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Rand Paul outraged by the wrong part of Biden's inaugural address

Rand Paul heard Joe Biden denounce political extremists, and for reasons he did not explain, the senator took offense.
Image: Sen. Rand Paul. R-Ky., during a hearing at the Capitol
Sen. Rand Paul. R-Ky., during a hearing at the Capitol on Sept. 23, 2020.Alex Edelman / Pool via Reuters

Early on in President Joe Biden's inaugural address, he took stock of the many profound challenges facing the United States, referenced the "once-in-a-century virus," the millions of jobs lost, the need for racial justice, and the climate crisis.

But in the next breath, Biden added, "And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat."

As the Lexington Herald-Leader noted, it was apparently a line Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had a problem with.

"If you read his speech and listen to it carefully, much of it is thinly-veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people who don't tell the truth," Paul said on Fox News Primetime.

I will confess to being surprised. Biden's speech was not exactly subtle or reliant on oblique metaphors. It wasn't partisan or ideological. The address included no name-calling. Biden pointed no fingers and made no effort to associate dangerous radicals with elected U.S. officials.

But Rand Paul was apparently insulted anyway. The Kentuckian heard the new president denounce extremists, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists, and for reasons he did not explain, the senator interpreted the comments as some kind of attack on Republicans.

What's more, he's not alone: a Washington Post analysis noted this morning, prominent voices in conservative media pushed the same complaint in response to the inaugural address.

As we recently discussed, I've long been fascinated by instances of political figures needlessly pushing back allegations that weren't specifically directed at them.

It was 12 years ago, for example, when the Department of Homeland Security released reports about domestic ideological extremists, alerting law enforcement officials to potentially violent groups and organizations. (The relevance of those findings never really went away.) At the time, Republicans and conservative activists were furious -- even though the report was commissioned by the Bush administration -- because much of the right feared that concerns about dangerous radicals applied to them or their allies directly.

In effect, some on the right heard officials' concerns about potentially violent militants, and responded, "Hey, they might be talking about us."

More than a decade later, the problem apparently persists.