What on earth is Rand Paul thinking, bringing up Monica Lewinsky? On cable TV, they shake their talking heads: ancient history, irrelevant, etc. Quite true, it’s all those things. But in terms of intra-GOP presidential-positioning politics, I think it’s actually quite shrewd, and another sign that he is not to be underestimated in terms of possibly nabbing the GOP nomination. Unfortunately for Paul—although fortunately for America—it’s only shrewd in terms of intra-GOP politics. Among the rest of the electorate, responses will range from indifference to hostility, and the “GOP War on Women” narrative won’t suffer a scratch.
Here’s what Paul is doing. First, he’s getting right with the base. As a devolutionist-libertarian, he takes some unorthodox positions from the conservative point of view—his neo-isolationist, anti-neocon foreign policy views, his comparatively soft-line views on same-sex marriage (he’s not for it, but he’d leave it to the states). There are reasons, in other words, for hard-shell conservatives to give him the gimlet eye.
Given that, what are some ways to make conservatives think you’re “one of us” without having to alter those positions, which he surely knows would be a disaster for him, destroying the very basis of his appeal as principled and so on? Find something conservatives hate and say you hate it too. What bigger something than the Clintons? Well, there’s Obama, but hating on him is old hat. Dredging up Lewinsky, on the other hand, shows that some care was taken to cultivate conservatives. As Paul knows, Clinton-hatred is still mother’s milk for that crowd.
He is also, as Peter Beinart noted, aiming specifically at the Christian Right. He’s been doing this for some time now, talking, for example, of the persecution of Christian minorities around the world. His father never bothered much with evangelicals, an error the son, recognizing their importance in the Iowa GOP caucuses, clearly hopes not to make.
I think there’s a final reason, which emotionally is the most important of all. When Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay, when he was still months away from a title shot against champ Sonny Liston, he’d knock out the latest second-rater in three rounds and then, when they stepped into the ring to interview him, carry on about how all he wanted was a fight with Liston: “I want that big brown bear!” The more he talked, the more promoters and fans were able to visualize a Clay-Liston fight.
The more Paul talks about the Clintons, the more he sets up the mental picture in the brains of Republican primary voters of him being the logical guy to step into the ring with them. After all, they’ll think, he’s sure not afraid of them!
It’s very smart (all this assumes of course that Hillary Clinton runs and is the Democratic nominee). All the other Republican candidates laying into the Clintons will look like Johnny-come-latelys. Paul spoke up first.
But the good it does him ends there. Here we return to the age-old Republican blind spot on issues relating to groups that don’t vote for them. Republicans think they can make everything better with words and symbolism. Just get our candidates to stop saying these stupid things like Todd Akin did. Speak respectfully. Sensitively. Appoint more women to high-profile thingies. It’ll be fine.
That isn’t how politics works. How politics works is that people actually care about substance to a surprising degree, and they know which party is representing their interests and which party is not. And women, by 12 percentage points at last count, know that Republicans are not. All right, it’s slightly more complicated than that—married women vote Republican, as do white women. But last I checked, African American women and Latina women and single women are women, too, and each of them has the same one vote that a married white woman has.
And overall—don’t take it from me, take it from the numbers—the women of America have decided that the GOP isn’t on their side. And it’s not because of the offal that flows out of the mouths of Todd Akin and company, really. It’s because of policies. And Rand Paul supports every one of those party policies.
Funny, but his libertarianism does not extend to giving a woman the right to decide whether to have an abortion. It did, however, in March 2012, extend to the “freedom” of religious institutions that were fighting the expanded requirement for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. You may remember the Blunt Amendment, which sought vast conscience exemptions from the coverage requirement. Paul voted for it.
I could keep going and going. Just last month, Paul floated the idea of a federal cap on welfare benefits for women who have more children. It is true that 16 states have such caps, and it’s not necessarily an ill-intentioned thought that saying “no more money for another child” might produce the desired effect of women not having those children. The problem is that in real life there seems to be no correlation. So the net effect is really just to increase the number of women and children living in poverty.
