Why Rand Paul flopped at Howard

After the Maddow interview, he backed away. This Tea Party shibboleth is a failed attempt to re-baptize, to rethink America in irony and confusion: Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, was a Republican, don’t ya know, and most blacks from 1865 to the 1950s voted Republican because of that. In fact, most blacks between 1865 and the 1950s did not vote.

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This is a Tea Party problem. In its conception, the Tea Party was not a Republican “establishment” concern. In fact the phrase “establishment” — possibly awakened here — emerged to clearly identify the new approach which was neither liberal nor conservative in the tradition. Instead, it was an approach more responsive to the demographics of the times and the movement of people west away from jobs in urban factories and as field hands to a country more rural and agrarian, filled with new small businesses that employed two-thirds of the workers in towns and regions fully developed across America.

Rand Paul might instead remind audiences that when Jim Crow was being institutionalized across the South, a vengeance demon that attached as tailwind to the Civil War, west Texas was still unsettled and in the midst of war with the Comanche. America was still unformed, unfinished, and from a states perspective west of the Mississippi, had barely just been born.

Paul’s strategic mistake is in trying to go from Tea Party to Republican Party and run for president in 2016 as a mainstream Republican. Newt Gingrich has already done that with some success, Dick Armey with less success. Both commandeered what might have been a fresh approach, and now Paul leaves behind the fresh approach to join in with the mainstream (i.e. “the establishment”).

A starting place in the Howard speech might have been of a longer historical Anglo-American journey which brought relative equality to African-Americans in North America, at least in our moment. He might, as Eisenhower did in his great speech to the San Francisco Republican convention in 1954, make the case that the federal approach to things brings quick fixes but no lasting results and in effect destroys community efforts to a more lasting peace. And Faulkner was with him on that.

A speech to Howard students should express the need to go into the world via the constitution as libertarians demand, but in more intransigent issues there is no choice but to go beyond; that is, there is no other choice but force and the clash of forces.

The first such moment was in 1776, the next in 1881 and the third in the 1950s and 60s with the Civil Rights acts. Leave it up to the undergraduate pre-law students to decide whether the American Revolution was a sin which we will yet pay for that divided us from our ancestral mother (and thus, the “Downton Abbey” syndrome).

And that the South, people white and black might have emerged whole under different economic situations. But these are the benchmarks of our era from which there is no return and that made us to what we are and what we are to become. Turning back to culturally “re-baptize” is the conservative’s deconstructionism, nihilist in intent as is the other. Nixon and Reagan did it as well, but it will not work for Republicans and will not work for libertarians.

Paul should speak to the future of states’ rights, sound money and constitutional government. But he should understand the past and history’s burdens first.

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