On the surface, there are many similarities between Rand Paul and the late George Wallace.
Wallace was an openly avowed segregationist, proclaiming, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” when he took the oath of office as Governor of Alabama on the same spot that Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as president of the Confederacy. Wallace was the leader of the lunatic fringe and even ran for president in 1968, winning 46 electoral votes.
On segregation, Paul is a bit more elusive, but as his recent responses in the Rachel Maddow interview reveal, he is tolerant of segregation as far as private enterprises are concerned. His framing this as a First Amendment issue shows his total lack of understanding of the Constitution. (Paul, who avows to want less government, is also anti-gay and anti-choice, even in cases of rape and incest).
Up until now, the Tea Baggers have lacked a credible leader around whom to rally. Sarah Palin is a joke with her lack of command of the facts and simple parroting of Tea Bag talking points from the notes on the palm of her hand. But Rand Paul is terribly more dangerous, and may emerge as the focal point for the Tea Baggers, whether or not he wins in Kentucky. While he was decimated in the Maddow interview, most broadcast and print reporters are not as tenacious and will present his views as legitimate and part of the mainstream debate.
If Paul becomes the leader of the extremist Tea Baggers, then he will bring the Republican Party along with him. Michael Steele’s ineffectiveness as the Republican leader has allowed the Tea Baggers to take over the party.
When that happens, the Democrats have two choices. They can move to the right and try to capture some of Paul’s disciples. Or they can advance a Progressive agenda. Recent events have shown that when the Democrats move to the left, they energize their base and are successful. Let’s hope the Democratic leadership recognizes that and provides an effective counter to the George Wallace of the 21st century.