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A real pressing issue



When Jim Bunning announced he wouldn’t seek a third term in the United States Senate, we breathed a sigh of relief.

Silly us.

Surely, we thought, Kentucky would never be foolish enough to send anyone worse than Bunning to Washington.

Dream on.

At this juncture, it seems possible – even likely – that in November a majority of the Commonwealth’s voters will cast their ballots for Republican ophthalmologist Rand Paul, an eye doctor who can’t see what’s in front of him.

Are the voters blind too? We’ll soon find out. Meanwhile, let’s look at the world as Dr. Paul sees it.

It’s a world in which drugs are not “a real pressing issue,” as he told the Associated Press. This will come as a revelation to everyone in eastern Kentucky, where we had been laboring under the apparent misimpression that rampant drug abuse is destroying families, spurring violent crime, and jeopardizing our future.

We had thought that joint federal-state-local law enforcement and drug treatment initiatives were worthwhile, sometimes effective, and in any case desperately needed. But Dr. Paul would cut funding for such programs – because they’re government
programs.

So what would
qualify as a “real pressing issue,” in Dr. Paul’s view? That’s easy. His pressing issue is the size of the federal government, and its role in our lives. He spouts the Tea Party line, probably best exemplified by the people who, during the health care reform debate, angrily demanded that the government keep its hands off Medicare – never mind that Medicare is a government-run program. Who cares about inconvenient contradictions?

Take civil rights. Dr. Paul, in an interview with Rachel Maddow, said he thought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was generally a good thing – except the federal government has no business messing with the First Amendment right of free speech, which he says conveys to property owners the right to say what they want.

That’s code for discriminating. Follow that argument to its logical extreme, and you have a world in which it’s OK to say no to black people who want to eat in your restaurant, OK to say no to women who want a job, OK to say no to Latinos who want to buy a house – all behind the shield of free speech. True, Dr. Paul stops short of endorsing slavery, but otherwise his world is all too familiar. Most Americans left that world, thankfully, a few decades ago. Dr. Paul’s philosophy would give old-time bigotry a real shot in the arm.

Or take mine safety. Earlier this year, speaking at the Harlan Center (owned by a subsidiary of Massey Energy), Dr. Paul made it clear he’s no fan of federal enforcement. His shoulder-shrugging attitude – all too familiar to miners with long memories – could not have been more explicit than when he commented on the explosion at a Massey mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners in April: “Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are?”

Just in case anyone didn’t catch his drift, he went further: “The bottom line is I’m not an expert, so don’t send me to 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.”

Right. Local enforcers can stand up to the coal industry – alone. And no one around here would ever need a job so badly that they would work in an unsafe mine. Check. Next question?

Take stripmining. Set aside, for the moment, whatever your views may be about mountaintop removal. Can we at least agree that stripmine reclamation has improved since 1977, when the federal stripmining law was passed? And can we at least agree that the Environmental Protection Agency has an important role to play in… environmental protection?

No, says Dr. Paul. Campaigning in Hindman this month, he blasted President Obama for “forcing EPA down our throats.” How so? EPA’s stripmine permitting process is making it harder for coal companies to operate as they see fit – which is costing jobs.

“With all due respect, Mr. President, you’re wrong and you need to stay out of Kentucky affairs,” Dr. Paul opined. “And you need to keep the EPA out of our affairs because we need jobs, and we’re not going to get jobs with a busybody EPA that’s in our way.”

Or busybody mine inspectors. Or busybody drug enforcers.

S

o let’s tally up what Dr. Paul is telling us. We’ve been

thinking about how our world would look if his views prevailed, and here’s how an imaginary article begins in a future issue of The Eagle:

“The Letcher County Fiscal Court voted this week to hire 10 new mine inspectors. Yearly salaries for the new positions, expected to start at $60,000, will be paid for with money the county has saved since closing its local drug enforcement office. The court closed the drug office in June, two months after the county’s last prescription-pill addict was cured in a program financed solely by local tax dollars. The hiring of the new local mine inspectors and the end of the county’s once-dreadful drug addiction problem would not have been possible if U.S. Senator Rand Paul hadn’t succeeded in getting the federal government out of areas best left to local control…”

Sure. Now let’s get serious. Rand Paul is dangerous because his views resonate with people who blame government for everything that’s bad, including salmonella and hemorrhoids. Fine, we sympathize. And nobody has to like
government.

But it was an earlier Republican – and a native Kentuckian – who best defined the proper role of government: “to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.”

Abraham Lincoln wrote that. And today we have federal programs – Social Security, Medicare, mine safety, environmental protection, drug enforcement – because it has been proven over and over that counties and states in their
separate and individual capacities cannot do the job as well.

Given a choice between Abe Lincoln and Rand Paul, we’d vote for Lincoln, no contest. Unfortunately he’s not available – but his views are. We desperately hope they’ll prevail, and that Kentuckians won’t send Paul in to bat for Bunning.

Because that, in our opinion, would create a real pressing issue.


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