DEFENDING WORKERS’ ‘WAY OF LIFE,’ BUT NOT THEIR SAFETY…. Rand Paul (R) continues to hope voters just aren’t paying attention. I guess he doesn’t have much of a choice — a more informed public lowers his odds of success — but this is just embarrassing.

Rand Paul came out swinging against the Environmental Protection Agency this weekend, arguing that President Obama is “forcing the EPA down our throats.”

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Paul held a rally in a Kentucky coalfield on Saturday. Paul took the opportunity to position himself as an ally of coal workers (a key constituency in Kentucky, where Paul is running for Senate), arguing he would “defend your way of life.”

For crying out loud. Just a few weeks ago, Paul, the extremist Senate candidate and political novice, explained that he rejects the notion of safety regulations to protect mine workers. It’s better, he said, to let the free market deal with the problem.

As Paul envisions the system working, just so long as everyone honors the free market above all, “no one will apply for those jobs” if a mine’s operators don’t do a good job protecting worker safety.

Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky attorney and mine-safety advocate, called Paul’s statement “idiotic.” He added that underground mines already offer dangerous working conditions, and if Paul successfully eliminated safety mandates, “there would be a bloodbath,” he said.

As for the notion that coal-mine workers would just get jobs somewhere else if they weren’t satisfied with the safety precautions, Oppegard concluded, “There’s no other job opportunities.”

It was a reminder that 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?

Now we see Paul positioning himself as an ally of coal workers. Please.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.