Points for Trying

There was a time when you got points for trying. That would be back in the eighties when that self-esteem movement was all the rage, the general idea that low self-esteem was the real cause of all crime, and teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse and school underachievement and most everything that was wrong with kids today. One politician out here in California, John Vasconcellos, a state assemblyman, even claimed that improving self-esteem would help the state balance its budget, because folks with high self-esteem earn more money and thus pay more in taxes. That led to Governor George Deukmejian setting up a task-force on self-esteem and personal and social responsibility, and then things just snowballed. A few years later there was the National Association for Self-Esteem – still out there even though the movement kind of petered out.

Still, for a time, school curricula were full of specific self-esteem classes. It was better to help the kids feel good about themselves than to have them study math, because if they feel good about themselves that math stuff should be a snap for them, later. It was an interesting theory, but teachers hated the carefully structured feel-good activities – they’d always rather teach the subject matter – and the kids sniggered. Nothing came of it, nothing but adults who now have a curious collection of little medals stuck in a drawer somewhere, because back then you got points for trying. It’s just that an award for trying far harder at something than anyone else is kind of a joke. Those medals were handed out to those who came in last, the losers, to make them proud too – but few kids are that gullible. Dead last is dead last, and real life is real life. Republicans aren’t proud that Romney tried so hard to be president – he has yet to receive a medal for that. He lost. He doesn’t get points for trying. The party has moved on.

The party has moved on with its two new emerging stars, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, and they’re making their moves:

Marco Rubio is preparing to go all in to support sweeping immigration legislation, offering himself up as the public face of a bill that will split the Republican Party – but that his allies hope will propel him to the front of the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

After offering lukewarm support until now, Rubio is preparing to fully embrace a measure that is the most significant of his political career so far. The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives.

It’s a big gamble, but nothing ventured, nothing gained:

Rubio is planning a media blitz to promote the bill – which is expected to be released early next week – making the rounds on all of the Sunday political talk shows starting this weekend, wooing skeptical conservative radio hosts and pitching the plan to Spanish-language news outlets. The campaign is aimed at building public support for the far-reaching immigration bill that will dominate Capitol Hill’s attention for much of the year.

He’ll drag his party away from the self-deportation nonsense, and talk of a massive electrified fence on the border to fry them all, or he won’t – but he’s all-in now. It’s just that Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from out this way, warned of a “revolt among Republicans” if the House ever considered a path to citizenship. He wants to make life so difficult for immigrants that they leave on their own and told Politico that he won’t talk of self-deportation, he will talk of this:

You make sure that people who are here illegally do not get jobs, and they don’t get benefits and they will go home. It’s called attrition. I don’t happen to believe in deportation. If you make sure they don’t get jobs and they don’t get benefits, I mean Mitt Romney called it self-deportation, but it’s not; it’s just attrition. They’ll go home on their own.

Yes, it’s the same thing, no matter what Rohrabacher says, and this should be interesting. Rubio may not be able to drag his party kicking and screaming into supporting comprehensive immigration reform, and he won’t get points for trying. He’ll be toast. No one is handing out those little medals anymore.

Rand Paul, however, wants points for trying:

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who’s considering a 2016 presidential bid, made a pitch for his party Wednesday at the historically black Howard University, arguing why the GOP and African Americans should fall in the same column.

“I came to Howard today not to preach and to prescribe to you some special formula, but to say I want a government that leaves you alone,” the Kentucky senator said. “My hope is that you’ll hear me out. You’re going to see me for who I am and not a caricature that’s sometimes presented by political opponents.”

It was into the lion’s den, with the message that he’s a good guy, really, and Republicans are on their side, really, and the audience politely heard him out, but weren’t awarding points for trying, even if it was hard for him:

Paul staunchly defended his support of civil and voting rights, saying he’s never “wavered” on the issue. During his Senate campaign in 2010, however, Paul took heat for repeatedly dodging questions about whether he thinks parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act amounted to a constitutional overreach. The senator briefly referenced the controversy Wednesday, saying the dispute is over “how much of the remedy should come under federal, or state, or private purview.”

He danced around what’s on record – he hated the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that told business to behave – restaurants and hotels and bus lines had to serve black folks too. No one should tell the private sector what to do. People will do the right thing, eventually, a position which led to some confusion:

“I’ve never been against the Civil Rights Act, ever,” Paul told a questioner, following what was the first speech by a Republican legislator at the historically black university in decades. “This was on tape,” the questioner responded.

Yeah, it is, and Paul had to explain he loved almost all of t the Civil Rights Act, but not that one very bad part of it, which one could argue was the very heart of it. He didn’t believe in federal law banning discrimination in privately owned businesses that are open to the public. This didn’t go well, and Paul’s remarks also included this:

I think what happened during the Great Depression was that African Americans understood that Republicans championed citizenship and voting rights but they became impatient for economic emancipation.

