Rand Paul faces heat over opposition to miner safety

RAND PAUL FACES HEAT OVER OPPOSITION TO MINER SAFETY…. Kentucky’s Rand Paul (R), the extremist Senate candidate, explained recently that he rejects the notion that the government should establish safety regulations to protect mine workers. This week, he’s starting take some heat for it.

As Paul explained, he doesn’t understand mine safety rules, “so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules.” He added that, by honoring the free market above all, “no one will apply for those jobs” if a mine doesn’t do a good job protecting worker safety.

In Kentucky’s mining areas, Paul’s remarks didn’t go over especially well.

Members of the United Mine Workers from Kentucky have scheduled a news conference via phone Tuesday to take Paul to task for the remarks.

Tony Oppegard, a Lexington attorney who is a mine-safety advocate, called Paul’s statement “idiotic.”

He said it shows a lack of understanding of Eastern Kentucky, the region’s economy and of the history of underground coal mining in the region, where for generations coal operators strongly opposed efforts by workers to form unions. In Harlan County, deadly battles over union organizing helped earned the county the nickname “Bloody Harlan.”

Working conditions in underground mines are dangerous enough with federal and state rules, Oppegard said. If the industry were unregulated by government, “there would be a bloodbath,” he said.

Paul is misinformed when he says no one would take jobs in mines that weren’t safe, Oppegard said. Miners would take jobs even in unsafe mines because they need work, he said.

“There’s no other job opportunities,” Oppegard said.

This touches on what I like most about this story. Rand Paul has a nice little worldview, shaped by a bizarre, inflexible libertarianism. And in this little world Paul has created in his mind, everything should work as he envisions — the free market can and should dictate safety regulations at coal mines. If employers don’t look out for their workers, those employers won’t have applicants for job openings, which means less business, less profit, etc.

And while Rand Paul’s nice little vision is just delightful in an Ayn Rand novel, it’s contradicted by everything we know and have seen about reality. Indeed, how does the Republican Senate hopeful explain the nightmarish conditions miners faced before federal safety regulations? Shouldn’t the free market have prevented such a disastrous set of circumstances and prevented the dangerous exploitation of desperate workers?

It’s not uncommon for conservatives to suggest that “liberal elites” don’t understand the “real world” because their political ideals are rooted in an “ivory tower.” This, of course, is backwards — it’s the far-right worldview that crumbles when subjected to real-world conditions.