Then there’s little gem of a quote: “The whole thing with the War on Women, I sort of laughingly say, ‘yeah there might have been,’ but the women are winning it.” He said this two weeks ago. Let’s just say I doubt many professional women would agree.
If Paul really thinks that he can get women to overlook this record (and there’s much more) and decide to vote for him because Bill Clinton made some yakahoola with an intern, he’s as clueless as Reince Priebus is with his Latino and gay outreach. This is a case where the better scenario is that he’s just being cynical for the sake of snagging GOP votes. If he actually believes what he’s saying—well, God help us, but it does make him a natural to become the nominee of that party.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 12, 2014
“The Death Of Dog-Whistle Politics”: Intramural Republican Party Competition And The GOP’s Inability To Learn From Its Mistakes
In today’s media environment, every message you send to your base gets heard by everyone. That’s a problem for the GOP.
If you go over to Politico right now, in the “Hot Topics” listed at the top of the page, along with Obamacare, immigration, and the Olympics, is the name Monica Lewinsky. Which might strike you as odd, given that Lewinsky has been rather quiet in the decade and a half since her affair with Bill Clinton became public and led to his impeachment. But aged though it may be, the Lewinsky scandal is back. This is a story about intramural Republican party competition, the GOP’s inability to learn from its mistakes, and the death of dog-whistle politics. The problem for the Republicans is that they don’t seem to have realized it’s dead.
The latest round of Lewinsky-mania started when the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication that defines its mission as “combat journalism” (“At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them.”), went through the papers of Diane Blair, a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and found notes that described Hillary’s words and feelings as the Lewinsky scandal was going on. The material is certainly interesting from a historical perspective, but there isn’t anything there that could possibly be politically damaging to Clinton’s 2016 political fortunes, if that’s what they were looking for.
But you can’t tell some conservatives that. Rand Paul has been talking about Lewinsky, and when RNC chair Reince Priebus got asked about how Lewinsky might figure in 2016, instead of saying the logical thing—we have plenty of things to criticize Hillary Clinton about without getting into that—he instead said, “I think everything is on the table.”
It seems pretty clear what Rand Paul has to gain by putting himself at the forefront of an effort to refight the Clinton impeachment. As Peter Beinart argued, as the libertarian 2016 candidate, Paul will have to convince social conservatives that he shares their values, and this is a handy way to do it. Among those values, hatred of the Clintons ranks awfully high, exceeded, perhaps, by that delicious combination of salacious titillation and moral condemnation over anything having to do with sex.
The trouble is that if Republicans are going to talk about Monica Lewinsky, they’re going to do it in front of everybody, which will reinforce a whole raft of negative impressions people have of them: that they’re stuck in the past, they’re consumed by anger, that they’re puritanical. To be clear, I’m not saying that condemnation of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky is itself puritanical, because it isn’t. What was puritanical was their obsession with the sexual details of the affair, and their belief that Clinton’s obvious evil found no greater expression than in his sexual appetite., and that they are willing to do enormous damage to the country in order to destroy their enemies. These are the things the Lewinsky scandal represents for people who aren’t conservative Republicans. Which is why Karl Rove, who has a better grasp than most Republicans of the dangers of letting their instincts run wild, told Paul to put a sock in it.
Though a potential presidential candidate like Rand Paul might like to send a subtle message to primary voters—something along the lines of “I’m with you on the sex thing, and I think the Clintons are as monstrous as you do”—in this day and age, dog-whistle politics have become impossible. Every comment is noted, every speech is recorded, and it’s just no longer possible to send multiple messages without everybody noticing in a short space of time.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “dog-whistle politics,” it gained wide currency during the George W. Bush administration, when liberal bloggers began noticing the way Republicans skillfully crafted appeals that were meant to only be understood by the party’s base, while the rest of the electorate took no notice (Wikipedia dates the term as far back as the 1980s, but it was in the Bush years it came into common use in this country). One prime example came during a 2004 debate, when in answering a question about what sorts of Supreme Court justices he would appoint, Bush dropped in what sounded to most viewers like a non sequitur about the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery. To Christian conservatives, however, Bush’s meaning was clear: without ever mentioning abortion, he was telling them he would appoint justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. To know that, you’d have to know that anti-abortion activists often compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. If you didn’t know that, the message was as inaudible as a dog whistle.
