Embedded video is a great thing, but who wants to spend the time watch talking heads talk when you can just read the transcript. So for all of you following the Rand Paul tempest, here’s a link to the transcript of his interview with Rachel Maddow, courtesy of Dave Weigel.
It’s absolutely worth reading the whole transcript, which can be seen from two very different but familiar perspectives. The first perspective concerns the often-heard protest of moderates and deep thinkers that modern politics insists on reducing everything to a sound bite. The entire interview consists of Maddow trying to pin Paul down on a single point, while he insists, again and again, that the issue of civil rights is far too complicated to be simplified that way.
The second perspective here concerns the often-heard protest, often from many of the same people, that politicians refuse to be honest about what they really believe, instead relying on evasion and pre-fab talking points. Clearly, Paul spent the entire interview trying not to give anything that resembled a candid answer to Maddow’s central question: Should a restaurant be allowed to post a sign that says “Whites only”?
I think one of the key lessons here is that the distinction between soundbite-hunting and good journalism is often in the eye of the beholder. If you think that Paul’s beliefs are offensive and that they facilitate the most vicious kind of racism, then you have to salute Maddow for trying to distill his libertarian philosophy down to its critical implications. If you think that principled libertarianism doesn’t get the fair hearing it deserves, then you will condemn Maddow for practicing the kind of short-attention span journalism that raises ratings while lowering the level of debate.
This dilemma helps explain why politicians so persistently antagonize us with their robotic talking points, even though what we clearly want is for them to talk with us the same candid way we talk with other regular human beings. What us regular human beings often fail to realize is how differently we would behave if our jobs depended on keeping 51% of the public happy — and our worst enemy was listening to every word we say, just waiting for us to say something dumb so they can pounce on it.
So, what would it take for us to have a political culture in which politicians could truly afford to speak their minds? It would mean creating a culture where we don’t try to punish political opponents for saying things we find deeply offensive. It would mean Democrats tempering their criticism of Rand Paul’s stance on racial discrimination until he actually sponsors a bill to revise the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It would mean Republicans tempering their criticism of a Democratic candidate like Richard Blumenthal, who has been careless in the extreme (perhaps intentionally so) in describing his military record.
Would you want your party’s candidates to hold back when given opportunities like that?