|05-17-2010, 08:35 PM||#1|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Oct 2003
How Rand Paul became the Tea Party's Obama
On the afternoon of Dec. 16, 2009, the 236th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Rand Paul left the office of his small ophthalmology practice in Bowling Green and drove 30 miles to Russellville, Ky. In an election year without the Tea Party movement, Rand Paul's campaign to become Kentucky's next U.S. senator would be just as quixotic as the bid his father, Ron Paul, made for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. The younger Paul has never before run for political office, and he shares many of his father's unorthodox views, including a desire to abolish both the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education. Yet, today he would address Kentucky's Logan County Republicans as the race's front-runner.
At the Republican Party headquarters in Russellville, Paul took the podium. Dimpled and handsome, 47 years old, with boyishly tousled salt-and-pepper hair, he surveyed the audience, a crowd of mostly retirement-age GOP stalwarts. Then, in a casual and articulate drawl, Paul committed an act of heresy that would have once doomed any Kentucky Republican: He attacked the state's senior senator, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell. The oratory opened with a display of subtle rhetorical agility worthy of Mark Antony.
"I got into this initially because there were rumors they were trying to push Jim Bunning out of office," Paul began. "I said to a reporter, 'I think that's wrong.'"
The two-term Sen. Jim Bunning was the slain Caesar of the stump speech. Playing the role of Brutus, of course, was McConnell, whose hand rests on the GOP's national fundraising taps, and who, with a twist of the wrist, had effectively forced Bunning into retirement. Without directly accusing the honorable Republican leader, Paul decried Bunning's martyrdom.
"I think he's done a good job for us," he said. "He has been conservative, and when the bank bailout came up, Jim Bunning had the courage to vote against it." Paul didn't need to tell this group that Bunning had done so in defiance of McConnell -- and he was too gentlemanly to belabor the point. The implication was clear: The party boss had taken Bunning down for his principles.
To take Bunning's place, McConnell had groomed Trey Grayson, a five-generation Kentuckian and fellow graduate of the University of Kentucky Law School -- the "leadership academy" of Kentucky politics, as some call it -- who is Kentucky's current secretary of state. Most impressive on Grayson's political résumé is that he won reelection in 2007, even as the state overwhelmingly elected a Democratic governor. In a state where 60 percent of voters are registered Democrats, Grayson (who is himself a lapsed Democrat) had valuable crossover appeal. When McConnell began assessing Bunning's electoral prospects in early 2009, Grayson must have seemed especially appealing in contrast. The insubordinate and gaffe-prone Bunning had recently responded to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer by coldly forecasting that she would be dead within a year.
Grayson started the race with party backing, a reputation for competence, an ideal political résumé, and a 6-foot-5 frame that gave him an air of authority that his unspectacular public speaking sometimes lacked. When the first polling was done in September '09, Grayson had a 34-25 percent lead. Within four months, though, the numbers had reversed, and Paul told the Logan County Republicans why.
"If there's ever a year for an outsider who has never held office before, this is the year," Paul said. He recounted tales of Tea Party events. Seven hundred people in his hometown of Bowling Green had rallied on April 15; there were 4,000 in Louisville a few months later. By contrast, Paul said, "The biggest GOP event I've been to in the last seven months -- 200 people in Louisville. You can see how the Tea Party movement is big and it captures the discontent that's out there, and sometimes discontent with both sides."
The political divide between Paul and Grayson broadly represents a larger fault line within the GOP: It's Republicans who blame the Democrats versus Republicans who blame the government. A day earlier, on Dec. 15, 2009, a coalition of Tea Party groups had held an emergency "Code Red" rally in a park just north of the Capitol. Addressing the crowd was Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who appears to be making a bid to replace McConnell as the leader of the Senate Republicans.
The crowd was about 1,000 strong and half were wearing bright red jackets and hats, to signify the imminent threat posed by the healthcare bill, which at the time seemed close to passing. Several were waving the yellow Gadsden flags of the American Revolution, which feature the words "Don't Tread on Me" and the image of a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike. Most of the protesters were middle-aged and white, more men than women -- a representative sampling of the Tea Party movement, which (polling has since shown) is slightly older, wealthier, better-educated and angrier than the average American.
"Over a year ago," DeMint said, "Americans voted for a president who promised to cut taxes, cut spending, cut debt." His amplified voice drowned in a chanted chorus of "liar, liar." A woman with short gray hair and rosy cheeks that matched her red sweat shirt held a sign that read "Obama bin Lyin."
DeMint finished his attack on Obama, then pivoted to Republicans.
"Democrats and Republicans, if they're not standing up for our Constitution, for a balanced budget and the principles of liberty ... then you send us people that believe as you do that this country is about freedom and now is our time to fight for it," he said, and waved to the applauding crowd.
In the GOP's soul-searching after its 2008 losses, DeMint has been a conservative hard-liner. The rise of the Tea Party has dovetailed with DeMint's ambitions to trim the moderate fat, push the party to the right, and ultimately lead it. To that end, DeMint has grown his leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, into a powerful alternative to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is the fundraising arm of the Senate Republican caucus that McConnell leads. Over $340,000 worth of support from DeMint's PAC fueled one of the Tea Party's biggest electoral victories to date, when the right-wing Marco Rubio pulled so far ahead in the Florida polls that the incumbent Republican governor, Charlie Crist, left the party to run as an independent rather than lose in the primary.
