It is common to have ‘non-mainstream types’ populate the U.S. House of Representatives after electoral landslides. With two-year terms, House offices are vulnerable to tempestuous voters; voters are more willing to test different views in a shorter term, and a Representative has less potential to do harm in a chamber of 435 peers. What is far less common is when an outlier is elected to the Senate.
The Senate does not react well to catfish: people who stir up the sediment. It was built to be stable and enduring with longer terms and greater influence. It was built to carry out concrete plans (though intended to be accountable to the state). When a personality such as Rand Paul (KY) is elected to the Chamber, it is a shock. He is drastically different from the typical Senator. Even those in his party are not sure how to react. This was evident in Minority Leader McConnell’s post-election press conference that suspiciously excluded any mention of fellow Kentuckian Senator-elect Paul.
How different is Paul? A good way to determine the degree of separation is to compare him to a Senator vaunted on a bipartisan basis: The Lion, Ted Kennedy (MA).
Edward M. Kennedy served in the Senate for 47 years until his recent death. His term was the third longest in U.S. History. He entered the Senate in 1962 at age 30, filling his brother John F. Kennedy’s seat, who was at the time President of the United States. He was the youngest of four brothers: JFK, Robert F. Kennedy and Joseph Kennedy, Jr. (killed in WWII). RFK was a Senator and the U.S. Attorney General at the time of Ted’s election and if alive, Joe Jr. no doubt would have ended up in politics.
From that point he continued his privileged, aristocratic life on the Kennedy compound and on the Hill. Among all the scandals, he remained Teflon-coated. He served for the ‘little people’ and padded his seat by taking from the ‘big people.’
Rand Paul (KY) has a different profile. Not old enough to remember Kennedy’s election (Rand was born in ’63), Paul is not a political elite and had nothing set up for him, other than the emphasis of a quality education and productive life.
Born to frequently maligned Ron Paul (TX-14), Rand graduated from Duke University School of Medicine to acquire his M.D. He practiced ophthalmology since 1993 and owned his own clinic since 2007. Rand’s involvement in politics came in the form of civic volunteerism, not careerism.
He founded Kentucky Taxpayers United in 1994 to stand for principle, not salary or power. In 1995 he established the South Central Lions Eye Clinic in conjunction with the Kentucky Lions Club. The clinic provides eye surgery for low-income families.
Kennedy remained in his nest, benefited from family position and political favors, and remained in the environment which was groomed for him: never taking any risk or producing anything. Paul involved himself in politics on a volunteer basis and gave charitable contributions of his own time and expertise that he privately acquired. Kennedy pursued public power and career through politics and contributed to charity with others’ labor. Paul enters the Senate as suspect and Kennedy entered with a scepter.
Though not the mainstream today, Rand Paul reflects a different age when professionals lent their expertise to government; when our officials were successful privately and applied their skills publicly as a civic virtue. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and many afterward have died, but left their example by which we should gauge our current and future officials. Rand Paul fits the mold. Ted Kennedy and many others in the Senate, break it.