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Should Rand Paul temper his message?

by Wes Messamore, published

Barely a month after his record-breaking "Randslide" victory in Kentucky's Republican Senate Primary, Rand Paul came to Washington DC for a fundraiser with his father, Congressman Ron Paul and Senator Jim Bunning, the man whose U.S. Senate seat Paul would be vying for in November's general election.

As a Rand Paul supporter and a summer intern for a youth leadership organization in our nation's capital, I had the opportunity to attend the event- in fact I'm the "long-haired intern" Dave Weigel reported seeing at the event just a day before resigning his position at The Washington Post (though here I have to disclose that Mr. Weigel did slightly embellish my words to Senator Bunning when I shook his hand at the event).

The big scandal at the time was Rand Paul's acceptance of donations from certain Republican Party Senators, for which his detractors accused him of contradicting his earlier position of refusing to accept money from any Senator who voted for the TARP bailouts during the hard-fought Republican Primary against establishment favorite Trey Grayson.

Some cheered the reversal as a necessary movement "toward the center", while others sneered that the Tea Party candidate from Bowling Green wasn't so pure or principled after all. At the event, Paul explained to reporters that his opposition to the bailouts was a major area of difference between him and his primary opponent.

The Tea Party candidate wouldn't accept donations from TARP-voting Senators because that's where the line was drawn between him and Trey Grayson, who was anointed for Bunning's seat by seventeen TARP-supporting Republican Senators. But for better or worse, after a primary is over, the line is drawn between the Republican and the Democrat.

During the primary, what motive could the Republican Senators have had in supporting Trey Grayson, other than selecting the person they most-wanted to take their retiring colleague's place? During the primary, their support was telling. It told Kentucky voters how they could expect Grayson to vote. But during the general election, all it tells us is that the Republicans want to keep the seat in their party.

Now The New York Times is calling it time for Rand Paul to temper his message, but I think Paul would disagree. Back in June pundits were saying the same thing. It's a pretty standard equation they've contrived from the myopic left-right partisan dichotomy: be extreme- whatever that means- during the primary, and then be more moderate to win the general election.

At the fundraiser back in June, Rand Paul openly shared the secret to his success: his campaign featured specific policy proposals that most Americans in both parties have wanted for years, if not decades now, and that politicians have been promising- and not delivering- for just as long.

There's nothing extreme, Rand argued, about balancing a budget and not spending more money than you have. That's not a partisan idea or even an ideological one. It just makes sense, it's just what we have to do, and it's what most Americans would like to see their government do. What's extreme- and positively toxic to our future prospects as a flourishing and stable country- is running a multi-trillion dollar deficit. Most people in both parties would agree to that.

It's not extreme to propose that our Congressmen should read bills before deciding if they should become laws. By requiring them to sign a statement on penalty of perjury that they have read and understood a bill before voting on it, and by requiring them to wait a day for every twenty pages in the bill, America might really end up having the most open and transparent Congress ever. In fact many Bush-era policies most-hated by Democrats, such the Patriot Act, may never have become law.

And what about those pesky bailouts that so energized Rand Paul's supporters and much of the grassroots activity in this country that we have come to know as the Tea Party? Is it extreme of Rand Paul to so boldly oppose the transfer of wealth from the working poor and middle class to irresponsible Wall Street capitalists? Should he "temper" his message by saying that once in a while it's okay to transfer just a few billion from poor families to rich banks?

It just might be the case here that Rand Paul's candidacy defies the traditional "logic" of political campaigning because his platform defies the partisan dichotomy and accompanying media spectacle that have distracted so many Americans from the fact that the things most of us want and most politicians promise never come to pass.

The cynical wisdom of The New York Times notwithstanding, it is not necessary for a politician to lie to us to get elected. Call it by whatever euphemism you will: tempering the message, moving toward the center, or being willing to compromise- in the end, the pundits are cynically advising our politicians to lie to us to get elected, only to lament that politicians are so crooked and that politics is such a dirty business.

What Rand Paul has shown us is that a politician will not falter, but instead benefit from a strong commitment to transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in government.

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