Rand Paul’s Plagiarism, and the Weird Man's Burden

I dunno, she probably has the longer reach. |||There are two scandals regarding a national
politician’s veracity this week. One is about a president
about his signature, transformative legislative
achievement, while his administration
some more in the face of being caught selling the
American public a bill of goods. The second
initially centered around
a senator
lifting movie-description passages from Wikipedia
in his
speeches. You could almost see the thought bubble around Rand
Paul’s head–how could they possibly be nitpicking me in
this of all weeks? But that is exactly the wrong response, both
externally and internally, as new revelations make even more

First came
Sunday that a whole
1,318-word section
of Paul’s book
Government Bullies
was lifted from a Heritage Foundation
study (the think tank just shrugged). The
is that a September Washington Times
the senator wrote on mandatory minimums, and also

he gave on the subject to the Senate Judiciary
Committee, was lifted from a recent piece by Dan
in The Week.

Taken together, these sloppy, undergraduate-level infractions
suggest strongly that Sen. Paul is running a loose ship, one not
currently ready for the prime time of winning a national

"GATTACA! GATTACA! GATTACA!" Oh wait, wrong movie. |||“There are technicalities to
this, but nothing I said was not given attribution to where it came
from,” Paul
said prematurely last week
, in response to the first wave of
Wikipedia discoveries. “[People are] making a mountain out of a
molehill….It’s a disagreement about how you footnote things.” By
“people” he especially meant MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who (along
with Buzzfeed) has been stoking this controversy: “She’s
been spreading hate on me for about three years now,” he
complained. On ABC’s
This Week
on Sunday, Paul even wished out loud he could
challenge his critics to a duel.

There are two fundamental problems to this kind of defensive
response. The first is managerial–what kind of message do you send
staff by waving off such juvenile, 100% avoidable unforced errors
as “technicalities”? That’s like putting up a sign in the office
saying “substandard work welcome here.” In a world of free plagiarism-detection
, the time to begin
scrubbing old speeches for possible problems
 was last
week, when the senator was busy lashing out at his critics.

The second problem, which cuts straight to the heart of the
difference between Rand Paul and his dad, is that he’s actually
trying to win the presidency. If your goal is to genuinely
compete in a general election with your once-marginalized ideas,
instead of building a revolutionary movement at the margins, then
you don’t need to be as clean as the competition–you need to be
cleaner. Why? Call it The Weird Man’s Burden.

They'll beat you and they'll treat you like a carnival clown. |||Rand Paul, like his father, has
a lot of “weird” ideas, at least in the cramped context of how
“responsible” two-party politics and governance has played out over
the past several decades. He thinks the drug war is a failure and
has introduced ways to peel it back. He wants to balance the budget
in five years, and slash several federal departments. He believes
in the Fourth Amendment. He is anti-interventionist to the point
that when I asked him repeatedly earlier this summer to name
American military conflicts during his lifetime he would have
retroactively supported, the only he came up with was deposing the
Taliban after 9/11. You and I may think those positions are within
the bands of normality, but libertarians are still
less than one-quarter of the population

The Weird Man (and Woman, bien sur), very crudely
speaking, has two broad avenues available for changing the system:
from within, and from without. Since us weirdos are often, well,
weird, there’s a natural attraction toward hopeless,
beautiful, philosophically pure fires on the sidelines. (This isn’t
libertarian-specific—it’s true of any group whose
issue or issues have been consistently disregarded over time.)
Henry David Thoreau wasn’t trying to fix slavery and imperialistic
war from within Washington, he simply refused to pay his taxes and
headed off into the woods to write. It is emotionally satisfying to
give the finger to The Man, and out there on the margins it is an
affirmation, not an occasion for self-reflection, when the
mainstream and its apologists attack you, whatever the

Aaaaaaaaand SCENE! |||The other avenue for Weird Man change-making goes
not into the woods, but into the streets, television screens, and
halls of power. It is an inherently compromising approach–even
Martin Luther King was dismissed in his lifetime as a sellout. As
King and many of the most effective Inside-Gamers have learned,
however, it can be an incredibly effective tactic to present your
claims with more dignity, decorum, and “self-purification” than
the mainstream you aim to change. Think about it–gay rights at
first was the stuff of revolutionaries and outrage-generating
paraders, but the gay marriage debate really took off with
a bullet when those two sweet old ladies got married in San
Francisco. The movement to legalize marijuana by necessity began
with the gray-ponytail crowd, and will end with square-jawed
businessmen in suits
. This is not to state a preference for one
of the two main avenues of change–Rand wouldn’t be a national
politician without Ron’s rEVOLution–but rather to identify the
characteristics of the path that Rand has very obviously

So what does that mean in this instance? If he wants to run for
president, he needs to be better, not worse, and not
merely as good, as the competition when it comes to the most
seemingly trivial matters of comportment. Journalists, particularly
(though not only) from
those outlets
sensitive to the allure that libertarian ideas
have on some progressive voters, will be gunning for every
possible gaffe, glitch, error of judgment, and stated deviance. He
should consider it an honor to be challenged, instead of a
challenge to get huffy about.

Get used to it, Rook. |||People who choose the Inside Game know, or at
least should know, that the deck is stacked against them,
and that they will be judged more harshly. Those were always the
rules. On the upside, being the first real truth-teller inside an
empire of lies carries with it enormous galvanizing potential.
Whining about being picked on in this context is like complaining
about getting fouled when you drive to the hoop against Bill
Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. The answer is to dunk the damned
basketball, not bitch to the refs. And for god’s sake, make sure
your shoes are tied.

It’s actually helpful for Rand Paul’s presidential ambitions to
be having these mini-kerfuffles in November 2013. It’s doubtful
that they will have any impact on the 2016 race, and he could
clearly use the practice. 

from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2013/11/05/rand-pauls-plagiarism-and-the-weird-mans

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