Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vacuous outreach

Senator Rand Paul has a bad habit of telling people what they want to hear.

I wrote last month about Paul’s conflicting approaches to Louis Farrakhan and Ted Nugent. At Howard University, he told a gallery of black college students they have a right to follow Farrakhan. And in February he tweeted Nugent should apologize for calling the president a bad name.

This illustrates the vacuity implicit in Republican “outreach.” Instead of spreading the truth, outreachers soothe liberal apprehensions by assuring them there’s room for them in an ostensibly center-right country. They don’t actually convince liberals they’re wrong ideas are wrong.

In an otherwise puerile political hit piece, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal notes:

Let’s move on to a YouTube video of Mr. Paul in April 2009, offering his insights to a college group on foreign policy. Channeling Dwight Eisenhower, the future senator warned “we need to be so fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy.”

“When the Iraq war started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution.”

Then he gets to his real point: Dick Cheney, who opposed driving all the way to Baghdad when he was defense secretary in the first Bush administration, later went to work for Halliburton. “Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good thing to go into Iraq.”

Mr. Paul’s conclusion: “9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.”

Chances are slim Paul really believes this, but he thinks he can get away with saying it because it doesn’t decommit him from his policy agenda. Indeed, even though he may disagree with a faulty premise, he won’t take issue with it if it leads logically to conclusions he has reached on other grounds. For example, if I think the Iraq War was a strategic mistake, I don’t correct liberals on false claims that the Bush administration lied about Iraq’s weapons programs.

Slandering Republican Vice President Cheney was the straw that broke the GOP’s back, leading Frank Luntz to tweet: “GOP establishment declares war on Rand Paul 2016.” The disagreement is more personal than ideological. The Republican Party, including Paul, more or less supports marginally lower income tax rates and soft-peddling social liberalism. They are more likely to expel a member from their ranks for a liberal heresy than a conservative one.

Over and over again, Paul changes his pitch from one disenchanted group to the next. Which man is to be believed? The one who told a social conservative group:

Libertarian, or liberty, doesn’t mean libertine. To many of us, libertarian means freedom and liberty. But we also see freedom needs tradition.

Or the one who told a liberal website:

I think that the Republican Party, in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues. The Republican Party is not going to give up on having quite a few people who do believe in traditional marriage. But the Republican Party also has to find a place for young people and others who don’t want to be festooned by those issues.

In other words, if we’re not careful, young people might start to suspect they’re wrong. Suspicion of our own knowledge tops the thoughtcrime catalog.

It’s easy for liberals to “agree to disagree” as the courts twist the Constitution to mandate their delusions. The status quo is favorable for them. Paul can harp on tradition and virtue until he’s blue in the face. As a legislator, the difference he makes is in the bills he supports and doesn’t support. His do-nothing approach ensures long-term victory for liberals.

Paul’s rhetorical bone throwing and verbal inclusiveness have made him a popular figure, but when he runs for president people are going to want to know what he is going to do. When he does (should he make it that far), he will alienate many people whom he failed to convert in the first place.

Further reading: “Failed fusion.”

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