African Americans languished below white Americans in every measure of economic success and the Depression was especially harsh for those at the lowest rung of poverty.

The Democrats promised equalizing outcomes through unlimited federal assistance while Republicans offered something that seemed less tangible – the promise of equalizing opportunity through free markets.

Ed Kilgore was not impressed:

Black folk were “impatient” to escape from perpetual poverty and so just couldn’t wait around for the Republican formula of desegregation plus capitalism to do its magic? So they succumbed to the fool’s gold of government assistance?

For one thing, most white New Deal-era Republicans weren’t exactly crusading every day for an end to Jim Crow. So the practical political choice was Jim Crow plus the assistance offered by the New Deal (so badly needed that many of the worst southern racists supported it despite the risk it would make African-Americans “uppity”) or Jim Crow plus nothing. And even after the New Deal era, Republican “championship” of “civil rights and voting rights” was uneven; even Dwight David Eisenhower, who scandalized southerners and conservative Republicans by sending troops to enforce school desegregation in Arkansas, tended to think of voting rights as a cure-all, and never contemplated anything like the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that truly slew Jim Crow. By 1964, of course, Republicans were split between Goldwater Conservatives who opposed the Civil Rights Act (and were rewarded with the votes of virtually every southern segregationist in the 1964 presidential contest) and moderate-to-liberal Republicans willing to go most of the way with LBJ on the measure. The only Republicans really avid for civil rights were the ancestors of the RINOs who have now been hunted to extinction, and after 1964, Republican interest in the subject rapidly faded as the GOP gradually and then emphatically became the White Man’s Party.

It’s all bogus:

What sort of economic empowerment was possible without “Big Government” measures to extend health care and public education to African-Americans?

Paul Waldman puts it this way:

It doesn’t matter than approximately zero black people were persuaded to become Republicans by Paul’s laughable retelling of history (briefly: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were Republicans; Southern segregationists were Democrats; please ignore the last fifty years of Republican race-baiting and voter suppression; why aren’t you voting for us?). He understands what George W. Bush tried to teach the GOP, and Republicans since forgot. Making a show of appealing to minority groups isn’t so much about winning their votes (a bonus if it happens, but not necessary) as it is about cultivating an image as a “different kind of Republican.” That not only can win you the votes of white moderates, it gets you media attention, because reporters are always looking for something different. A Republican senator from Kentucky speaking before an audience of conservative white people isn’t news; a Republican senator from Kentucky speaking at Howard is.

One gets points for trying, and that’s part of the plan:

In the last couple of months, Rand Paul may have gotten more news coverage than any other Republican in America, always including mention of the fact that he’s thinking of running for president in 2016. How did he do it?

It certainly isn’t because Paul is such a towering moral and intellectual force. He did it by staging a couple of events that 1) were a little unexpected and unusual for a Republican, and 2) were actual events, meaning they offered video for television stations to use and audio for radio stations to use. The media couldn’t resist, particularly when their alternative for coverage of the GOP is yet another question about the budget shouted at John Boehner or Mitch McConnell as they stride through the halls of Capitol Hill.

Ed Kilgore carries that forward:

I’d add one more angle to Rand Paul’s media appeal: DC reporters are dying for “bipartisanship” stories, or hints that somehow, someday, the extremist-dominated parties will “move to the center” and join hands to fight deficits and ignore cultural issues or whatever.

Now anyone really paying attention is not about to confuse Rand Paul with any sort of Man of the Center; he may have the longest and deepest history of truly alarming Cuckoo-For-Cocoa-Puffs associations in the Senate, particularly now that Jim DeMint’s no longer there. But hey! Paul doesn’t like military interventions! He’s for relaxing the War on Drugs! Many liberals agree with those sentiments! So despite Paul’s championship of an ideology that would repeal virtually the twentieth century’s entire progressive policy legacy (along with some of its reactionary policy legacies as well), he’s another token of that “breeze of bipartisanship” that’s “wafting” through Washington! Or so it seems to reporters in search of an easy if misleading story.

The man knows that he gets points for trying. That’s all that the media is handing out now.

Jamelle Bouie however questions the whole point of this speech:

When I heard that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was speaking to students at Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, D.C., my first question was this: does Paul want to reach out to African-Americans, or does he want credit for being the kind of politician who would make that move?

Jamelle Bouie is black and sees what happened:

I’m not sure Paul deserves any praise for his performance. It would be one thing if Paul had gone to Howard eager to listen as well as speak. Instead, he condescended with a dishonest and revisionist history of the GOP. “He didn’t say anything I didn’t expect,” said one student, a senior majoring in sociology and economics. I couldn’t agree more.

Josh Marshall, who is quite white, sees the same thing:

Yesterday morning Sen. Rand Paul went over to Howard University. And it didn’t go terribly well. One might say that’s only to be expected in a case like this – perhaps even the whole point – since the aim is to break the ice between communities either antagonistic to each other or thoroughly out of communication. But it’s more an example of what happens when a staunch conservative steps out of the GOP’s tightly-drawn racial nonsense bubble and hits an audience not dying to be convinced that the GOP’s problems with non-whites are the results of boffo misunderstandings about a Republican party that is actually the best thing that ever happened to black people.