DeMint's endorsement of Paul came only recently, on May 5, the same day McConnell gave his official backing to Grayson.
According to Paul's campaign manager, David Adams, Paul and McConnell met seven months ago at the Louisville airport, but haven't met since. Adams confirmed that Paul has not pledged his support for McConnell as leader of the Senate Republicans.
"We haven't even really seriously talked about the fall election," Adams said, "and that's way before something that might happen in the beginning of 2011."
It seems likely that Paul is waiting to see where the fault line breaks after this election. With his own fundraising machine, he hasn't needed McConnell's support. And if Tea Party candidates are widely successful, then DeMint could become the GOP's new kingmaker. Rand Paul would certainly be a favorite son. In fact, he is already the telegenic, silver-tongued, politically savvy son of the man who won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, which gauged Republican sentiments in anticipation of 2012.
It all started with a bomb
Rand Paul's success can be understood in the genealogy of the Tea Party movement. Its viral and decentralized traits, the intellectual foundations of its libertarianism, and its fundraising tactics all come from Ron Paul's presidential campaign.
The first Tea Party event of the Obama era was arguably a Ron Paul "money bomb" fundraiser; and the story of that event is the primal example of how the medium of the Internet and the power of American mythology have combined to unify a movement of militant individualists.
The forefathers of the money bomb are two Paul-ites in their mid-30s, Trevor Lyman and Vijay Boyapati. They met online in the fall of 2007 through their shared enthusiasm for Ron Paul, quit their jobs, and moved to New Hampshire to start Operation Live Free or Die, a PAC with the goal of recruiting 1,000 fellow supporters to knock on every door in the state before the presidential primary. Boyapati, an early Google employee who cashed out at the height of the market, bankrolled much of the operation and coordinated the door-knocking. Lyman built the bombs.
His inspiration was the movie "V for Vendetta," which had gained a cult following among libertarians. The film depicts a dystopian vision of a modern British government co-opted by corporations and transformed into a totalitarian state, which is violently attacked by a masked insurgent who styles himself after Guy Fawkes, the terrorist who was caught on Nov. 5, 1605, attempting to bomb Parliament while its members and the king were inside.
Lyman designed a time bomb of his own: a website that would, over several weeks, collect pledges to donate to Ron Paul. On scores of Ron Paul websites, MySpace and Facebook groups, and libertarian message boards, users began posting live tickers tied to Lyman's database, which continuously updated the pledge total. On the 402nd anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, the money bomb would trigger a multimillion-dollar blast of coordinated individual donations. It was a novel method of small-donor bundling. A campaign contribution feels important and exciting in proportion to its size; with the money bomb, small contributors became co-conspirators in a larger scheme, and every additional donor they recruited gave them a larger stake in the fundraising total. The first money bomb on Nov. 5th raised $4.2 million.
The Ron Paul online message boards are usually chaotic and contentious -- libertarians are by disposition even less likely to sublimate their egos than your average Internet commentator -- but within a few days a consensus formed that another money bomb should be set for Dec. 16. "The free market of ideas," as some Paul-ites call their online community, was functioning efficiently.
Meanwhile, in Dartmouth, Mass., a 49-year-old floor installer named Bob Dwyer had been exploring some Internet message boards and clicked a link to a video of Ron Paul. Like many who are drawn to Paul, Dwyer felt he was finally hearing a convincing explanation of the country's problems. Unlike the traditional left-right debates, Paul's was a story of freedom versus oppression that paralleled the original American Revolution.
"Traditionally, I used to think the Democrats are for the poor, Republicans are for the rich, and I was always a poor person, so why would I vote for a Republican?" Dwyer said. "But Ron Paul, he was teaching me, maturing me, educating me."
A registered Democrat for most of his life, Dwyer had never been politically active, beyond simply voting. Yet he found himself discussing Ron Paul with fellow dads on the sidelines of his daughters' soccer games with such enthusiasm that people began asking if he was volunteering for the campaign. He used Ron Paul's website to find and join a Boston-area Meetup group. After the first money-bomb success, the group began discussing what they should do for Dec. 16.
The inspiration struck Dwyer in his sleep. On Tuesday morning, Nov. 13, he awoke with the idea to hold an event, in conjunction with the upcoming money bomb, at Boston's Faneuil Hall -- where many of the Founding Fathers met to plot their responses to the oppressions of the British Parliament, including the original Tea Party.
"I hate to say it, man, but if it's not spooky to you, I feel like it was divine providence," Dwyer said, looking back on that morning. "It was like the Founding Fathers came to me in my sleep and stuck the torch of liberty in my hand."
The 60 regular members of the Meetup group had been just as fractious and strong-willed as the users of the Ron Paul forums. Dwyer had already quit one Meetup in Providence, which convened closer to his home in the south coast of Massachusetts, after his frustrations with the personality politics had boiled over. The Boston group wasn't much better. Dwyer and a co-organizer clashed frequently; one day, while setting up a checking account for the group's fundraising, the two even got into a shouting match in the middle of a bank.
