Welcome to the Rand Paul Project, where Lesson No. 1 is that unconventional candidates are prone to do ... unconventional things. It's hard to tell them that, no, they shouldn't go on a liberal cable news show at a moment of maximum attention to their every word and, no, they shouldn't indulge the temptation to defend their extreme-sounding views on the sort of racial discrimination that once had African-Americans drinking out of "colored" water fountains.
"He thinks he's got enough working knowledge of the system and his philosophy to hold forth on anything any time,"
Al Cross, a longtime Kentucky political journalist, said of Paul on Thursday. "But he's not ready for prime time."
In some ways, it's just a freshman media mistake: Accept every interview that's offered, even if it means walking into the lion's den wrapped in red meat. But with what should be a safe Republican seat on the line, the first days of Paul's general election campaign have party pros unnerved.
I was watching Candy Crowley on CNN this morning, and the response was basically the same. The upshot seems to be that what Rand Paul said wasn't so much ignorant, as it was "politically" ignorant. The problem isn't that Paul hadn't thought much about why he believes what he believes, it's that he hadn't thought much about his venue. It's that he wasn't a "pro." It's not a mistake of content. It's a mistake of "messaging."
I don't want to lay all of this on the media--there's obviously a big market for this kind of journalism. But that said, while I expect politicians and their handlers to think in terms of messaging, I also expect--perhaps foolishly--for media to be in the business of pushing past that messaging to actual ideas. What we get instead is a faux-objectivity, that avoids the substance of issues and instead focuses on how that substance is pitched. In that sense, much like the relationship between entertainment and many entertainment journalists, it's really hard to see media as more than quasi-independent extension of campaign apparatus.
Nothing I'm saying here is new or revelatory. But I feel kind of stupid for forgetting.