theorist? Politics Daily 05/21/2010

Tom Diemer, Rand Paul Calls Obama Administration's Criticism of BP in Oil Spill 'Un-American' Politics Daily 05/21/2010

Blair Kelley, Rand Paul takes outdated stance on segregation Salon 05/20/2010

Josh Marshall, More on 'Just Libertarianism?' TPM Editors Blog 05/20/2010

Dave Neiwert, Rand Paul is a bright young apple who falls directly beneath his daddy's tree -- out there in the orchards of the far right Crooks and Liars 05/21/2010

Robert Reich, The "Mad-As-Hell" Party Scores As the Anxious Class Stews TPM Cafe 05/19/2010

Leslie Savan, Feeling Randy The Nation 05/19/3020

Joan Walsh, Asking the wrong question about Rand Paul Salon 05/20/2010

Gabriel Winant, The lesson of Rand Paul: libertarianism is juvenile Salon 05/21/2010

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