Rand Paul Taps a New Constituency
Philip Weiss discusses an interesting Hardball clip here, where bestselling mainstream political author Mark Halperin says that Rand Paul could never be elected because the pro-Israel wing of the GOP and the general electorate won’t stand for it. Guest host Joy Reid catalogs the establishment Republican attacks on Paul: she cites NR‘s Rich Lowry, the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens, and the ever-hawkish Congressman Peter King. Their strident, combined, and seemingly coordinated attacks reveal something of a looming panic about Paul’s early progress: there is no clear “establishment” choice (Chris Christie on the bridge; Jeb Bush has devoted the last decade to making money and his political skills may be rusty), and Paul is making progress among various groups (youth, African-Americans) which are appealing to Republicans who want to expand the GOP electorate.
Weiss finds the clip dispiriting because it displays how entrenched the Israel lobby is in the GOP: rabid hawks like Peter King are considered mainstream; it is considered normal behavior for GOP aspirants to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, an advocate of nuking Iran. Rand Paul (who didn’t kowtow to Adelson) is presented as the loopy one. And it may be that Halperin is right—the Israel lobby is powerful enough to essentially dictate the nominating process, and will use that power against Rand Paul.
I had a different reaction: the mere fact that Paul now appears so threatening to the hawks in the party establishment is a sign of their weakness (a lack of grass roots support which they are more aware of than anyone else) and opens at least the possibility of a return to foreign policy realism in the GOP, whether under Paul’s leadership or someone else. Once people start voting, will they go for Sheldon Adelson, or someone who opposes him? I don’t think it’s foreordained that Adelson will prevail, and there are a lot of other people with money in this country.
My other reaction was pure pleasure at the candor of Joy Reid. At the end of the clip, after Halperin states that Paul will “never” satisfy the “pro-Israel” wing of the party, Reid goes right to her summation saying yes, Paul has problem with “the pro-Israel wing of the party, the pro-war (with strong emphasis) wing of the party, the neocons…”
For prime time television, this was a rare moment of blunt truth. Yes, the “pro-Israel wing” of the party takes their intellectual marching orders from neocons, who nearly always are advocating that America start a war somewhere. But one doesn’t normally say this on TV. I thought about this clip, from several years ago: Juan Williams confronted Bill Kristol on Fox News Sunday, exclaiming:
You just want war, war, war, and you want us in more war. You wanted us in Iraq. Now you want us in Iran. Now you want us to get into the Middle East. … You’re saying, why doesn’t the United States take this hard, unforgiving line? Well, the hard and unforgiving line has been, we don’t talk to anybody. We don’t talk to Hamas. We don’t talk to Hezbollah. We’re not going to talk to Iran. Where has it gotten us, Bill?
There’s an important essay to be written one day about how middle-of-the-road American black journalists and intellectuals became far more likely than whites to have acquired the courage and cultural permission to speak blunt truths about neoconservativism on prime time TV. Somehow they don’t fear they will be browbeaten or (to borrow a term from the late 60’s) mau-maued about the use of “vicious anti-Semitic tropes” … “not heard since Charles Lindbergh” or whatever. Whatever the historical reasons, the candor is welcome and necessary. It does seem whenever you look at the American establishment, if an important foreign policy arises arises it is more likely that the black voice (if there is one) will be saying something comparatively sensible: the Powell-Cheney faceoff during the Bush years (won decisively, and to tragic effect, by Cheney) being emblematic of the broader trend.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Rand Paul is at some visceral level aware of this, and intuits that middle-class blacks can become a not insignificant fragment of the Paul constituency, not just on so-called “black” issues like racial disparities of drug sentencing laws, but questions of great import for everyone in the country. He has of course stumbled in the past, (Joy Reid namechecked the Southern Avenger thing) which Joan Walsh will surely bring up again and again. But objectively speaking, these are trivial in comparison to the questions of whether American will bankrupt itself with a new wave of Middle East wars. Watching Joy Reid on Hardball, I could imagine her thinking along similar lines.