September 23, 2010


Did Somebody Say "Fringe"?: Not so long ago, Rand Paul—son of Ron, "modern-day revolutionary," and practicing ophthalmologist—would have been written off as a harmless political extremist. For believing that the Federal Reserve should be gutted. Or that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. Or that the Department of Education is un-American. But with the help of his dad and a legion of devoted Tea Partiers, chances are good he will soon be the most radical member of the U.S. Senate (Jason Zengerle, October 2010, GQ)

Back in Kentucky on a Tuesday night in the middle of the summer, a state-rep candidate named Frank Haynes is holding a rally at a National Guard armory on the outskirts of Frankfort. Republicans happen to be in the minority in this part of Kentucky ("Being a Republican here is like being in the desert," the local GOP chair tells me), so the crowd of fifty people sitting in metal folding chairs is a pretty respectable turnout. But rather than talk about the state issues that might have an actual bearing on his race, Haynes stands before them and compares Nancy Pelosi to Nikita Khrushchev and Mao. "If you've been watching what's going on the last eighteen months, you see the ultimate goal that the progressives have," he says. "The hippies of the '60s are now the ones that are in control of Congress, and their goal is to make this a totalitarian government where they control every aspect of your life."

Paul has driven two-plus hours from Bowling Green, where he spent the morning doing eye surgery, to make an appearance on Haynes's behalf. He delivers the closest thing he has to a standard stump speech—the only new part, to my ears, is a quote from T. S. Eliot—and after he's done, I and a few other reporters sidle up to him.

One asks Paul about his now familiar contention that the press is out to get the Tea Party. "I don't ever call somebody a Muslim or do any of that kind of stuff," he replies, "but if there's a picture of President Obama as a Muslim, everybody says that's what the Tea Party is about." He adds, "I was at Bush's first inauguration with my two small children, and people came up to us and would yell stuff, like—" he pauses and mouths the word fuck—"you to my kids and stuff, you know? But does that represent all Democrats?"

Just fifteen minutes earlier the candidate whom Paul came out to support was likening the current Speaker of the House to a former Soviet dictator, so I ask if he thinks that's what the press might be referring to when they say the Tea Party is extreme. He leans forward and smiles. "Well, I think whether or not your analogies are over the top, whether you might extend an analogy farther than others might, is not something to be reviled. It's just an opinion, you know?"

He pauses for a moment, as if wondering whether he should say more, then gives in to the urge. "But I don't hear that and say, 'Oh, he's absolutely wrong.' I hear him and say that our country is slipping towards that, and there could be a time when we slip and lose a lot of our freedoms. I'll say things like that Ben Franklin statement: 'Those who give up their liberty for security will have neither.' I worry about a time when we would have chaos in our country and then a strong national leader would come along and say, 'Give me your liberty and I'll give you security.' Not that it's imminent or happening tomorrow or applies to any particular players on the stage, but there are historical examples."

Paul pauses again, although this time it's not out of any hesitation on his part; he's just making sure we're still with him. "In 1923, when they destroyed the currency, they elected Hitler. And so they elected somebody who vilified one group of people, but he promised them, 'I will give you security if you give me your liberty,' and they voted him in. And that's not to mean that anybody around is Hitler, but it's to mean that you don't want chaos in your country. And we could have chaos, not just because of the Democrats, but because the Democrats and the Republicans have all been spending us into oblivion. And having a massive debt runs the risk of chaos at some point. Not tomorrow, maybe not next week—I mean, I can't even predict the stock market six months from now. But I think that a country is in danger that spends beyond its means and lives beyond its means. And I don't ever say it started with President Obama. I think it started long ago."

It's an incredible performance, one that begins with a gentle distancing from a loony analogy before reframing the analogy to make it seem less loony, then introducing a new analogy that isn't just loony, it's repugnant, but that also, as the analogy gets fleshed out in greater detail, begins to reveal itself as conforming to a certain logic that might be worthy of debate—all before ending on a bipartisan, pox-on-both-their-houses note that makes it clear that no, he was not comparing Obama to Hitler. that the votes in reaction to the Obama presidency may elect Hitler. He's basically analogized his own movement to the Nazis..

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2010 6:20 AM
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