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Rand Paul and the `politics of paranoia’

Yesterday we talked about Senator Rand Paul’s opposition to the U.N. arms trade treaty — which Paul claims will lead to “gun CONFISCATION” — and what that explains about our inability to achieve any progress on guns or other important issues facing the country.

Today another Rand Paul tale drives this home.

Ron Fournier has a fascinating interview with GOP Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, who is getting hammered with ads by a gun rights group that is well to the right of the NRA — one that is benefiting from the fundraising of one Rand Paul. Why is Rigell getting hammered? Because he supports a measure that would make gun trafficking a federal crime. Rigell doesn’t support the assault ban or expanded background checks, but his support just for the trafficking legislation was enough to merit ads hitting him as an Obama clone. He is similarly being targeted by conservative critics because … he rode with Obama on Air Force One.

Meanwhile, the “gun rights” group, the National Association for Gun Rights, or NAGR, is also running ads against GOP Rep. Eric Cantor. Why? Because Cantor has said he’s open to beefing up the current background check law. Not expanding it, as the president’s proposal would do; merely improving the quality of information that the system is supposed to have access to already. This was enough to get Cantor targeted thusly:

In the ad, a narrator says he “doesn’t sound like a Virginian or a Republican anymore; Eric Cantor sounds like someone else,” as a graphic of Cantor’s face morphs into Obama’s.

Obama’s proposal would also improve the system, in addition to expanding it. Cantor has not supported the expansion, but the mere overlap with Obama on the question of whether the current system should be fixed to facilitate data sharing was enough to get him attacked. For some on the right there is apparently no gun proposal with Obama’s name on it that it would ever be acceptable to support.

Now, back to Rigell. The Congressman asked Paul to stop helping raise money for this group, arguing that the attacks on him were crazy, and that Paul shouldn’t associate himself with such lunacy. Fournier recounts the tale Rigell told him:

Paul told Rigell he didn’t know about the NAGR attacks and would look into them. After a further exchange of notes, e-mails, and telephone calls between the two staffs, Paul refused Rigell’s request to denounce the group. “It was,” Rigell said, “just indifference.”

The solutions embraced by these two Republicans — Rigell and Cantor — could not possibly be more modest. Yet even those were enough to provoke a fusillade of attack ads designed to feed gun rights paranoia on the right, either because they are something Obama wants, or because they involve any sort of response by the federal government to a problem that continues to kill Americans, or both. And Paul will reportedly continue raising money for the group.

This continued willingness to feed this craziness, even as Paul’s national stature (if you can call it that) continues to grow, explains a lot about why we can’t get progress on something as sensible as expanding background checks. And it isn’t confined to guns, either. As Steve Benen puts it in an excellent post on what he calls the “politics of paranoia”:

We couldn’t pass a disability treaty because Republicans believed conspiracy theories. We can’t address global warming because Republicans believe the entirety of climate science is a giant conspiracy. We couldn’t pass bipartisan health care reform in part because Republicans were too heavily invested in the “death panel” conspiracy theory.
This problem, in other words, keeps coming up, and probably won’t get any better until the electorate sends fewer conspiracy theorists to Washington.

Good for Scott Rigell for standing up to this nonsense. Until more Republicans like him challenge The Crazy, nothing will change.