Rand Paul and the Pitchforks

The Danish commentator on American affairs whose writings I have discussed numerous times before, Poul Høi, has a new column up on the Rand Paul phenomenon (Rand Paul: The Revolution begins now; note that Høi may now seem to have switched to another publication, Ugen, which means “The Week,” but in reality that’s just the new on-line weekly of his long-time newspaper employer, Berlingske Tidende).

Høi turns out to have some interesting things to say, despite the fact that he might as well be describing a space alien, so far apart are Paul’s libertarian political views and those prevailing in Høi’s native Denmark, land of 25% value-added tax and the world’s highest income tax. He sets up the Republican situation in Kentucky as a straightforward struggle between Rand Paul on one side (“pitchfork Republicanism”) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (he of the “polished floors”) on the other. That’s because Paul is not really of the Republican Party, although he did just win its nomination for Senate in Kentucky – he’s really a creature of the Tea Party, what Høi calls “a fundamentally conservative grassroots movement.”

So the two men are not on the same side, and Paul’s success is a threat to McConnell in two respects, each of which Høi develops clearly:

  1. Paul’s political positions are “radical,” even for Republicans, e.g. a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, calling a halt to Congressional budget earmarks, abolishing most cabinet departments (Education, Energy, Veterans Affairs) as not prescribed by the Founding Fathers. But the American people are attached to their veterans benefits, their earmarks, their federal education support; such views may be exciting to hear articulated, but ultimately they do not go over well once voters come to realize someone actually wants to put them into practice. The unpopularity Paul is courting among a wider range of national voters, because of his “Republican” label, threatens to damage Republican electoral fortunes on a wider scale;
  2. Not only Republican electoral fortunes, Rand Paul also threatens Republican office-holders more generally as the new star of the Tea Party movement. For that movement is, if nothing else, anti-incumbent and so potentially hostile to Democrat and Republican alike. Again, the antagonism between Paul and McConnell, despite their ostensible membership in the same party, can be expected to spread more generally to the Tea Party movement offering its own candidates in opposition to incumbent Republican office-holders elsewhere, as has already happened in Utah where (as Høi notes) sitting Senator Bob Bennett was denied renomination on the Republican ticket recently by a voting groundswell of Tea Party activists.

This was despite Bennett’s reputation as being among the most conservative of Republican Senators (which is logical, as Utah with its dominant Mormon population is a conservative, bedrock Republican state). How could he have nonetheless fallen out of favor? One clue is provided by Høi’s mention of complaints voiced by Kentucky voters against Senate minority leader McConnell, that he was too accommodating to President Obama. This prompts some excellent prose from Høi:

[T]his must have made McConnell tear at his thinning hair, for McConnell has done everything he could to obstruct President Obama, he has used all the tricks in the book, the classy ones and the not-so-classy ones, to thwart him, and then into the bargain he has to hear about being accommodating.

That’s just the fickleness of politics, I guess, and that might now be turning against Rand Paul himself due to his post-election PR problems concerning the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which Høi does not bring up; maybe he’s saving that subject for a future column. He also makes no mention, other than speaking in passing of a “career politician” (levebrøds politiker), of Trey Grayson, who was Paul’s actual opponent – not Mitch McConnell – in that recent Kentucky Republican primary. In other words, the Paul vs. McConnell story-line is probably a bit overblown, even if it is also enormously simplifying – maybe Høi needs to do that for his Danish readers. Still, I like his insight into the new Republican candidate for Senate in Kentucky, the sort of American “space alien” about whom he is paid to go live in the US and report.

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