Rand Paul and the Mystery of Aqua Buddha


I haven’t said much about the TV ads coming out of the U.S. midterm election cycle, but this one is interesting enough that I couldn’t resist commenting on it. Brief background: Democrat Jack Conway is running for Senate in Kentucky against Republican Rand Paul (son of Ron). Kentucky, like many Southern states, is heavily Republican and is becoming more so (an example is Arkansas, where Democrats have been flailing ever since Bill Clinton left), and Paul has mostly abandoned or downplayed the views that bring him closer to his genuinely anti-government father — particularly on national security, where Rand usually sounds as hawkish as any regular Republican. So Paul has led comfortably in the polls for a long time now, and Conway seemed to have no shot.

He may still have no shot, but he’s a lot closer in the polls now than he used to be, and it’s because of this ad, the Hail Mary pass of the campaign in several different senses. The ad picks up on stories of what Rand Paul was in college: though he’s apparently not named after Ayn Rand, he is a big Rand fan, and was sort of the stereotype of the Randian fratboy. The point of the ad is not simply that there are rumours of him participating in nasty fratboy pranks; that’s not disqualifying. The point of the ad is, simply, to tell religious voters that Rand Paul is secretly godless and is playing them for suckers.

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Josh Green at the Atlantic Monthly has some coverage of how this is playing in Kentucky. Since he wrote this, Paul has agreed to show up for the final debate against Conway. The ad may not be enough to tip the race to Conway, but it is helping him in the polls, not so much because of its message as because it’s thrown Paul off his own, successful message (attacking Obama and Democrats, who are very unpopular in Kentucky). It’s been compared to the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ad against John Kerry, which threw Kerry off-message and turned several weeks of the election into an argument over whether Kerry was doing enough to respond to the ads — thereby reinforcing the Bush campaign’s message that Kerry was a wishy-washy wimp.

The ad itself, of course, is shameless. Some have defended it by arguing that it makes a legitimate point, that Paul is not the religious guy he claims to be (“Rand Paul keeps Christ in his heart,” as Paul’s response ad says). Ayn Rand worship is, for obvious reasons, incompatible with strong religious belief. But that’s not the way the ad is putting it — it’s not just saying that Paul is a fraud, it’s saying that he worships false gods and that a litmus test for being a god-fearting man is supporting federal funding for anything “faith-based.” So it’s not an ad you would think liberals would rush to defend.

And some liberals are attacking the ad, but some are defending it — not the substance of the ad, but the tone and the take-no-prisoners attitude. As Green notes, it’s become a sort of online litmus test for liberals who believe in “fighting back.” It’s an article of faith among many U.S. liberals that Democrats are timid and don’t fight back hard enough against right-wing attacks — it’s been that way at least since the 2000 Florida recount, when (as liberals saw it) Democrats folded too easily while Republicans used every partisan tool at their disposal. This feeling became even stronger in 2004, when the Swift Boat thing hit and Kerry’s supporters didn’t hit back with ads about Bush’s past. Whether this is true or not — and conservatives certainly don’t see liberals as being soft and shrinking and overly moral — liberals tend to believe that their side doesn’t play hardball enough.

So Conway is, perhaps, getting some extra support from liberals despite putting out an incredibly illiberal ad, because many liberals have come to believe that only illiberal tactics can accomplish liberal goals. Here’s how a Talking Points Memo reader put it:

I think many Dems want to be true blue throughout, upright to the end. They believe, strongly, that their policies are right and true and if all were fair, then they would be enacted… The second group believes in the end result more than the means. This stance is the Republican party methodology writ large. From the dog whistle politics, to the scare tactics in campaigns, to the outright lying to the press, they don’t care how they get to the desired end, but that they get there… For my perspective, the first group made us wait 60 years for universal health care, is making us wait for an end to DADT, lost the opportunity for clean technologies, and couldn’t pass legislation to force disclosure of the vast sums of post-Citizens United moneys now flooding the campaigns. In other words, they didn’t get the job done. I, myself, believe that I want results and if the methods are legal, go for it.

Again, while I don’t usually believe in being “balanced” and not making a judgment, I’m not honestly sure who’s right: both sides in politics always believe that the other side is more hardball and nasty than their own. So I’m not saying I agree with liberals that they always play softball — it may be more that losers always get a reputation for playing softball. (The winning Democratic Presidential campaigns — LBJ with the Daisy ad, Clinton, Obama, even Carter in 1976 — put together some pretty hardball attack ads.) But what we are seeing in the U.S. is that liberals are increasingly tired of believing that their side plays softball, and want to do whatever works; they want their side to emulate Karl Rove and Lee Atwater.

