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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mr. Smith Returns to Washington

"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily." — George Washington

You may not be old enough to remember the Frank Capra’s great movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” starring Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart, but I do. It was one of those films that affected me in my early years. It’s about one man's effect on American politics. For those who have never seen the film here is a brief synopsis:

Naive and idealistic Jefferson Smith, leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed on a lark by the spineless governor of his state. He is reunited with the state's senior senator--presidential hopeful and childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine. In Washington, however, Smith discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys' camp leads to a conflict with the state political boss, Jim Taylor. Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy Smith through a scandal.

Smith comes up with legislation that would authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys' camp, to be paid back by youngsters across America. Donations pour in immediately. However, the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in a Public Works bill framed by the Taylor political machine and supported by Senator Paine.

Unwilling to crucify the worshipful Smith so that their graft plan will go through, Paine tells Taylor he wants out, but Taylor reminds him that Paine is in power primarily through Taylor's influence. Through Paine, the machine accuses Smith of trying to profit from his bill by producing fraudulent evidence that Smith owns the land in question. Smith is too shocked by Paine's betrayal to defend himself, and runs away.

However, Smith's chief of staff, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), has come to believe in him, and talks him into launching a filibuster to postpone the Works bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him. While Smith talks non-stop, his constituents try to rally around him, but the entrenched opposition is too powerful, and all attempts are crushed. Due to influence of the Taylor "machine", on his orders, newspapers and radio stations in Smith's home state refuse to report what Smith has to say and even twist the facts against the Senator. An effort by the Boy Rangers to spread the news results in vicious attacks on the children by Taylor's minions.

Although all hope seems lost, the senators begin to pay attention as Smith approaches utter exhaustion. Paine has one last card up his sleeve: he brings in bins of letters and telegrams from Smith's home state from people demanding his expulsion. Nearly broken by the news, Smith finds a small ray of hope in a friendly smile from the President of the Senate (Harry Carey). Smith vows to press on until people believe him, but immediately collapses in a faint. Overcome with guilt, Paine leaves the Senate chamber and attempts to kill himself with a gun. When he is stopped, he bursts back into the Senate chamber, loudly confesses to the whole scheme, and affirms Smith's innocence.

The political world changed its orbit Wednesday as Rand Paul seized the spotlight in his March 6 filibuster. Rand Paul is probably now the 2016 front-runner for president and shown the GOP’s old guard what courage and principal mean.

How can one day be that big of a deal? Because Rand Paul demonstrated a reproducible, winning formula. It was as if Ronald Reagan were granted just one day to come back to Earth to remind the Party of Lincoln of "how it's done." Rand demonstrated a repeatable formula that all Republicans can copy. It is the template that is significant.

But was March 6 "Republicans' Last Stand" or "Rand's First Stand?" What isrepublican-convention.jpeg61-e1358438754974-1280x960 most optimistic as the basis for this analysis is that Republican senators started showing up. The Senate floor was more crowded at 10:00 and 11:00 PM than it was at 6:00 PM. They felt it. They saw it. They "got" it. (Excepting one aged senator from Arizona who the next day stood on the floor of the Senate and viciously attacked Senator Paul personally and politically. It clicked. In other words, Republicans might possibly do more of same. If Rand disappears back into the woodwork, then March 6 will have meant nothing and Senators like John McCain will drag the GOP down to insignificance. It was McCain who said that Paul’s filibuster did not serve the American people and he was appealing to libertarian college students in their dorms. Perhaps if Mr. McCain had appealed to those libertarian college students Barack Obama would not be President today. But that is history.

Freshman Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz "got it." Cruz was all over it. Cruz gave voice to the moment best of all. Cruz threatened to go way over the top, reading from the movie "Patton" and Henry the Fifth's St. Crispin's Day speech on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. Yet somehow, flirting with serious rhetorical dangers, Cruz captured the moment just right. Like a roller coaster, you gripped the car fearing Cruz was going to fly off into mid-air, yet to our great surprise Cruz hit his mark. He grasped the significance, to put it mildly. Cruz praised the raw bravery of "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" rather than those who die a thousand deaths in the thicket of their own worried thoughts.

