It’s been a good year for a certain Senator from Kentucky. No, not Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is currently attempting to sneak into his sixth Senate term unnoticed.
That leaves one other Kentuckian. If 2012 was the year for the mainstream media and moderate politicians to marginalize Ron Paul, 2013 is looking like the year that young Randall Paul might marginalize the mainstream and portray himself as a genuine purist, unadulterated by party politics or punditry (at least that’s what he would like you to think).
Senator Paul has projected himself as the most honest man in Washington, partly because that’s at least somewhat true, but also because Rand has a talent for projection. In his last few ‘non-campaign’ stops, Rand has closed out his ‘non-stump speeches’ by suggesting to “moss covered” Republicans a quote from the American painter Robert Henri: “Paint like a man coming over a hill singing.” Well, Rand Paul has done some painting of his own. And so far it’s a flattering look for him.
Friday night in Simi Valley California, at the Reagan Library, Paul painted himself as the ultimate Reagan-conservative torch bearer. “We need politicians who don’t pander,” he pandered, and then proceeded to pander some more to the audience largely made up of senior citizens, conservative political junkies, and people bored to tears from living in Simi Valley.
He opened the lecture by showing a 1976 photo of Ronald Reagan with newly elected Congressman Ron Paul and a lanky looking Rand wearing a maroon polyester suit. Paul quoted some of Reagan’s candid moments, admitted that his wife Kelly Paul wears the pants in their relationship, and bolstered a popular suggestion that Republicans ought to “throw the bums out to win [again] in California.”
He delivered many an applause line, and casually worked up the audience into fits of laughter – though in some cases the elderly crowd took a moment or two to register the jokes. His voice was hoarse, no doubt from a very busy month spent boosting his popularity in the polls, but he was energetic and ominously funny – the Reaganites doubled up over a disability benefits one-liner. Like a seasoned comedian, Paul delivered with a natural talent for performance and kept his routine fresh – he featured about 30% of new shtick compared to his recent speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire. Since the current administration’s trifecta of scandals offered scathing opportunity for Paul to score political points, this was the first speech in which he didn’t slam Hilary Clinton as “derelict”, or even mention her.
“He didn’t talk about issues as much as I would have liked,” an elderly woman from Orange County griped over short ribs and red wine at the post-lecture dinner, held in a giant hanger under the display of Reagan’s former ride, Air Force One. Her husband, however, was satiated – “I liked him. He spoke his mind.” The bemused lady did have a point, perhaps largely unnoticed by the charmed mob – The picture painted of Rand Paul at the Reagan Forum was not that of a particular candidate; the lecture was certainly not ‘policy-centric’. Contrarily, Rand Paul’s appearance in Southern California was (to quote Reagan) a cheerful image – a sunny characterture of “bold colors”.
As a former swimmer at Baylor University, Rand certainly knows about pacing – after all, he waited 47 years to run for the Senate. Indeed the famed Paul did spend the entire month of May plugging himself and securing his foothold in the spotlight (a position he has enjoyed ever since his political star caught ablaze on March 6th, after an impressive Senate floor bladder stretching). But the eye surgeon knows better than to make a fatal miscalculation of public relations; there will be plenty of time to pound the heavy hitting issues home in 2014, 2015 (anyone else disenchanted with perennial presidential politics?), and so on. The last thing Rand Paul wants is to start getting too policy-heavy and divisive before the leaves have even begun to fall; confront a Kardashian-based American culture too soon with the implication of military blowback and entitlement reform, and Rand might soon find himself sitting in a Bowling Green cafe, humming Hank Williams: “My hair’s still curly and my eyes are still blue, so why don’t you love me like you used to do?” For now, it’s still a getting-to-know-you phase.
Kelly Paul must’ve gone into a trance when Randall courted her, because the everyman rebel is now wooing America with the charm of a viral Youtube wagon accident. Unlike his father, whose 30 year career in Congress exposed every idiosyncrasy and ‘whacky’ quality by the time of his back-to-back presidential runs, Rand slips onto the scene today with a virtually clean slate – minus a regretfully awkward exchange with Rachel Maddow, and – honestly – how can you not have an awkward exchange with Maddow?
While Dr. Ron Paul was an issues man, young Rand went to Washington and saw value in something else – winning. If Ron Paul’s greatest gift is his uncompromising loyalty, perhaps Rand’s (in addition to being principled) is the art of persuasion. The current persuasion being solicited? As Reagan fans hung on every word, Rand Paul summoned passionately for a new GOP candidate to take back California and the Western states, somebody outside the neoconservative mold, a “libertarian-leaning” Republican who can “grow the party”.
The pheromones are dancing in the air throughout the forum by now, but all of this begins to sound too convenient to be true. When the elephant in the room reaches a bursting point, Rand quells the tension with another killer one-two punch: “Or maybe you need a candidate who can sing Al Green.”
No Senator Paul, I think the voting public would prefer a charming, candid, comedic outsider over a singer. Don’t quit your day job just yet.
Dan Felden is an independent constitutional and cultural journalist. Dan lives in Los Angeles, CA.