Yet the Boston Meetup group was universally electrified by the Faneuil Hall idea. Within three weeks, they had worked together to register a PAC, raise over $10,000, purchase radio ads to promote the event, set up a live Web feed, and negotiate access to the hall, which had already been reserved by members of the 9/11 Truth movement (who could perhaps also lay claim to the first event of the Tea Party movement, having dumped copies of the 9/11 Commission Report into the Charles River a year earlier). Ron Paul would be in Iowa that day, stumping in preparation for the Jan. 3 caucuses, but Dwyer had seen Rand standing in for his father at a straw poll in New Hampshire and knew he could be the headliner. The younger Paul agreed to come to Boston.
What got the Meetup groups through the personality conflicts, Dwyer said, was participants' shared enthusiasm for a larger goal.
"How do we take the country back, with a herd of cats?" he said, reflecting on the lessons he has learned as a libertarian organizer. "The symbol has to be something so powerful that everybody just feels it, for people to bypass and become more tolerant of each other."
The son finds his calling
A northeaster had come in the night before, and the snow and ice blew sideways as a crowd of about 200 assembled at noontime on Dec. 16, 2007, in front of the Old State House, where the Declaration of Independence was first proclaimed. Waving Ron Paul signs, they marched the Freedom Trail to Faneuil Hall, "the Cradle of the Revolution," a three-story brick building with a white bell tower rising above the crest of the roof.
Inside the great hall, a high balcony overlooked the main floor where the crowd gathered. Along the back of an elevated stage were stone and bronze busts of heroes of American history, and above the statues hung George P.A. Healy's painting, the size of a Times Square billboard, of Daniel Webster's 1832 reply to Robert Hayne, in which he argued for the supremacy of federal power over states' rights. Most people were dressed in winter layers; a few were wearing tri-cornered hats and white curly wigs. The crowd embraced the spirit of historical reenactment and, as the program began, the audience responded to the speakers by shouting their own "huzzahs" and outraged words of dissent, as one might imagine the Sons of Liberty had done in their colonial town hall two centuries earlier.
Rand Paul took the stage to hearty cheers. He wore a dark blazer and the same snowman tie he would wear exactly two years later as a U.S. Senate candidate in Logan County. He had stood in for his father on the campaign trail before, and he spoke with the confidence and timing of a preacher addressing the converted, making jokes, anticipating the applause, knowing when to pause for the clapping to die down and when to raise his voice over the crowd to incite yet more noise. The speech was well tuned to the revolutionary enthusiasm in the room.
"They say the British scoffed at the American rabble," Paul began. "They laughed at the Americans, their imperfect uniforms, their imperfect tactics. They laughed at retreat after retreat of the American army. They laughed right up until Yorktown."
The crowd laughed and whooped.
"Today, you are that American rabble: the disgruntled, the disillusioned, the cynical, the bereaved -- bereaved at the loss of liberty," he said. "The establishment from their high-rise penthouse views laughs at you, laughs at us."
As opening gambits go, the red-meat populism played perfectly -- and it was also something of a contrast to Ron Paul. The elder Paul is professorial by disposition, and his followers tend to like and trust him precisely because he doesn't talk like a typical politician. Rand, on the other hand, was rhetorically shrewd. He delivered most of his lines in an almost weary tone, as Southerners sometimes do to emphasize that they're speaking common sense. He aimed first for emotional appeal, winning the crowd over before trying to teach them anything. His political philosophy, where it emerged, was specific enough to sound intelligent and general enough to seem universally unobjectionable. When he approvingly quoted his father -- "achieving power is never the goal in a truly free society; dissipation of power is the objective of those who truly love liberty" -- it sounded not like a substantive and radical proposition, but like the height of modesty, since it was coming from a man who had power over the room. The virtue of the man elided with his words.
In light of Rand Paul's economic analysis, which is largely consistent with his father's, the Tea Party day event made perfect sense. According to both Pauls, one of the most insidious instruments of government oppression is the Federal Reserve. Untethered from the gold standard and the Bretton Woods system, and insufficiently accountable to Congress, the Fed creates money by fiat. One problem with this, the Pauls believe, is that every time the Fed creates more dollars, the less $1 is worth. If I have several thousand dollars in my savings account, and the value of those savings is suffering because the Fed is printing money to support the profligate spending of the government, then I am paying the price. In other words, I am being taxed -- invisibly, by the chairman of the Fed, whom nobody elected.
This invisible taxation without representation, so viewed, is not unlike a modern-day Townshend duty on tea.
Several people that day told Rand Paul that he should run for public office. The experience was formative for him, according to David Adams, his Senate campaign manager, giving him a visceral experience of the energy of the grass roots. The Tea Party money bomb also raised over $6 million, the largest single-day political fundraising event in history.
"It doesn't take a majority to prevail," Rand Paul said in his speech that day, quoting Sam Adams. "It takes an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brush fires of the mind."