Rand Paul unveiled a conservative answer to the Left's Saul Alinsky tactics:

  • Rand Paul shoved Obama's agenda off the public stage. Just getting the political world talking about Republicans' message instead of Obama's means Republicans are winning and Obama is losing.
  • Rand picked his issue very carefully. He chose the hill he wanted his opponent to die on. Rand showed what happens when you wisely pick the right issue to defeat your opponent with.
  • Yet Rand's issue seamlessly fit within his larger philosophy. He didn't just take a cheap shot. Rand chose an example that proves his larger point. As a caller to the Chris Plante show on Washington's WMAL said, "the biggest minority in America is the individual." Rand's filibuster fit within Rand's overall defense of individual liberty — the liberty espoused by our Founders in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The specific point created an effective argument supporting his larger theme.
  • Rand advanced his strategic goal. The entire filibuster episode portrayed a radically different image of Barack Obama. Even among low information voters, Obama's public image just took a serious hit. Instead of being the cool guy who loves you, Obama is now the tyrant who reserves the right to kill you any time he feels like it. On an emotional level, Rand Paul undid in one day years of spin about Obama.
  • Rand had a sense of the role of theatrical drama. Conservatives are rightly wary of selling an invalid argument. But even to promote the truth, one must understand that humans are emotional beings. Communicating a message in a crowded, busy world requires a feel for the dramatic — just ask Henry V.
  • So Rand did this in a way difficult for the news media to ignore. In politics, if a tree falls in the forest and the news media doesn't report it, it never happened.
  • Rand then hammered the issue perfectly. Who can defend U.S. Government drones assassinating American citizens inside America if they are not engaged in any violence? The issue is a blinding searchlight leaving the critters nowhere to hide. You can't say it doesn't matter. And there's no defense.
  • Rand focused like a laser beam, anticipating the misrepresentation and caricatures he knew would be attempted. He repeatedly emphasized, probably a dozen times an hour, how modest his request was. He understood how his actions would be lied about, and cut the scoundrels off at the pass. He repeated what he wasn't demanding, what he wasn't arguing. He emphasized how he had voted for Obama's other nominees.
  • Rand wasn't careless. His argument withstood scrutiny. And it got scrutiny. Yet he had a solid argument. Democrat Senator Dick Durbin asked about killing Osama Bin Laden. But Seal Team 6 was trying to arrest Bin Laden. It was Bin Laden's violence in resisting arrest that got him killed. Rand repeatedly emphasized that inside the USA the government should arrest people and question them, not assassinate them.
  • Rand was nimble. He admitted that he hadn't planned the filibuster. But when the Obama Administration repeatedly confirmed that they believe the president has the authority to murder U.S. citizens inside the USA when they are not actively attacking anyone, Rand saw an opening and pounced. But he had the wisdom to know if it was a good opportunity or not.
  • Rand Paul had guts.

Yet the GOP will be lost if it does not learn the lesson and follow Rand Paul's brilliant "teachable moment" example. Winston Churchill quipped: "Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on." We will see how thick-headed Republicans are if they miss the point. John McCain and Lindsey Graham certainly did.

On the same day that Rand Paul showed us how it's done, Republicans in the U.S. House impersonated over boiled cauliflower and caved in to Obama's massive overspending. The U.S. House skipped the chance to slow out-of-control spending. The Republican House passed a Continuing Resolution at the same $3.6 trillion level — $700 billion per year higher than Federal spending in 2008. Republicans could have passed a Continuing Resolution at a lower level, especially while objecting that the U.S. Senate has not passed any budget.

I have often criticized Ron Paul on some issues, while agreeing with him on others. When Papa Paul is right, he's right, when he's not, he's not. So Senator Rand Paul really had to earn the favorable opinion of Americans, let alone Republicans. But on March 6 he surely did. McCain and Graham please step aside and let the new GOP blood rise. Welcome back Mr. Smith its be a long time.

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