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Rick, Rand and the Middle Finger

Pics from Twitter accounts of @byronbellamy and @AaronKatersky

Pics from Twitter accounts of @byronbellamy and @AaronKatersky

Pics from Twitter accounts of @byronbellamy (Rick) and @AaronKatersky (Rand)

It’s been a precipitous fall and a bitter winter for two Kentucky icons, Rick Pitino and Rand Paul.

KSR Nation needs no reminder about the Louisville coach’s troubles and traumas.  (OK, I know you love it: Here are my takes on Escort-Gate.)

Rand’s fall has been even sharper and more dizzying.  As recently as October 2014, the seminal Time magazine published a cover story proclaiming that Kentucky’s junior Senator was “The Most Interesting Man in Politics.”  Many soothsayers of conventional wisdom agreed, and declared Paul a top-tier presidential candidate as the 2016 Republican caucuses and primaries approached.  With the Grand Old Party skewing far too elderly and bleach-white, Paul seemed to have positioned himself uniquely well to energize pro-pot, anti-war Millennials, as well as minority voters craving criminal justice reform.

Then Trump happened. And the Tea Party army revealed itself not as Paul-style libertarians, but rather as a mixed bag of regular folks angry and resentful toward the Establishment that Rand had been nurturing to appear more electable.

Then Paris happened.  And Paul’s isolationist pronouncements and ACLU-style civil liberties “stands with Rand” detached him from a GOP base that was increasingly fearful and looking for a stronger voice to lead the war on terrorism.

Worst of all, Rand’s seemingly-clever strategy to triangulate and expand his father’s ideologically-rigid coalition by positioning himself as the champion of arch-conservative social causes, failed to convince many sincere evangelical voters, and simultaneously undermined his libertarian base:  While Ron Paul secured more than 21% of the 2012 Iowa caucus vote; Rand’s current tally is struggling to rise above the 5% line.

If that weren’t enough, on Friday, Rand Paul “won” recognition from the Washington Post as having “the worst week in Washington.”  His poll numbers plummeting, Paul was excluded from the main stage GOP presidential debate, and instead of joining the “kiddie table” undercard forum, he publicly complained and groused and boycotted his party’s showcase.  Worse yet, after seeming to escape a serious 2016 Democratic Senate challenger when former Auditor Adam Edelen demurred, Paul learned this week that popular Lexington Mayor Jim Gray was seriously considering a bid.  Indeed, such a race might be tough to resist for the moderate, respected businessman — considering the continuing beatings Paul is expected to take in Iowa, New Hampshire, and especially in the March 5 Kentucky presidential caucuses that Rand begged his party to schedule so that he could run for both offices simultaneously.  Meanwhile, the “money bombs” that had fueled Paul’s surprise 2010 Senate victory may be a lot less explosive considering the disenchantment of his father’s Rolodex.

So, Paul pulled a Pitino.

Like the Cards Coach who vented his frustrations after an agonizing UK loss by flipping the bird at a rowdy Rupp Arena crowd, the junior Senator from Kentucky, in an interview with ABC Radio, extended his middle finger to the media — literally — on behalf of “99 percent of my supporters” for being shut out of the debate.

As a scholar of the salute (OK, I just looked it up on the ultra-reliable Wikipedia), I can report that the middle finger gesture has been around for millennia. Used in ancient Greece and Rome, the finger represents the phallus (surprise!), and was delivered as a sign of insult or disrespect.  By late 19th century America, the gesture became part and parcel of pop culture, with a message roughly translated as “f___ you” or “f___ off” or “go f___ yourself.”  (Snopes here debunks the counter-theory that the salute was derived by English archers at the Battle of Agincourt, declaring “Pluck You!”)

In drawing renewed national attention to the middle finger, Pitino and Paul may have eloquently, if not elegantly, captured the political and sports zeitgeist.  As I elaborated last month, we tend to no longer view our sports or political opponents as competitive rivals:

We hate them.  They are the enemy.  F__ them!

Just scroll down and review the comments section below or on any online e-mag — a significant percentage of written screeds are simply rhetorical extensions of the middle finger: at columnists, public figures or often other commenters.  Indeed, the Trump campaign has emerged as the bird-flipping blog comments section writ large: featuring bilious demagoguery about “the other” and fact-challenged conspiracy theories, all punctuated by venomous ad hominem personal attacks.

Gallons of virtual ink have been spilled trying to explain today’s public mood and how it’s flipped all political conventions upside down, benefiting unlikely, anger-fueled frontrunners such as Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders.  I’m most persuaded by a recent Thomas Friedman column, quoting my law school classmate, Dov Seidman, who argues that the 24/7 news construct, amplified by social media, has heightened our nation’s moral arousal and moral outrage dramatically:

“People everywhere seem to be morally aroused,” said Seidman. “The philosopher David Hume argued that ‘the moral imagination diminishes with distance.’ It would follow that the opposite is also true: As distance decreases, the moral imagination increases. Now that we have no distance – it’s like we’re all in a crowded theater, making everything personal – we are experiencing the aspirations, hopes, frustrations, plights of others in direct and visceral ways.”

Seidman concludes with hope that societal leaders can channel this moral outrage into “deep and honest conversations” about reform and change. I’m less sanguine.  But I do have optimism that when the 2016 presidential campaign concludes, and the U of L scandal is resolved, we’ll have much more constructive outlets over which to vent our moral outrage.

I’m even more hopeful that a Paul/Gray race — between two very smart guys with polar-opposite ideologies and perspectives on the value of public service — can offer Kentucky voters a meaningful opportunity to deliver a clear verdict on the role of government in their lives and for their communities.  And that’s something that might allow all of us to rest our middle fingers…for at least the time being.

Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

20 Comments for Rick, Rand and the Middle Finger

  1. Rixter
    8:15 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    The only reason I come to KSR is for political opinions.

  2. Smyrna_Cat
    8:25 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    I am morally aroused.

  3. Tubby98
    8:38 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    voters delivered that “clear verdict” in November; perhaps you missed it.
    anyhow, if Dems are gluttons for punishment, they should run Gray; his politics will play well in hinterlands.

    • Dickbutt
      8:48 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

      Something like 15% of the state, or less, voted for our current governor. Most of the state, apparently, didn’t give a damn one way or another, so, no, a “clear verdict” was not sent, except by the minority of angry Republicans who could be bothered to show up, unlike the apathetic Democrats who sat around and complained about the Republicans while doing little else.

      Before you call me a Fox News-inspired host of insults, I’m an Independent who has leaned Republican in damn near every election I have voted in, but I cannot stand a liar, and Matt Bevin is a liar.

    • BigBlueBoom
      9:47 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

      Lol like anyone is going to care about the opinion of someone using the name Dickbutt. You sound awfully butthurt. Gray has no shot against Rand. Outside of Lexington and a few ppl in Louisville, no one has heard of Gray. Rand will take western ky, Eastern KY, and the majority of central ky, not even close

  4. Paducah UK fan
    8:41 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    stick to something you may know a little about>>politics is not one of them. Politics will drive me away, just as FB has. Leave it alone…….

    • jonthes
      8:48 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

      If you aren’t interested, don’t read it. Like the women’s basketball stories.

  5. jonthes
    8:47 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    It would be quite interesting to see an openly gay politician run for the Senate in Kentucky. Rand has nothing in common with 99% of the population of the state, neither did the Bushes or Romney of course but as hate seems to motivate many voters it would be a test of that. I suspect some of the population will be awakened by Bevin’s ideological destructiveness by then. Of course Gray would not be the first gay or bisexual politician to hold major and statewide office in Kentucky from either party, but his campaign would end one of the hypocrisies that blight Kentucky politics.

    • BigBlueBoom
      9:49 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

      Please let Gray run against him. He doesn’t stand a chance. He will win Lexington and maybe Louisville but lose the rest of the state. You have to be completely out of touch to not know that.

  6. mikeintn
    9:18 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    I didn’t even read it, I seen who it was by, first time shame on you, second time shame on me, so I just stop by to say your an idiot.

    • Twick39
      9:33 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink


  7. Twick39
    9:34 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    Miller, you suck.

  8. justaguyinthebackrow
    10:47 pm January 17, 2016 Permalink

    Rand Paul is not an isolationist. He does not want to cut off contact with all other countries. Not wanting to go to war with everyone is not isolationism. I know that is just the tip of the iceberg of things wrong with this piece, including what it is doing on a sports blog, but you would think someone who went to law school would know enough to know what a word means before using it.

  9. ClutchCargo
    12:17 am January 18, 2016 Permalink

    Anybody know how I could buy Jonathan Miller for what he is worth, so I could flip him for what he thinks he is worth? I’d be set for life.

  10. hartlines left arm
    7:52 am January 18, 2016 Permalink

    Kentucky SPORTS Radio, SPORTS, not let’s post are political view radio. Hey Matt Jones how about you start another site for your political views and take the Jonathan Miller fool with you.

  11. Blueheart
    11:08 am January 18, 2016 Permalink

    I made the comment previously that KSR closing the comments section for political posts was Jones’ middle finger to many of us. As much as I despise the political posts, I have to give them credit for once again allowing comments.

  12. ukflyguy
    11:39 am January 18, 2016 Permalink

    First to KSR, I come to this site for sports, not this political crap. Now to Mr. Miller. Gee, Skippy you finally crawl out from under your rock in political purgatory to take cheap shots at Senator Paul? I’ve got an idea, why don’t you man up, file your papers, and run against Paul if you think it is so easy. I live in Lexington, have voted for Gray, and can tell you he would get killed in a statewide race against Dr. Paul. One of the issues that is killing Democrats in rural areas is Mr Gray’s lifestyle. It was a big factor in Bevin’s victory in November. Gray couldn’t even beat Andy Barr in this environment, and that would probably be a smarter race for him to be in than the Senate race.

    The only Democrats that could come within 10 points of Dr Paul are Crit Luallen, Steve Beshear, or Adam Edelen and none of them appear interested because they know it would be a losing effort in the end. Will be fun to watch Greg Stumbo hand over his gavel after November.

  13. Megan
    2:02 pm January 18, 2016 Permalink

    ACLU-style civil liberties. What a strangely redundant expression. Some say they believe in individual rights and liberties, then turn their backs when the other person’s point of view is something they dislike. “The government should never infringe on my rights, but don’t let those Illinois Nazis march in Skokie.” I hate Illinois Nazis. But defending the right to speak is not the same as defending the content.

    Those are non-ACLU libertarians, opportunistic and hypocritical. They use “ACLU” as a term of derision. If you defend the First Amendment rights of a holocaust denier, a pornographer, a homophobe, a racist, a communist, they label you a sympathizer. It’s a McCarthy tactic, and people are just dumb enough to believe it. That’s how politicians work. They manipulate. I hate politicians almost as much as I hate Illinois Nazis. But if KSR wants to let a politician write about politics, I’ll defend their right. But not their wisdom.

  14. Smyrna_Cat
    6:22 pm January 18, 2016 Permalink

    Good point. The only reason to turn off comments for Mr. Miller’s “blogs” is because they are beyond ridiculous. I am betting Matt Jones made a political deal with Miller that didn’t pan out.