To succeed, though, the dog whistle must have two characteristics. First, only your people are supposed to understand the hidden meaning, and that’s no longer possible, since there are armies of writers and analysts ready and able to translate anything you say, then feed it back to reporters so it can get discussed again and again. Second, the surface message has to itself be pleasing, or at least innocuous, to the larger audience. And talking about Monica Lewinsky as a way to indict Hillary Clinton is anything but.
Which leads me to a final question: Why don’t Democrats have any Lewinskys? By which I mean, issues that they talk about amongst themselves, and that Democratic presidential candidates might feel moved to echo in order to reassure them of their ideological bona fides, but which are absolutely disastrous when put before the broader public. Sure, there are positions that many liberals take that might be too extreme for a general electorate. But I can’t think of anything that a liberal might stand up and say at a town meeting, whereupon a smart Democratic operative would say in an urgent whisper, “For god’s sake, don’t bring that up! Do you want to ruin everything?”
Part of that is because, as the saying has it, Democrats hate their base and Republicans fear their base. But it’s mostly because the well of extremism just runs deeper and wider on the right. Which is why a Republican member of Congress can have a woman say to him that the President of the United States “should be executed as an enemy combatant,” in part because of “the Muslims that he is shipping into our country through Iowa in commercial jets,” and the congressman will respond not by saying, Pardon me ma’am, but you’re a nutball, but by nodding his head and responding, “Look, everybody knows the lawlessness of this president,” then going on to spout off a couple of bizarre conspiracy theories of his own.
The Republicans can’t send a dog whistle to that woman, and they can’t hide her either. Everything is exposed. And that’s why it’s going to be really tough for them to win in 2016. And don’t forget, they despise Hillary Clinton just as much as Barack Obama. Imagine if their own hatred of her is precisely the thing that gets her elected president.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 11, 2014
Nearly two weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) decided to go after former President Bill Clinton, focusing on the Lewinsky affair from 19 years ago. The former president, Paul said, was guilty of “predatory behavior.” He added that this would be relevant if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016 because “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”
Asked later about the comments, Paul suggested that Clinton isn’t really on his mind. “It’s not as if I’m bringing this up 20 years later. I was asked a direct question,” the Kentucky senator said. “However, if I’m asked a direct question, I’ll usually answer it.”
For a guy who only mentioned Clinton because he was “asked a direct question,” Rand Paul seems oddly preoccupied with the former president.
The senator’s original criticism came on “Meet the Press” on Jan. 26. Paul then took another rhetorical shot at Clinton on Jan. 28. And then another on Jan. 29. And then another on Feb. 5. And then again later on Feb. 5.
This morning, there was the Kentucky Republican, once again talking about the subject he only reluctantly broached in the first place.
“[Democrats] can’t have it both ways,” Paul said on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” set to air Sunday.
“And so I really think that anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I think they should give the money back,” Paul said. “If they want to take position on women’s rights, by all means do. But you can’t do it and take it from a guy who was using his position of authority to take advantage of young women in the workplace.”
This is getting a little weird.
To reiterate a point from last week, much of this likely has to do with 2016 and Paul’s concern that Bill Clinton remains a very popular national figure. Indeed, even Republicans who hated Clinton with a passion during his time in office – up to and including impeaching him – have since decided he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Robert Schlesinger labeled the phenomenon “Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome.”
The senator is no doubt aware of this, all while remaining cognizant of the fact that Hillary Clinton is a possible candidate. The calculus isn’t subtle: Rand Paul is probably worried that Clinton nostalgia will make the former Secretary of State that much more difficult to defeat. As a consequence, he’s become oddly preoccupied with a sex scandal from the mid-90s, which the American mainstream has long since given up caring about.