It was almost pathetic:

Every organization or group finds way to dish nonsense to the foot soldiers. But real life isn’t always so schematic and unidirectional. Good faith and bad faith and bamboozlement aren’t always neatly separated. When you look at who’s the bamboozled and who’s the bamboozler in this part of the GOP subculture you see that it’s not so clear cut. Often they’re all rolled together in a person. …

Hey, did you know Frederick Douglass was a Republican? No? It’s totally true! Or the people who founded the NAACP? Each is designed to lead to piqued moments of thought followed by, ‘Yeah, you’re right! I’m not the racist. You’re the racist!’

The gist of what happened yesterday was that Paul took this clown show to an audience at an historically black college where, yeah, they actually do know that Lincoln freed the slaves and that Frederick Douglass was a Republican. And they’ve even heard about the Dixiecrats. …

Rand’s surprise was akin to one of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons when Bugs’ nemesis walks over a loose floorboard and the board flies up and whaps the guy right in the face. You can become so lost in your own story that you confuse your conciliation with your aggression. The GOP is so deep into its own self-justifying racial alternative reality that there’s some genuine surprise when the claptrap doesn’t survive first contact with actual black people.

Adam Serwer also argues that Rand Paul really doesn’t deserve any credit for his speech as it really wasn’t risky or brave:

Howard University is not a Greyhound Bus station at midnight. It is way past time for pundits to retire the notion that white politicians deserve extra credit for being willing to talk to a room full of black people. This is, as one Republican once put it, the soft bigotry of low expectations. The history of Republican politics and the conservative movement means that a black audience has every right to be skeptical of the GOP and that the burden is rightfully on that party to reconcile with black voters. Politicians are supposed to reach out to voters, not the other way around. No more gold stars for attendance.

Yeah, there used to medals for that too, back in the day, and that leads Kevin Drum, who used to be a software marketing guy, to add this:

In fairness, politicians often get a little extra credit for speaking in front of a hostile audience. But Adam is right: there was really nothing especially brave about what Paul did. I mean, he spoke for about half an hour and then answered questions for half an hour. Hell, I can’t count the number of half hours I’ve spent fielding caustic questions from resellers who were pissed off about my latest marketing brainstorm – and I’ll bet they were a lot less polite than the Howard students. But I didn’t especially feel like I’d been through combat or anything. It’s just something you do.

Drum is also note sure about what Rand Paul was marketing here:

His story, basically, is that Republicans were really good on civil rights and Democrats were really bad during the century after the Civil War. And sure, there’s a certain amount of truth to that. … But what’s the point of saying this? Everyone knows it. And everyone knows that Democrats very bravely destroyed their own electoral coalition in the sixties by repudiating racism and losing the South. It’s one of the party’s finest moments. And everyone – except Republicans, who consistently refuse to acknowledge this – knows that the GOP very cynically and deliberately hoovered up as much of that racist vote as they could after Democrats abandoned it.

This is not rocket science. It’s recent history, and everyone knows it. It’s why blacks vote against the Republican Party at 90+ percent levels.

If you don’t want to address that recent history, fine. Who can blame you? But what’s the point of addressing your party’s civil rights history at all if you don’t also address its history after 1965? You can’t possibly think it will get you anywhere, can you? On the contrary: it just makes you look cynical and smug.

Yes it does, but that also misses the whole point. The audience for this speech wasn’t the Howard University crowd or even the black community at large, who never vote for Republicans anyway. In fact, the speech itself didn’t matter that much. What mattered was being there, and mostly facing the pointed questions. It also didn’t really matter what any of his answers to those questions were. He was there. He was trying. Reporters are dying for bipartisanship stories. His party knows it needs to get at least some of the black vote back, somehow, fairly soon if possible. This was for those two groups. He wants his shiny medal for trying hard, one of those medals they give to losers. He forgot that last part.

Marco Rubio also wants points for trying. He will push for comprehensive immigration reform in the face of a reluctant party, and if it passes he’ll be the hero. He will have saved the party, making it almost relevant again. If it doesn’t pass, the majority of the country, which just wants this done so we can move on, will love him as that one Republican who at least tried to do the sensible thing, even if his own party turned on him. That won’t get him the 2016 Republican nomination, but it’s not that bad an outcome. It’s something to work with. It’s a win either way. You always get points for trying.

No, wait! That was junior high school, in 1988, in Santa Monica or Stockton. Yes, you failed completely, but here’s a medal to show you really tried hard, because that’s all that really matters, and you should be proud.

It wasn’t true then. It isn’t true now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Immigration Reform, Marco Rubio, Race and Politics, Rand Paul, Republican Outreach and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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