Rand Paul: Know Your Audience



Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul paid a visit this week to what is probably America’s best-known historically black college, Howard University in Washington, D.C. – and it didn’t go so well.

Along with the rest of the Republican Party, Paul is trying to win more African-American votes.  So he gave a speech at Howard arguing that smaller government and other Republican values should appeal to the black community. But he got himself in trouble when he clumsily tried to bluff his way through making a point without realizing that the audience knew more than he did.

He said Republicans had always supported civil rights, and to prove it, he pointed out that one of the first African-American U.S. Senators was a Republican. Too bad he couldn’t remember the Senator’s name.

“Uh, I’m blanking on his name,” he said, “from Massachusetts.”

A number of students in the audience quickly said “Edward Brooke!” and proceed to laugh when Paul then “repeated” the name, misstating it as “Edwin Brooks.”

It got worse when Paul then asked the audience if they realized that the founders of the NAACP were all Republicans.  Several people said “yes,” and one woman said “of course.” To which Paul said “I don’t know what you know.”

But he should have known, and that’s the point. Know your audience: it’s one of the cardinal rules of media training. As a high-profile U.S. Senator, Paul certainly has the resources to do some basic research on the knowledge level of his audience. Did he really think that a roomful of African-American college kids wouldn’t know that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans? Come on.

Not knowing that made him look clueless and condescending at the same time. And I’m guessing he didn’t score a lot of points for his team.

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