Last week I called Sen. Rand Paul the most interesting man in Republican politics, and I still think that’s true. I also expressed some anxiety about the threat he could pose to the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. That’s subsiding. In the last week Paul’s been caught in some big fibs, degrading struggling workers while defending the Koch brothers. That’s an interesting guide to his values.
Like all the GOP contenders, Paul is now talking piously about the problem of poverty, which modern Republicans have discovered because Barack Obama hasn’t made it go away. You can almost hear the briefing from a Frank Luntz type: “He’s the first black president, and he hasn’t ended poverty! Not even black poverty!” It also lets them slyly play on the notion of Obama as a privileged, uppity Ivy Leaguer – a “snob,” in Rick Santorum’s parlance -- who doesn’t care about the poor or working class.
Whatever you say, Mitt Romney.
I still give Rand Paul some credit for identifying the criminal justice system as a source of black disadvantage. And if he ever figures out something meaningful to do about it, I promise to revise my thinking about him as mostly an opportunist. But when it comes to policies that might ease either poverty or the suffering of the working and middle classes, Paul learned at his father’s knee that government is the bad guy – and that slackers and moochers are playing the system and exploiting the rest of us.
That’s why he shamefully claimed that most recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance are faking it. “Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts,” he told New Hampshire voters. The Washington Post fact checker showed the “back pain” disability category he cited included everything from muscle strain to amputations, while the “anxiety” number included conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He got three Pinocchios for that one.
A few days later, asked whether he supports a time-honored GOP alternative to welfare, the Earned Income Tax credit for the working poor, he insisted the program is fraud-ridden – which it is not. Speaking to the Koch Brothers’ Freedom Network Chamber of Commerce event Sunday, Paul claimed the EITC has a “fraud rate” of 25 percent that costs taxpayers “$20 billion to $30 billion a year.” He cited a report from the Government Accountability Office, but Factcheck.org found “that’s not what the report said.”
The program did have an “improper payment rate” of 24 percent, but that includes worker filing errors and IRS paperwork problems that are largely attributable to the complexity of the tax law itself. Such payments cost $14.5 billion, less than half of Paul’s high end estimate.
Of course those slackers and moochers stand in sharp contrast with those hardworking and honest Americans, Charles and David Koch (who just revealed they'll spend $900 million on the 2016 races). Paul took up their cause a couple of days later on Fox Business Network, defending them from “liberal haters” and claiming their advocacy “has nothing to do with government.” Paul went on:
I defy any of the liberal haters that are out there to find one instance when they have ever asked for a subsidy or a special government break. I have never heard of any and what they're wanting is to be left alone, like most businesses in our country.
The folks at American Bridge took up the challenge, and found dozens of ways the Kochs have “asked for a subsidy or a special government break.” Last year in particular Koch Industries ramped up its lobbying efforts, according to OpenSecrets.org, spending $4 million in the third quarter of 2014 alone, largely on issues of “the environment, oil and financial policy.” An energy and environment trade publication found “that amount of lobbying money makes Koch Industries one of Washington, D.C.'s biggest influence spenders so far this year, outranking energy competitors such as Exxon Mobil Corp.”
But it didn’t start in 2014. A 2011 report by the Center for Public Integrity found that Koch Industries “spends tens of millions of dollars to influence every facet of government that could affect its global empire,” working through trade organizations whose names – the National Environmental Development Association, for instance -- obscure their goals. They’ve lobbied heavily against carbon control and the use of lower-carbon fuels, and against federal regulation of toxic chemicals. They also pushed unsuccessfully to protect the expiring Bush tax cuts.
It’s good to know that Paul will trounce sick and struggling working people and come to the aid of gazillionaires. That doesn’t make him “the most interesting man in politics;” it makes him a standard issue Republican. Ralph Nader has told the left it should support Paul in 2016 because of his anti-war rumbling (though lately he’s criticized his wobbling on the issue), but anyone who takes Nader’s advice after 2000 probably isn’t serious about issues of war or justice anyway.