"Ready for dinner"
If you’re wondering why Sen. Rand Paul is doing Democrats’ dirty work for them, attacking Gov. Chris Christie’s self-promoting $25 million post-Sandy advertising campaign, it’s simple. He’s hoping he can get reporters to cover the intra-party feud as an early sign of GOP titans warming up for 2016, so they stop Googling his old speeches and columns and books for more evidence of plagiarism.
Paul flatters himself. He’s no longer Christie’s peer in the top tier of likely 2016 candidates. Not only has he faced at least four separate charges of plagiarism in eight short days, he’s shown himself incapable of mounting a serious presidential candidacy with his whiny, entitled, self-righteous response.
First he bizarrely suggested he would like to challenge his critics to “a duel.” Then he told the New York Times he’ll start footnoting and fact-checking “if it will make people leave me the hell alone.” What a baby. Eventually he’ll get what he wants, and he’ll be left alone when it comes to 2016 coverage. This man would never survive the rigors of a national campaign.
The best evidence of Paul’s stature-slide is his new home as a “writer.” After he was terminated by the Washington Times after multiple examples of plagiarism unearthed by Rachel Maddow, BuzzFeed and Politico, Paul was picked up by that bastion of journalism ethics and achievement, Breitbart.com, which of course peddled the phony “Shirley Sherrod is a racist” story as well as the hoax that former Sen. Chuck Hagel had been paid by a nonexistent group called “Friends of Hamas.”
“We are pleased to add Senator Paul to our lineup of fearless, original thought leaders,” Breitbart CEO Larry Sokolov said in a statement, indicating he’s as unfamiliar with the concept of “original” as Paul seems to be about the meaning of “plagiarism.”
It remains unclear if Paul is truly dumb or just incredibly brazen when he denies to this day that he ever plagiarized anyone. He insists that by crediting the source of the original works he’s describing – whether the movies “Gattaca” and “Stand and Deliver,” or think tank reports – he is inoculated from criticism for stealing the words of other people who summarized those works so he or his speechwriters didn’t have to.
Still, with his stubborn defensiveness, Paul also shows his contempt for both the written word and ideas themselves. He told the New York Times that he was maybe a little sloppy with footnotes because of the crushing “workload” of a busy freshman senator. Obviously he’s too busy and important doing real stuff to worry about the writing of his speeches, books or opinion pieces, and all the ink-stained wretches who care are just “haters.”
Paul displays contempt for normal standards of truth and fairness in other ways. Jill Lawrence examined the record last month in a piece headlined “The Truthiness of Rand Paul.” Lawrence recounted an episode that got relatively little attention – maybe because it was followed so quickly by the plagiarism scandal – in which Paul told a group of medical school students at his alma mater that he never cheated on tests, but he did spread “misinformation” to other students designed to make them study the wrong topics and thus do poorly. Here’s what he said when asked if he had any advice about handling exams.
“Actually, I do,” said the ophthalmologist-turned-senator, who stays sharp (and keeps his license) by doing pro bono eye surgeries during congressional breaks. “I never, ever cheated. I don’t condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”
He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. “We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver,” he said. “We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver” and not studying much else.
“So, that’s my advice,” he concluded. “Misinformation works.”
Misinformation works. Lawrence went on to outline “the half-truths, cherry-picked factoids, and outright errors that Paul seems steadfastly unwilling to relinquish.” And that was before the documented cases of plagiarism.
Called on his “truthiness,” Paul responds not by taking responsibility but by attacking his critics. The pampered son of former Rep. Ron Paul gave the New York Times the rejoinder of spoiled kids everywhere: If the “haters” keep it up, he’ll just take his ball and go home. “To tell you the truth, people can think what they want, I can go back to being a doctor anytime, if they’re tired of me. I’ll go back to being a doctor, and I’ll be perfectly content.”
That’s another lie. The preening junior senator wouldn’t be content just being a doctor anymore. So now he’s attacking Christie, one of the top-tier 2016 candidates, hoping he can jump in that ring and leave his troubles behind. But Paul’s plagiarism scuffles, and even worse, his response to them, will consign him to the fringe. What the folks at Breitbart are to actual journalists, Paul is becoming to actual 2016 candidates. Christie will ignore him, and so, soon, will most other people.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."More Joan Walsh.