The Tea Party Goes Prime Time

Like the mariner drawn to the Loadstone Rock, I am incapable of pulling myself away from watching the video of Rand Paul’s victory speech last night in Kentucky. The son of Congressman Ron Paul won the GOP nomination for the Senate in a low-turnout primary. That might have enticed Paul to think about what he was going to say to the hundreds of thousands of voters who did not turn out last night but will come November. And, what he said was illustrative.

One of the problems faced by incumbents who have served too long in Washington, is that they develop a bad case of Inside-the-Beltway-speak. They use the jargon and lingo and acronyms of policy-making and fail utterly to present a narrative with which the average voter can connect. Rand Paul does not suffer from this affliction. Instead, his language betrays a different kind of insider talk, and his talk comes from having spent way too much time at Tea Party events.

Yes, many people are concerned about the federal deficit, although they get prickly when you start talking about cutting back on entitlements. And, however much disgust there is, and properly, directed at the overseers of the nation’s economy, few people think that eliminating the Federal Reserve is the reform that will achieve economic stability and growth. Indeed, I wonder how many people know what the Federal Reserve is.

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But, it was his critique of President Obama that was most interesting. His first mention of the President’s name came in the form of a peculiar concern. He condemned Obama because “he went to Copenhagen and appeared with Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez and others, Evo Morales…these petty dictators say that to stop climate change, it is about ending capitalism…the President by attending Copenhagen gives credibility and credence to these folks and he should not go.” He did not identify what was going on in Copenhagen, the global climate change talks. Perhaps, the coal interests in eastern Kentucky are well aware of what went on in Copenhagen, although in truth not much happened at that summit. And, perhaps there is a mountain of skepticism about global warming in the Bluegrass state. But, I suspect most people who tuned in were scratching their heads wondering what on earth this man was talking about.

Paul is a handsome and well-spoken man, with a beautiful family and a career outside of politics. And, perhaps that is what the good people of Kentucky want. But, the American people are notoriously and happily non-ideological when it comes to politics. They like problem-solvers. There is a side of me that hopes Paul wins in November: For six years, his fellow GOP senators would have to grapple with someone whose concerns are, at best, esoteric. But, I can’t imagine that Mr. Paul will wear well over the coming months unless he learns to speak in the vernacular. Insularity comes in many flavors, and it is lethal to a political campaign.


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