How’s that for an attractive headline?

No matter what your feelings about Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, do you ever think national stories about Paul essentially say little more than “Get a load of this guy?” It seems like Paul is unbelievable to people outside the commonwealth (and to some Kentuckians, too). This can go either way for Paul. Sometimes people praise him as a refreshing candidate bringing certain ideas to the mainstream for the first time. Other times, people wonder how he won the primary against a less extreme candidate.

This approach isn’t the reporters’ fault. (After all, Paul didn’t really make a splash on the national scene until late May, and by that time, Kentuckians were fairly familiar with his existence, though not necessarily all of his opinions.) It can certainly be argued that each story chips away another piece of the mysterious aura that surrounds Paul’s specific ideology–something that perhaps every candidate should be subjected to in some way. But it’s understandable that some people find occasional lack of context in Paul’s national treatment patronizing.

Well, JL Weill recently took to the virtual pages of The Awl to try and offer outsiders context on the Senate race.

Kentucky used to—and in most corners of the state still proudly does—consider itself rough-hewn frontier country. Colonially an extension of Virginia, it was originally inhabited mostly by the intrepid and the damned, those restless souls who sought fortune or anonymity among its bountiful poplars and fertile soil.

But bolder pioneers kept moving west in search of riches, and the more industrious fled north to growing cities along the Ohio River and up to Chicago. Those who remained settled in for the long haul, for better and worse. As a result, what evolved was a proud people, girded by personal strength in the face of adversity, closely tied to a raw spirit of individuality and fiercely protective of their hard-earned freedom from the meddling intrusion of outsiders; in short, the kind of people you might expect to find in a mostly rural, often poor, landlocked region.

This is projection. But that zeitgeist, that preternatural urge for self-preservation and a natural distrust of the other, posits itself still among the Bluegrass masses, from its politics to its beloved basketball prowess.

From this came much of the support I witnessed last spring for Rand Paul.


Bearing the state’s aforementioned history in mind is instructional when looking at the so-far success of Paul’s candidacy for U.S. Senate. In a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans mightily(despite recent trend of right-wing presidential winners there), it’s not surprising that it’s the state’s Republicans and Independents who most reflect the “us against the world” vibe. You’re looking at the skeptical and often insecure core of an already wary populace. No wonder, then, that Paul’s brand of Libertarianism plays well in these pockets.

This is not to dismiss those who find kinship with the substance of his governing philosophy (in that there is any governance in it). A hands-off, regulatory-free government fits the Kentucky mold neatly, appealing to the defensive and the free in equal measure, be they gun-toting or bong-loading.

But mostly, it’s been Paul’s shrewd use of the perception that they are all out to get him, and, by proxy, the citizens he represents, that has resonated. Ask many of his less dogmatic advocates for his policy positions and beyond a general “smaller government” theme, you’re more likely to get a diatribe on the media and governing elite rather than an exegesis of his tax proposals.


And yet, while the feeding frenzy on the Sunday talk shows and chatter at the white wine brunches in Prospect Park might appear to inflict irreparable damage on candidate Paul, back home he continues on his merry way, greeting an increasing horde of well-wishers—principally independents and disgruntled Republicans finding in Paul’s emergence their own brand of “Change We Can Believe In.”

It’s all a bit schizophrenic, and I’d be hesitant to credit some balding political operative with creating it whole cloth, but it’s working for him right now. If these are pieces adding up to a mythology around what is, ostensibly, a politically nerdy and overly paranoid ophthalmologist from a sleepy country town in one of the least populous states in America, then it’s a little nugget of organic political beauty. Can you even name his Democratic opponent?