Rand Paul's Populist Country Music Video

Kris Kristofferson, Tea Partier.
Still from John Rich video

LOUISVILLE—A half hour before Kentucky Senator Rand Paul would take the Galt House ballroom stage, a thousand-plus supporters saw the face of Kris Kristofferson. With no preamble, the grizzled actor appeared on two massive screens, walking through a car factory, as the voices of anchormen described the 2008 bailout of the auto industry. Kristofferson was playing "John," a blue collar worker being laid off.

"I been here thirty years," said Kristofferson's character, as a worker portrayed by Mickey Rourke looked up mournfully.

What was this? A remix of John Rich's 2009 song "Shuttin' Detroit Down," a ballad about the greed of "them bankers" and the callousness of Washington. The video played and was interspersed, during slow moments, with footage of Paul introducing his concept of low-tax "enterprise zones" for Detroit and blighted cities.

"The freedom zones differ from traditional government stimulus in that no central planner, no politician in Washington would decide who gets the money," said Paul in one Max Headroom-esque interruption. "The money will simply be left with its rightful owner—the man or the woman who, by sweat equity, earned it." Later: "What Detroit needs to thrive is not Washington's domineering hand, but freedom from big government's mastery." Every time Paul appeared, the audience cheered.

Of the many unique notes of Paul's launch, the details that it was hard to imagine other Republicans even trying to pull off, the "Shuttin' Detroit Down" video was the one that most evoked Paul's 2010 Senate bid. To the horror of Democrats, Paul (and many other Tea Party candidates) succeeded in translating voter anger at the recession into anger at Washington, for TARP—often conflated with the unrelated economic stimulus. 

Rich's song did the same. "While the boss man takes his bonus paid jets on out of town," he sang, "DC's bailing out them bankers as the farmers auction ground. Yeah, while they're living up on Wall Street in that New York City town—here in the real world they're shuttin Detroit down."

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