But I also wonder if there’s a touch of defensiveness lurking just below the surface. After all, Paul not only supports government intervention in restricting reproductive rights, he’s also voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Violence Against Women Act, while voting for the Blunt Amendment on contraception.
With a record like that, the senator may be understandably concerned about alienating women voters. I’m not a political strategist, but I don’t imagine constant complaining about Bill Clinton will address Paul’s underlying trouble.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2014
Yesterday, Rand Paul (R-Ky) declared an armistice in the “war on women” when he told Candy Crowley that the war is over and besides, “women are winning it.”
“The whole thing with the War on Women, I sort of laughingly say, ‘yeah there might have been,’ but the women are winning it,” he said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’ “I’ve seen the women in my family and how well they’re doing. My niece is in Cornell vet school and about 85% of the people in vet school are women.”
Mazel Tov to your niece, Rand Paul. It’s so great to hear that there are more women in vet school than in Congress.
“I think women are doing very well, and I’m proud of … how far we’ve come,” Paul said. “I think some of the victimology and all this other stuff is trumped up and we don’t get to any good policy by playing some charade that one party doesn’t care about women or one party isn’t in favor of women advancing or other people advancing.”
On the one hand, Paul’s not totally wrong. Here are all the ways women are winning:
- Women outnumber men on college campuses 57% to 43%, and the gap is expected to reach 59% to 41% by 2020.
- The pay gap is shrinking for millennials, with younger women making 93% of what men make
- Women are 48% of medical school graduates, up from around 10% in 1965
- Three words: Hillary Rodham Clinton
But on the other hand, women still have the cards stacked against them, especially poor women:
- 1 in 3 American women live in poverty or on the brink of it
- 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women, and they usually don’t get sick days
- The average woman makes 77 cents on a man’s dollar, and that’s lower for minorities; black women make only 64 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women make only 55 cents
- Even for the rich and well-educated, there’s still a disparity: men with MBAs make an average of $400,000 per year a decade after grad school, women with MBAs make around $250,000
But what Paul said next about marriage is the real nugget here.
“The number one cause of poverty is having kids before you’re married,” he said. “I tell people over and over again, I can’t make you get married, I can’t do anything about that.”
But, Rand…what if there was some magical way to make sure women didn’t have babies before they were married? What if there were some kind of pill, or even a procedure that would allow women to not have babies when they couldn’t afford them? How bout it, Rand? Maybe science has the answer! Let’s check!
Oh wait, this the same Rand Paul that co-sponsored the Life at Conception act to completely outlaw abortion and opposes the Obamacare birth control insurance coverage mandate. Right, I forgot.
He did seem very, very concerned about the plight of women on CNN. “It would be very difficult to have a government policy… how would you institute a government policy that didn’t create incentives to have more children?”
It’s a real head-scratcher.
The fact that Rand Paul thinks the war on women is over means he had no idea what it was about in the first place. Nobody accused the Republican party of standing in the way of women going to veterinary school– women’s financial and educational advancements are propelled by social changes that aren’t being specifically debated on the Senate floor. The “War on Women” is about abortion rights and access to affordable contraception more than anything, and Paul is fighting against both of them.
It’s giving me deja vu to when Bush stood in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner in 2003; a false victory, a pat on the back, and nothing really accomplished.
By: Charlotte Alter, Time, January 27, 2014
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is what you get when traditional and corrosive American nepotism meets the 21st century GOP echo chamber: a pampered princeling whose dumb ideas have never been challenged by reality.
If you missed Ron Paul’s son on “Meet the Press” Sunday, go watch it. I am honestly not sure what was most ridiculous or offensive: attacking Hillary Clinton for something her husband did, or declaring that “if there was a war on women, I think they won.”
