Our Pod Pundits have a shiny new toy in the form of Tea Party poster boy Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Kentucky, son of far-right Congressman Ron Paul and namesake of Ayn Rand, the godmother of pubescent libertarianism: John Stamper, Paul skips ‘Meet the Press’ but remains show’s top topicBluegrass Politics 05/23/2010.
They're excited because, golly Pete, here's a Republican who wants to let corporations do whatever they want and is opposed to anti-discrimination laws. What a strange, unheard-of thing! There are certainly aspects of Rand Paul's political perspective and that of other trends in the Tea Party movement. But digging into them would require research of a kind that our star pundits typically don't lower themselves to doing.
Sleepy Mark Shields and David "Bobo" Brooks recited their lines on their 05/21/2010 PBS Newshour Political Wrap segment, aka, the Shields and Brooks Clown Show: Shields and Brooks on Rand Paul Comments, Dangers of Centrism. They give us the highbrow version of the lazy press corps instant conventional wisdom. Sleepy Mark knows that Rand Paul is some kind of rightwing kook, but is basically clueless exactly how. Bobo basically says Paul is just a little too rough around the edges but he's a good ole boy anyway.
... whether you like Arlen Specter [Pennsylvania] or not, he was sort of in the middle there, bipartisan, Blanche Lincoln [Arkansas] sort of in the middle. Last week, we talked about Robert Bennett [Utah], sort of in the middle.
And they are either out or endangered. And, in each case, they have been replaced by somebody further on the edge. And, so, you know, the country is furious at all the cooperation and civility I see in Washington, and they are not going to have any of it. [Bobo was doing some feeble satire there in the last sentence.]
In our Pod Pundits grand narrative, it can never be that there are crazy-ass rightwing extremists running wild without there being an equal but opposite phenomenon on "the left".
This serves in the case of the Tea Party to legitimize their kookiest and nastiest notions. In Pennsylvania, for instance, on "the left" we have Joe Sestak, a former admiral who takes a pragamtic approach to living in the 21st Century. Bobo would like us to think this is a mirror-image reflection of Tea Partiers who want to retturn to a dystopian version of the 19th century. We don't want to too harsh on them though. I mean, they don't say they want to restore slavery and remove the vote from women and non-property owners, so we shouldn't call them extremists or anything.
Bobo, whose specialty is defending even the most hardline and bone-headed Republican Party proposals, doing so in a mild and calm tone that is supposed to create a reassuring sense of "moderation", set the stage for his own Centrism:
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, this is a frustration for me. For people in the center, Arlen Specter is symptomatic of a problem, which is that there is no centrist philosophy. You know, people in the center should be able to say, we have big budget deficits, out of control, and here's our agenda.
JIM LEHRER: Mm-hmm.
DAVID BROOKS: And, yet, the center has not developed that. People who consider themselves moderates have not developed that philosophy. And, so, a lot of people who look like centrists and who seem basically centrist, like Arlen Specter, just seem like opportunists.
And, so, there is -- there is no system there. And so, if you are an angry person, and you are angry at the way Washington is spending, you are angry at the way it is violating your values, well, your -- your choices, if you want somebody tough and strong and who knows what they believe, your choices are pretty much on the extreme.
JIM LEHRER: You got to go to the left or the right.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And that's where voters are going.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes.
This left-and-right-are-equal nonsense is a kind of perverse spin-off of the stenography approach to journalism that is now the norm in American mainstream reporting, i.e., report what "both sides" say and leave it at that, even if one side is talking screaming nonsense or outright falseholds and the other side isn't.
Then we get Bobo's take on Rand Paul:
DAVID BROOKS: I think he's in trouble. He should be. The Republican Party is in a little panic about it. He questioned the legitimacy of the civil rights movement, and when you -- the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
When you have got insurgents, when you have got outsiders, they come in, A, not knowing when to shut up, and, B, sometimes with weird ideas. And he comes in with a libertarian, a specific sort of libertarian pedigree. And he had some midnight ramble with Rachel Maddow on TV, and he threw out, you know, some philosophical argument about the Civil Rights Act.
And it is possible to have an intellectual argument which totally ignores reality and why we actually had a Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it was that sort of thing, sort of abstractly, maybe interesting, but ignorant of reality.
And, so, he rambled. And the interesting question for me is, are people going to take a look at this, and: So, he is a wild cannon, let's -- he's got odd views, let's get rid of this guy, or will they say, hey, I want a wild cannon, I'm so upset about the system, I am willing to tolerate somebody who says stupid things if he's honest about everything?
And, so, it will be very interesting to see -- for me to see how, politically, whether it hurts him or not. [my emphasis]
Let's give Bobo some credit for creativity for morphing the tired old metaphor of "loose cannon" into "wild cannon", which he used twice there. Or maybe it was a Freudian slip because he couldn't decide whether to say "loose cannon" or "wild card".
Bobo's framework has two important parts, both of which I expect to see play a major role in the way the Republicans approach embarrassing eruptions from their Tea Party faction over the next however many years they stick with this particular mass mobilization strategy.
One is to make carefully worded criticisms that distance the speaker from the claim: "I think he's in trouble. He should be. The Republican Party is in a little panic about it. He questioned the legitimacy of the civil rights movement." When you look at what Bobo actually says though, there's less gruel than meets the eye (to follow Bobo's example of creatively mangled metaphors). The standard Republican position since forever has been to give verbal nods to the civil rights movement and try to pick "philosophical" lessons from it that are friendly to Republican positions. Like the notion that Martin Luther King's goal of everyone being judged on the quality of their character not the color of their skin to argue against the kind of anti-discrimination laws that King fought for, on the grounds that they for a law to oppose racial discrimination means it has to recognize race as a reality and therefore violates King's alleged principle. Anybody who hasn't noticed this schtick from Republicans just hasn't been paying attention for the last, oh, 30 years or so. But on the the basic 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Republicans have generally avoiding attacking them, even as they pursued their Southern Strategy of pandering to white racism.
