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Ear to the Ground

Rand Paul: The Minister of Misinformation

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Posted on Oct 18, 2013
Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sen. Rand Paul.

So you think Rand Paul plays a little loose with facts? You’re right, according to Jill Lawrence over at the National Journal.

And it’s by design.

Lawrence’s profile of the libertarian Kentucky senator, ophthalmologist and likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, starts off with a revealing anecdote in which Paul recently told medical students that while in college he and a few friends relied on spreading misinformation when it came to exam time (presumably the exams were graded on a curve). They would tell classmates that, for instance, they knew a looming pathology test was going to be about the liver, leading their competitors for high grades to run down a cul de sac as they crammed the wrong material.

Funny, that Rand Paul guy, the students laughed. As Lawrence explains, the anecdotes are part of the “charm,” and help obscure a decidedly austere view of the role of government in society. And a predisposition to keep facts at arm’s length. Paul followed the med school memoir with a series of half-truths and outright falsehoods about Obamacare.

Those few minutes on stage encapsulated the promise and the peril of a brash and politically talented party crasher already deep into preparations for a 2016 presidential race. Paul’s positions—a combination of conservative, libertarian, and idiosyncratic—have the potential to excite and enlarge the Republican Party. His informal, engaging personality could attract the young voters Republicans need to survive. Indeed, he could grow into a Reaganesque game changer for his party—if he does not end up a victim of his own affinity for misinformation.

He’s among the right wingers who want to kill Obamacare by defunding it, and like many of his colleagues is ready to misinterpret history to make it seem to support his position.

Paul’s logic in justifying the GOP drive to kill Obamacare is dicey, too. He says that while the president won reelection by “a small majority” in 2012, “a majority of the people believe Republicans should be in charge of the House” and therefore don’t want something like the law that was passed solely by Democrats. Obama won last year by nearly 5 million votes. Some people might consider that a small majority. But while Republicans won a majority of House districts, it’s not accurate to say a “majority of the people” wanted a GOP House. Democrats won the House popular vote by more than 1.7 million votes nationwide, the Federal Election Commission reported in July.

On another front, Paul routinely exaggerates the size of the annual federal deficit, pegging it at $1 trillion. In fact, the deficit for fiscal 2013 fell to an estimated $642 billion, heading toward $378 billion in two years, according to a Congressional Budget Office report in May.

So call him the Minister of Misinformation (others already have on Twitter). The general sense from the political left and center is that Paul, like his father, Ron Paul, is too iconoclastic and doctrinaire to win a national election, let alone the GOP’s nomination. And Paul’s relative “truthiness” will blow up on him in the national spotlight. Maybe. But there is a phrase to remind us that the seemingly politically inconceivable has a way of happening in the U.S.: President George W. Bush.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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