Leave that question aside for a moment. Paul’s performance was most interesting for the window it gave us into his character, as the indulged but slightly dim scion of an eccentric political family whose every utterance, all his life, has been treated as important. At some points in interviews with the freshman senator, including this one, you can see the wheels turning in his head, maybe a little slowly, as he winds up to deliver what he thinks is a political humdinger. It’s the oily crazy of Rand Paul being adorably Rand Paul: saying what he thinks is brave and leader-like, but that thing turns out to be simply nutty.
Then the media collectively scrunches its forehead and tries to decide if he’s brave or nutty.
So it was with “Meet the Press” Sunday. Paul obviously set out to say cleverly what Mike Huckabee said stupidly: Republicans aren’t going to take the Democrats’ “war on women” rhetoric lying down, especially if they’re facing a Democratic woman running for president in 2016. You can almost see behind his eyes as he thinks to himself: “I’ve got it: I’ll throw a haymaker at Hillary Clinton for something stupid her husband did almost 20 years ago!”
Oh, and the man who opposed the Lilly Ledbetter pay equity act had the stones to frame his critique of President Clinton’s long-ago relationship with Monica Lewinsky as support for workplace laws supporting women.
One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn’t prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to be — have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that. And that is predatory behavior, and it should — it should be something — we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office… I mean, really — and then they have the gall to stand up and say Republicans are having a war on women? So yes, I think it’s a factor.
Though Paul allowed that her husband’s behavior is “not Hillary’s fault,” he added, “with regard to the Clintons, sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”
But wait, there was more. He came right at that whole war on women thing, echoing men’s rights advocates everywhere by declaring that “if there was a war on women, I think they won.” Evidence? “The women in my family are doing great.”
It’s not defending President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky to marvel at Paul’s raising it all again. Forget the fact that the issue was litigated 15 years ago, and every time Republicans went at Clinton, his public approval numbers went higher. Also forget that Paul’s claim that “the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this” is demonstrably false and idiotic. The man was impeached, and an awful lot of mainstream journalists shamed themselves by being stenographers for Kenneth Starr.
But on the self-pitying right, you can never lose by blaming the media for coddling awful Democrats. Paul’s brilliant declaration about women winning the war on women was likewise fact-challenged and paranoid. “I don’t see so much that women are downtrodden. I see women rising up and doing great things,” he told David Gregory. “In fact, I worry about our young men sometimes because I think the women are out-competing the men in our world.”
Never mind that women still make less than men and are more likely to live in poverty. Even more cruelly, the man who opposes legal abortion and the contraception-coverage mandate also suggested last Thursday that women who have “too many” children should lose welfare support. “Maybe we have to say, ‘Enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount,’” Paul said Thursday. He backed off a bit on CNN Sunday morning, telling Candy Crowley: “I mused about how you’d have a government policy, but I actually came down saying it would be very difficult to have a government policy,” Paul said.
Only last week reasonably smart people declared that Paul was the beneficiary of Chris Christie’s implosion. The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart called him the new “front-runner,” and Andrew Sullivan endorsed Beinart’s piece, tweeting, “Those who dismiss Rand Paul’s chances are missing something, I think — a revival of true small-gov’t conservatism.”
I want to get this straight: I know someone is going to win the Republican nomination for president in 2016. The party may be headed toward demographic extinction, but they’re not going to forfeit the election. They’ll nominate somebody. I just can’t see it being any of the people regularly mentioned, as the party’s supposedly “deep bench” of candidates splinters.
I could be wrong. On “Morning Joe” Mark Halperin suggested Paul might have advanced his candidacy by proving he’ll attack the Clintons and go on the offensive on the Democrats’ “war on women” claims. He’s definitely on the offensive. Very offensive.
Of course Peter Beinart left himself many outs in his Paul-as-front-runner piece, noting the freshman senator’s plagiarism and neo-Confederacy problems and adding: “Who knows what the media will turn up when the real vetting that greets a presidential candidate begins?”
He should have added: And who knows what will happen the next time the candidate opens his mouth?
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, January 27, 2014