The other day, I was wondering which of the 37 Senate races underway at the moment is the most important. The one in Nevada? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could be booted out of the top Senate position by former Republican state assemblywoman Sharron Angle, a Tea Party darling who has called for phasing out Social Security, who has scolded out-of-work workers seeking unemployment benefits as "spoiled," and who is doing all she can to avoid taking questions from mainstream reporters. Or is it the Illinois race? This contest features two weak and flailing candidates; Republican Rep. Mark Kirk has been caught fibbing repeatedly about his military service and employment past, and the bank owned by the family of Democrat Alexi Giannoulias failed and was seized by the U.S. government. Still, this is Barack Obama's old Senate seat, and whatever happens to it will carry much symbolic value.
Or the most significant Senate race could be any that produces an unforeseen GOP win that brings the party the 10th Senate pick-up it needs to seize control of the upper chamber.
But then I came across a short news item about Rand Paul, the libertarian ophthalmologist and Tea Party activist who won the GOP Senate nomination in Kentucky. He's had a rough ride since his primary election victory. He said he did not fully support the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He accused Obama of being "anti-American" for applying pressure on BP. Like Angle, after making a series of controversial (read: stupid) comments, he began ducking the media. But the latest Paul news is utterly dumbfounding -- and a profound cause of concern.
by Details magazine, Paul, while campaigning recently in Kentucky's coal country, maintained that there should be no federal regulation of the mining industry: "If you don't live here, it's none of your business." Asked about the Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia, where an explosion killed 29 miners last April, Paul said,
I'm not an expert. Don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules.
Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are? The bottom line is I'm not an expert, so don't give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.
Ponder the implications of this. So members of Congress who are not oil industry engineers should not regulate deep off-shore drilling? Actually, by Paul's logic, legislators should not impose any health, safety, or environmental standards on any industry. And the answer to such tragedies as mining disasters is . . . well, nothing. The workers in unsafe facilities can simply quit their jobs -- that is, unless they've already been blown apart due to bad company practices.
Paul wants to become a senator so he can do nothing. No doubt, that's an attractive notion for some Kentucky voters; he's been leading Democrat Jack Conway in the polls. But when the economy is in the dumps following a crash of free-wheelin' Wall Street, when climate change is a continuing threat, and when U.S. global competitiveness is slipping, doing nothing ought not be a top-priority item. Worse, Paul is celebrating his lack of knowledge, while suggesting that no one in Washington is really capable of governing. As his comments about the BP oil spill suggested, he would have no problem granting corporations free rein -- even after they screw up. His motto could be "BP Knows Best."
In Nevada, Sharron Angle, who has called for abolishing the departments of Energy and Education and the EPA, appears to be losing credibility and is slipping in the polls. But Rand is running strong -- despite his libertarian extremism and steady string of outlandish remarks. That makes the race in Kentucky the most significant Senate face-off of this electoral season. If he wins, it will signal the power of know-nothing Tea Partyism.
While commenting about the Big Branch disaster, Paul said, "I want to be compassionate, and I'm sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?" After the worst U.S. mining disaster in decades, Rand Paul would rather contemplate a possible conspiracy theory than consider government steps that could prevent another tragedy. Should a person with such priorities win a Senate seat, responsible government will lose.
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