By now Republicans should have learned that fighting stupidly for the sake of fighting will get them nowhere. That was the lesson of the shutdown. However, it is lost on too many Republicans.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) when challenged on “Meet the Press” about the purported GOP “war on women,” replied that Democratic President Bill Clinton was a sexual predator and it was hard to tell Hillary Clinton from Bill Clinton sometimes. By Tuesday he was saying Bill Clinton’s behavior didn’t really apply to Hillary Clinton. He declared, “It’s not as if I’m bringing this up 20 years later. I was asked a direct question. ” Actually he was asked about Republicans and women; he was the one who dragged Clinton into it. He wasn’t done, however. Somewhat unintelligibly, he asserted, “I think that one of the things that have moved forward, one of the things that was rotten about the old patriarchal system we did have, was that bosses took advantage of young women in the workplace. And I think Democrats tried to make Bill Clinton out [as], ‘Oh, just a guy who has a lot of affairs.’ But several of these were in the workplace.”
Let’s count the ways in which this was foolish and suggests Paul is nowhere near being ready for primetime.
Starting from the top, the way to combat the charge about the war on women is to confront it directly, not with an ad hominem attack. Paul could have spoken about the physical harm done by unregulated abortion mills. He could have talked about the Democrats’ shoddy economic record which has harmed women, or the party’s refusal (due to Big Labor objections) to pass flexible work laws that allow employers to give moms and dads time off during the day to spend with their kids without incurring overtime pay costs when the time is made up later. Instead, he dragged in one of the more popular Democrats around, thereby losing every non-partisan Republican who might have been listening.
Second, he sounds like he swallowed “The Feminine Mystique” without bothering to chew. Really, he is going to tie Monica Lewinsky’s voluntary affair with the president to the horrors of “the old patriarchal system”? Once again, the obvious hypocrisy of some in the women’s movement doesn’t help Paul, or more important, conservatives win this argument.
Third, making Hillary Clinton responsible for her husband’s cheating smacks of that “old patriarchal system.” It is also incoherent since this situation was one in which you really could tell Bill Clinton (the cheater) from Hillary Clinton (the wronged wife). It was so incoherent Paul had to take it all back a couple of days later, proving his entire Clinton history venture was misguided.
Fourth, the way to make sure Hillary Clinton doesn’t become president is to stay away from the time the public felt most sympathetic toward her. Moreover, to the extent a lot of voters now like Bill Clinton, Republicans probably don’t want to remind voters that whatever Hillary Clinton’s faults, the public would get him back to make deals with the GOP, sound moderate and woo the media.
It is episodes like this that have nothing to do with ideology that make you realize how weirdly tone deaf Paul is, and how poor is his circle of advisers. Even if he thinks whatever he thinks about the Clintons (they are indistinguishable except when they aren’t?!) you’d think he’d have a coherent response on the phony war on women charge by now. You’re reminded of the ill-fated trip to Howard University, where his attempted outreach came off as off-putting and condescending. He apparently really doesn’t do a very good job talking to or about minorities and women.
If the super-small government crowd and/or the isolationists want a standard bearer they might find one who doesn’t have terminal foot in mouth disease. Otherwise people will conclude they are all kooks.