The other part is to treat the "problem" created by the Tea Party as one of style rather than substance. Rand Paul's distinctiveness is that he's rough around the edges, he rambles, he has some quirky ideas but he's honest about what he believes, he may be a little rambunctuous in his approach. But Bobo carefully avoided saying that Paul's position is to opposed all anti-discrimination laws. Or that there might be any aspect to that position of promoting white racism as a way to mobilize the Republican base. Or that Paul's supposed intellectual honesty involves an ideology that opposes even the most basic kinds of business regulations that a modern economy requires, not to mention the kind that consumers need to protect us from reckless drug companies or irresponsible oil companies like, say, BP.
Sleepy Mark did manage to say something reasonably perceptive about the anti-incumbent mood:
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, there is an anger out there. And I think we saw it. And it's -- and Peter Hart put it to me very well. He said, this is an...
JIM LEHRER: He's a Democratic pollster, right.
MARK SHIELDS: Democratic pollster. He said, this is an I-before-E election, the old spelling trick. I said, what do you mean?
JIM LEHRER: What is that?
MARK SHIELDS: He said, this is -- this -- you want to be an insurgent, rather than establishment. And there was no better example of that than Pennsylvania. OK?
Here is Joe Sestak, two-term congressman, three-star admiral, three wars, taking on Arlen Specter, who is endorsed by the governor of Pennsylvania, the mayor of Philadelphia, the mayor of Pittsburgh, the president of United States, the entire -- the vice president of the United States, the entire Democratic establishment and leadership, Senatorial Campaign Committee. And Joe Sestak...
JIM LEHRER: [Specter is] Out of here. He [Sestak] wins.
MARK SHIELDS: ... he wins big.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Yes.
But then Mark went back into his normal partial comatose state and held forth on Rand Paul:
MARK SHIELDS: I think Rand Paul, in the last 48 hours, since the election, has explained why Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, was supporting Trey Grayson, the secretary of state, whom Paul did defeat.
I mean, it has been nothing but a headache since he won. And there is a certain hubris: I can go on and joust with anybody and all of that.
But it is a very intriguing development, in two respects. First of all, the Tea Party has been a fascinating, intriguing movement all year, with -- with rallies and everything else. But it hasn't had a face or a voice. And this is somebody who has embraced the Tea Party.
JIM LEHRER: Rand Paul.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And he's become the face and the voice of the -- until somebody else comes along. So, that is a little bit of a...
JIM LEHRER: Wouldn't Sarah Palin qualify?
MARK SHIELDS: No, because Sarah Palin was the Republican -- I mean, his whole existence is really through the Tea Party.
JIM LEHRER: Outside the party, yes.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: That's right.
MARK SHIELDS: And she -- she was certainly a Republican standard-bearer.
I think that's -- I think that's important, Jim. And I think the other thing about Rand Paul is, the libertarian instinct and impulse that he does represent is not going to be an easy harness with the religious right of the Republican Party, especially on issues of sexual conduct and so forth, where the libertarian impulse is that consenting adults can do, you know, anything that doesn't do harm to either person, and the law just ought to butt out.
That has not been the platform of the Republicans. [my emphasis]
Sleepy Mark not only promoted Tea Party hearthrob Sarah Palin into a stodgy establishment Republican. Gee, talk about "defining deviancy down"! This is a continuing part of the process we've seen for way too long, even among liberal pundits like Sleepy Mark, of moving the bar of what's centrist or mainstream further and further to the right.
His comment on how "the libertarian instinct and impulse" is going to come into conflict with the Christian Right over sex is particularly clueless. He apparently hasn't heard of Rand Paul's and Daddy Ron's close association with the Christian Reconstructionist-oriented Constitution Party. The Tea Party brand of "libertarianism" is very worried about the right of white people to stockpile weapons and ammunition, and about the right of Big Business to be free of annoying gubment regulations. But how many Tea Partiers have you heard over the last year demanding that government recogize the right to same-sex marriage or a woman's right to choice on abortion?
Like most pundits, and not unlike Bobo on the same segment, concentrates of the "horse-race" aspects of political developments, so he also addresses the Tea Party as a matter of style. Which in a real sense is true. The Tea Party is not mainly, as Sleepy Mark implies, "a fascinating, intriguing movement all year, with -- with rallies and everything else" that someone popped up from nowhere. It's above all the face of the Republican Party when it's out of power. But, also like Bobo, Sleepy Mark also didn't have much to say about the likely results of the policies that Rand Paul and his Tea Party co-militants promote.
I'm getting a little weary of people insisting journalists must pay homage to the Tea Party as a great infusion of political energy, and not call them racist, and examine their ideas with respect. As I've stated before, it is pretty clear from polling that the Tea Party is just another name for the traditional Republican base -- older, whiter, heavier on males and angrier than the rest of the country. Aside from their costumes and protests, I don't think they're that revolutionary or newsworthy. But OK, I'm willing to respect them. Respect means asking them what they'd do if they were in government, reporting on what they say, and letting the world know.
That's happening this week, and it's not going well for the Tea Party. Rachel Maddow is being trashed for asking Paul supposedly unfair questions, which is ridiculous; Maddow was tough but fair. But now the Kentucky Senate nominee is having problems with more than just Maddow. Friday afternoon, Paul pulled out of a scheduled appearance on "Meet the Press." "They just want to keep beating this same dead horse," said campaign manager David Adams. "We're finished talking about that." [my emphasis]