Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Paul's Patriotic Inconsistencies

Rand Paul has made some vexing statements on what kinds of speech are "un-American" (by which I interpret his meaning to be speech consistent with the values of freedom in America).

As many are by now aware, Rand Paul has gotten himself into a bit of a hullabaloo over some comments he made regarding the applicability of civil rights non-discrimination policies to private entities. He defended his position in this way:

On Wednesday, Paul expressed support for the act's provisions banning discrimination in public facilities, but he had misgivings about extending the same requirement to private businesses — then or now.

"Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don't serve black people?" he was asked by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.

"Yes. I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form," Paul said at the beginning of a lengthy answer in which he likened the question to one about limiting freedom of speech for racists. "I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things freedom requires."
Now the way I read Rand Paul here is that, although he abhors racist speech (and by parallel racially-motivated discrimination by anyone, including private entities), he accepts one's right to be so as part of what he would claim is the "American" value of freedom that should protect such abhorrent speech. I think that's a pretty fair assessment.

And yet ...

When commenting on the "free speech" of Obama and those in his administration who would use such freedoms to criticize BP for its role in the massively destructive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Rand Paul thinks that such commentary is reflective of behavior that is decidedly "un-American":
Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul said Friday that President Barack Obama's criticism of BP in the wake of the Gulf oil debacle sounds "really un-American."

Paul, already facing a backlash over remarks earlier this week about civil rights legislation, criticized the Obama administration for declaring it will put its "boot heel on the throat of BP." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs used similar language shortly after the spill.
Sounds to me like there is a bit of a double standard going on here. And I certainly think that one could argue whether a President attempting to defend the interests of American citizens and the health of our country's physical, natural environment, against the uncontestable failure of a private corporation's operations, is truly an "American" response, and just the opposite of a "really un-American" thing. I think one might be able to say accurately that the vilification of, and discrimination against, Americans because of their race is "really un-American," but Rand Paul seems to think doing so represents the fine tradition of free speech in America. The short of it is that Rand Paul prefers to spin the positive side of an ugly thing in this instance, and yet prefers to spin what he thinks is an ugly side of an arguably positive thing in the case of the Obama Administration's tough approach to BP. Now maybe one could say that Rand Paul would say Barack Obama has the right to sound "really un-American" in his criticism of BP, and so there is no inconsistency there. But then I would have to say that Rand Paul's associating the U.S. President with behavior that he calls really un-American, is rather really un-American, too. Sure, Rand Paul is free to essentially call the President "un-American," but then he probably should subject himself to his own criticism about how "American" he really sounds in doing so.

Even still, I think Rand Paul should get himself and his priorities clear on certain things. He appears to want to go to bat for the freedom of racists to be racists, but then wants to levy criticism of the President for using strong language to hold an oil company responsible for an "accident" that occurred on its watch and through its property, an "accident" of immeasurably tragic consequences for this country and its people. As I see it, there is an inconsistency of rhetoric and attitude here that seems more driven by personal and ideological preference than by principle.

UPDATE: Oyster (I guess that would be Oilster by now?), has some relevant thoughts on this subject. To give you a taste of what to expect, the oily bi-valve writes:
The original Tea Party revolted against a monarchy that assisted a British company attempting to flood the colonial coast with unwanted tea.

And now the darling of the current Tea Party says it's "un-American" for the U.S. President to criticize a British company that has flooded the American coast with unwanted toxic "tea".
Go get 'em, Oyster!


eric said...

I think his point was that it doesn't make sense for the Obama Administration to be taking such a tough stance on BP when BP has admitted fault, proactively offered to forego the federal statutory cap for damages, and agreed to pay whatever it takes to clean up the mess and reasonably compensate others for their losses.

I agree 'unAmerican' was a poor choice of words, though. What he should have said was, "It is shameless and intellectually dishonest political grandstanding on behalf of the Obama Administration to continue to demagogue BP in the way they are doing." The Obama Admin should be talking about how great it is that BP has responsibly agreed to step up to the plate without forcing a protracted legal battle.

“We are the responsible party. Our obligation is to deal with the spill, clean it up and make sure the impacts of that spill are compensated and we are going to do that. ... BP will pay all necessary clean-up costs and is committed to paying legitimate claims for other loss and damages caused by the spill." -Lamar McKay, Chairman and President of BP America

Does it really sound like that guy needs to have the Amdinistration's "boot heel" placed on his throat, as Robert Gibbs has threatened?

Huck said...

Eric - That's an overall good point. I agree that the "bootstrap to the throat of BP" was not the best choice of wording, but since we are playing the "let's really interpret what they mean" game, I'd say that what the Obama Administration meant by using such terminology is that they are going to be relentless and unwavering in their commitment to make sure that BP's reality matches its rhetoric. Many of us down here see BP's rhetoric as a PR stunt moreso than a real commitment; and there's good evidence to support this interpretation. For, when it gets down to actually putting their money where their mouth is in a legal context, such as testifying in front of the US Congress, we saw the "blame game circle jerk" instead of BP's Chairman and President reiterating on the official record in a legally-binding context their "responsibility" for the spill. Here's his "official" testimony:

It's much more measured than the absolutist rhetoric in the statement you cited. And when McKay seems to back down from assuming responsibility for the spill in a legally-binding context, especially when we now know for certain that they haven't been as forthcoming in their rhetoric about the extent of the spill and the amount of oil pouring into the Gulf, it's no wonder that people think such promises by folks like McKay are nothing more than Public Relations hot air, and would be reassured by such strong "demagoguery" and "grandstanding" in holding BP's feet to the flames on behalf of the American people.

As for not forcing a "protracted legal battle" over paying for the cleanup and its aftereffects -- especially as the extent of the costs to clean up the mess and the economic damage due to it grows -- I think the "blame game circle jerk" in front of Congress that we all saw leads me to think that it would be quite premature to assume that this is actually what BP's final position will be. In fact, its very survival may depend on forcing a protracted legal battle in order to offset liability and cost-sharing for the mess it created. And no smart CEO would ever make a promise that could ensure its death. So, I don't trust BP's President at whit; and I certainly don't think it merits the Obama Administration's deferential thanks.

slapstick said...

On civil rights:

"The Civil Rights Act- Rand Paul secretly wants to repeal it", liberals say, which means we’d have segregated restaurants all over again. Now any non-hysteric knows a segregated restaurant would be boycotted and picketed out of existence within ten seconds, but we’re supposed to fret about fictional outcomes from the repeal of a law that will never be repealed. And certainly we cannot question the 1964 Act, since our betters have decided the matter is closed.

On BP:

Would you mind giving me one good reason as to why BP should automatically assume full responsibility for this mess? While I agree that likely they are at fault, why in the world should they unconditionally accept full responsibility? There are other companies involved. Why not wait till there is real evidence that BP is grandstanding and doing all they can to clean up the mess before trying to bury them? Besides, would anything today really be any different had BP come out and accepted full blame? WHy not let the chips settle before trying to bury BP?
And why would you really care about McKays's testimony in Washington? That testimony was a couple weeks ago. Dont you think we would have been better served with McKay at his desk and on his phone at that point instead of sitting in front of Henry f_ckin Waxman?!?!