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Rand Paul and the Mystery of Aqua Buddha

  1. Ayn Rand would have a fit over all these fakes and loons.

  2. In other words, the democrats are desparate.

  3. Ad would be more effective it recalled how hard Paul lobbied Christians earlier this year by insisting on his Christian bona fides, and if it recalled how Paul attack his primary opponent, Trey Grayson, for something he did when he was 20. Ad wouldn't have much effect if people thought he was running as a libertarian, in other words. If it is effective, it is because Paul has most certainly NOT been running as a libertarian.

  4. Since the Dems have taken control of spending (newsflash…congress controls spending) they have driven the US into the ground and taken her on a far left joyride that has large swaths of voters seething.

    Love the Nancy Pelosi quote where she aptly and honestly tells Americans they'll have to wait until the bill (I believe it was healthcare) passes before Americans can see what's in it.

    The worst congress and senate in the history of the country is facing a horrible, horrible thing: their dismal and dispicable record.

    Time to dredge up decades old obscure quotes against opponents.

    Oh how they assume their constituents are stupid.

    And oh how I look forward to November 2 when voters will respond appropriately.

  5. And hey did you hear what O'Donnel did in high school?

    In high school.

    Yes, that's what the Democrats are telling Americans what is important right now.

    Not the unsustainable deficit. Not unemployment. Not the rise of China as a world power.

    But what Christine O'Donnel did in high school. Not just in Delaware but around the country.

    Can't wait for November 2.

    • How can you fight both the deficit AND unemployment at the same time? Pick one….

      If you believe in demand side, you increase spending, increase employment and temporarily increase the deficit.
      If you believe in supply side, you lower taxes, wait for the effects to filter down through, increase employment and permanently increase the deficit (since a spending increase is temporary, but a tax cut is forever)

      I think the major cause of the deficit is military spending (untouchable), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (stupid) and entitlement spending (also more or less untouchable).

  6. the first group of dems mentioned by that tpm reader has never actually been observed. dems unwilling to smear and villify their opponents? what? sarah palin and her family life? gw bush's drinking and national reserve duty? clarence thomas? bork?

    smearing people and fostering fear is the liberal mo. harper is a scary guy. guns in our streets. i'm not making this up.

    • LOL yes you are.

      • What part is he making up, troll?

        • Hey, it's Cat Chow again! LOL

    • Yeah, how dare they villify clarence thomas? Let people sexually harass in peace!

      • yah only dems like clinton, gore, and inouye should get away with sexual harassment. clarence thomas is a repub, so smear him even if the sole accuser's allegations are completely unproven. what was i thinking.

  7. When liberals get desperate they play real dirty – weird dirty sometimes. I've seen it, and it's not pretty.

    • Uhh, hello. When any politician gets desperate they play dirty, Do you remember when Reagan slandered Dukakis? Or as Jaime mention, the Swift Boat Veterans…

  8. "But what we are seeing in the U.S. is that liberals are increasingly tired of believing that their side plays softball, and want to do whatever works; they want their side to emulate Karl Rove and Lee Atwater."

    I think it's possible to play political hardball without resorting to the racism, lies and outright character assassination that were mastered by those two odious people.

    I see a lot of articles lamenting the Dems' dilemma: either lose at the ballot box or adopt the filthy tactics of the Republicans. I wish I saw more articles lamenting that the Republicans have been using and adapting those tactics since Nixon's time.

    And yes, I know it's not black and white, the Dems use dirty tricks too. But they simply can't compare to the Republicans in the breadth and scale of these tactics, and it's almost always the Republicans that are pushing the envelope. At this point, the Republicans aren't even bothering with a coherent policy platform, they're just going to play their usual dirty game and they're going to get away with it.

  9. The latest poll shows Rand Paul leading Conway 50 to 43 %. That indicates that Conway is suffering for his stupid dirty tricks. I think left-wing Democrats are suckled on dirty tricks, elitism, fabrication, and cheating. I hope Rand Paul beats Conway in a tsunami landslide.

    • Are you being serious here? Conway was trailing Paul by a much larger margin early in the polls; he actually CLOSED the gap with the acqua buddha ad. If ten people on this blog support my view and one hundred support yours, then you say something ridiculously stupid and now of those 110, 4o people support me and 70 support you, that is not a vindication of your statement. It is the exact opposite of it.
      So in this case of a candidate who trails by 20 points in the polls and closes the margin to 7 points in the polls with a specific ad, that indicates that the ad was successful, not detrimental.
      Conway will likely still lose this race, but it wont be because of this ad or any of his other "dirty tricks", it will be because KY is a heavily republican leaning state that is generally unhappy with the Obama presidency.
      Some idiots will continue to create their own script for the reasons Paul won; I see someone is already following a pre-written script, complete with a political "tsunami"….

  10. I prayed to Aqua Buddha and three days later I won the lottery – but only after convincing 8 of my friends and family to pray to AquaB. That was some tuff fight. Anyway the upshot is pray to AquaBuddha, a make wish, and then get 8 other people to pray to AquaBuddha, and in three days your prays will be answered!

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