Congressman Ron Paul has been an attractive presence on the national political scene for some time partly because of his uncompromising candor and honesty, but mainly because he represented little or no threat to the established leadership. Dr. Paul couldn't really get elected to any public office with a larger constituency than his Texas Congressional district. Therefore, his often-shocking libertarian proposals and his Presidential hopes have been met with a combination of amusement and intellectual discussion rather than being seriously considered as anything possible. Now his son Rand Paul, also a medical doctor, has taken the family philosophy and political ambition one step further. Rand Paul is the Republican nominee for the Senate from Kentucky.
The younger Dr. Paul has a libertarian pedigree that goes back to his birth. He was named for Ayn Rand. While the son is an admirable reflection of the father, Rand Paul fails both the old test given to us by the 19th century writer Samuel Butler and the newer age test put forward by pop-psychologist and self-help guru Spencer Johnson. It was Butler who said: "Any man can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well." Prior to his primary victory, Rand Paul enjoyed the freedom to speak his mind like his father has. He was no threat to anyone. Now that he may become a Senator, already he's reevaluating his principles with electoral consequences in mind.
Rand Paul is on record, before his nomination, saying he was against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Since he was born in 1963, he may be forgiven if he misunderstands that historic legislation. But he clearly doesn't. As a matter of libertarian principle, Dr. Paul is against the public accommodations section of the federal law. He does not believe it is government's place to be telling anyone, by force of law, who they must serve or who they can turn away. As a youngster, I remember seeing a sign in a store window that said: "No Dogs, Jews or Negroes Allowed." Rand Paul, acting on lifelong family principle, would have the government do nothing to stop that. At least that's what he used to say, as an honest man, before he became a Senatorial nominee.
Now he won't give a direct answer to a direct question. Watching him on TV, especially his excruciating appearance on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, is uncomfortable in a way that's like having spiders crawling all over you. Candidate Rand Paul avoids and evades insisting that he is personally opposed to discrimination based on race, sex, religion and any other criteria that might offend voters, but he refuses a direct "yes" or "no" response to any question about the role of government to protect civil rights in the public marketplace - today. He's new to this game -- backtracking, evasion and lying -- so he does it poorly. As Butler said, "Any man can tell the truth..." Rand Paul used to be that "any man." He's still developing the "some sense" he will need to "lie well." With practice, time and experience his score on Butler's test can improve.
The thing that might do him in, as a big-time politician, may be Rand Paul's failure of Johnson's test: "Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people." Rand Paul's entire appeal has been his integrity. Perhaps those who have been attracted to his cause specifically because of that quality of character will stay with him as the lies come more easily. Perhaps not.
So far, in the first days of his Senate run, it looks like he's willing to sacrifice integrity and honesty for a seat in the US Senate. Chances are that won't work. Chances are that will disappoint his most avid supporters, who think of him as different, and will not convince new voters who have heard this kind of nonsense before, many times. It's more likely that before Rand Paul learns how to "lie well" he may suffer the fate predicted by Shakespeare when he wrote: "Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honor, I lose myself." Having won his primary trading on his honor, it's hard to see how he can win a general election without it.