News Hound

At TAP Paul Waldman offers one of those insights that you realize is pretty obvious once you think about it, but most of us haven’t thought about it:

[I]n the last couple of months, Rand Paul may have gotten more news coverage than any other Republican in America, always including mention of the fact that he’s thinking of running for president in 2016. How did he do it?

It certainly isn’t because Paul is such a towering moral and intellectual force. He did it by staging a couple of events that 1) were a little unexpected and unusual for a Republican, and 2) were actual events, meaning they offered video for television stations to use and audio for radio stations to use. The media couldn’t resist, particularly when their alternative for coverage of the GOP is yet another question about the budget shouted at John Boehner or Mitch McConnell as they stride through the halls of Capitol Hill.

Waldman usefully adds that by “unexpected and unusual” he means that Paul has done things out of the usual pattern of the typically lockstepped congressional GOP, not to mention more interesting than the small gestures of insincere “bipartisanship” that routinely are offered by the more conventional Senate Republicans (e.g., Lindsey Graham). It doesn’t take much to stand out, as evidenced by Paul’s speech at Howard on Wednesday:

It doesn’t matter than approximately zero black people were persuaded to become Republicans by Paul’s laughable retelling of history (briefly: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were Republicans; Southern segregationists were Democrats; please ignore the last 50 years of Republican race-baiting and vote suppression; why aren’t you voting for us?). He understands what George W. Bush tried to teach the GOP, and Republicans since forgot. Making a show of appealing to minority groups isn’t so much about winning their votes (a bonus if it happens, but not necessary) as it is about cultivating an image as a “different kind of Republican.” That not only can win you the votes of white moderates, it gets you media attention, because reporters are always looking for something different. A Republican senator from Kentucky speaking before an audience of conservative white people isn’t news; a Republican senator from Kentucky speaking at Howard is.

Yep. But I’d add one more angle to Rand Paul’s media appeal: DC reporters are dying for “bipartisanship” stories, or hints that somehow, someday, the extremist-dominated parties will “move to the center” and join hands to fight deficits and ignore cultural issues or whatever. Now anyone really paying attention is not about to confuse Rand Paul with any sort of Man of the Center; he may have the longest and deepest history of truly alarming Cuckoo-For-Cocoa-Puffs associations in the Senate, particularly now that Jim DeMint’s no longer there. But hey! Paul doesn’t like military interventions! He’s for relaxing the War on Drugs! Many liberals agree with those sentiments! So despite Paul’s championship of an ideology that would repeal virtually all of the twentieth century’s progressive policy legacy (along with some of its reactionary policy legacies as well), he’s another token of that “breeze of bipartisanship” that’s “wafting” through Washington! Or so it seems to reporters in search of an easy if misleading story.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.