Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) appears to have a rather low opinion of the American people: He thinks they don’t recognize politics when they see it.
After having grabbed the spotlight for the last two weeks by taking pot shots at the Clintons (for the Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998) and declaring the “war on women” over and won (by women!), Paul, a prospective Republican 2016 presidential candidate, filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning against President Obama, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—ostensibly written by lead attorney Ken Cuccinelli.
You’ll remember Cuccinelli, the failed gubernatorial candidate, as the former attorney general of Virginia, who made a specialty of doing everything possible to deny women their constitutional right to an abortion. You probably didn’t know that Cuccinelli is an expert in national security and spying. Because he’s not.
Apparently, reports Dana Millbank of the Washington Post, another lawyer thought he was the lead attorney on the case. His name is Bruce Fein, a well-known Republican legal eminence, and not a man to be trifled with. Fein says he wrote the complaint for Paul’s suit against the NSA, which accuses the agency of violating the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment in its metadata collection of telephone records, and has yet to be paid in full for his work. But when the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., his name was replaced with Cuccinelli’s.
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So why would Paul do this? Per Millbank:
Cuccinelli has never argued a case in that courthouse, and he isn’t even a member of the D.C. bar (he also filed a motion Wednesday seeking an exception to allow him to argue this case in D.C.). But he is, like Paul, a tea party darling.
Millbank also notes that, in Fein’s original draft, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) was listed as a plaintiff, but in the complaint that was filed with the court, Udall’s name was struck and replaced with that FreedomWorks, the Tea Party-allied astroturf group that backed Paul in 2008, and has been a player in the Republican primaries.
With his eye likely cast to the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, which draw their electorate largely from the right wing, Paul apparently seeks to ingratiate himself, by placing himself in direct opposition to the president (regarding an issue on which many progressives agree with Paul), but in alliance with a champion of the anti-choice, anti-birth control cause. Paul himself holds a no-exceptions anti-abortion position, but right-wing evangelical Christians don’t necessarily see him as one of their own.
Which brings us to Rand Paul’s attitudes and policies regarding women. On the January 26 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, Paul was asked to respond to comments made by his wife to Vogue magazine about former President Bill Clinton, whom she suggested maybe doesn’t belong back in the White House, because of his scandalous behavior with Monica Lewinsky. Paul replied:
I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior, and it should be something we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office.
When host David Gregory pressed Paul over whether Hillary Clinton should be held accountable for her husband’s behavior, Paul said, “Yeah—no, I’m not saying that. This is with regard to the Clintons, and sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”
Yeah, no. Not her fault, but hard to separate her from her husband.
Bill Clinton’s past, Paul suggested, revealed how Democrats had “concocted” the notion of a Republican war on women.
By invoking the memory of Clinton and Lewinsky, writes Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, Paul is again setting himself up as a hero to the Republican base, whose members love Clinton-trashing almost as much as they love Obama-bashing. Per Tomasky:
The more Paul talks about the Clintons, the more he sets up the mental picture in the brains of Republican primary voters of him being the logical guy to step into the ring with them. After all, they’ll think, he’s sure not afraid of them!
Another image conveyed by Paul’s talk of Lewinsky is that of the senator himself as the chivalrous defender of the honor of young maidens—perhaps a hedge against the countless retellings of his “Aqua Buddha” highjinks that would likely accompany any presidential bid he might make. (As a college student, Paul and a friend kinda-sorta abducted a young woman and demanded that she worship an idol he called Aqua Buddha.)
Chivalry also plays into the right-wing worldview this way, writes Ed Kilgore at Political Animal:
Many conservatives sincerely believe that abandonment of a stoutly patriarchal society has been a disaster for women: they’ve lost the stability of “traditional marriage,” the presumption men will be held accountable for their material welfare, the chivalric accommodation of their weaknesses, the ability to concentrate on child-rearing and home-making, and most of all, the exemption from the terrible burdens of bread-winning, decision-making, and sexual autonomy. In exchange they have obtained all sorts of empty tokens of independence—some actively unnatural, like the “right to kill their babies”—while men have been liberated to act out on their true nature as perpetual children and sexual predators.
Sarah Posner, writing at Religion Dispatches, sees a religious pitch in Paul’s digs at Hillary Clinton—a way of drawing a contrast between the former secretary of state (painted as the defender of a predatory husband) and the “godly” women political figures of the right, such as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA). That pitch is ultimately one to right-wing women voters.
But even as Paul cast himself as the defender of vulnerable young women, in the same Meet the Press interview, he offered a counter-message: You are strong! You are invincible!
Via the Meet the Press transcript:
This whole sort of war on women thing, I’m scratching my head because if there was a war on women, I think they won. You know, the women in my family are incredibly successful.
I have a niece at Cornell vet school, and 85% of the young people there are women. In law school, 60% are women; in med school, 55%. My younger sister’s an ob-gyn with six kids and doing great. You know, I don’t see so much that women are downtrodden; I see women rising up and doing great things. And, in fact, I worry about our young men sometimes because I think the women really are out-competing the men in our world.
Fun fact: Among the Republican presidential primary electorate in 2012, men made up the majority, 53 to 47 percent. Just sayin’.