Rand Paul Is Not Anti-Authority

Many of his fellow Democrats have piled on the Senate candidate from Kentucky, Jack Conway, over the Aqua Buddha ad. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has kindly compiled all of this handwringing in an anti-Conway ad that essentially says, “even Democrats think Jack Conway is a Christian-bashing meanie whose piling on poor defenseless Rand Paul!”

Jason Zengerle, the reporter who broke the story of Rand Paul’s college hijinks in GQ, took to the pages of The New Republic (where Jonathan Chait started the handwringing in the first place) to denounce the ad as the “most despicable of the year.” If that’s the case, then Zengerle’s own reporting falls into the same category. In his TNR blog post, he complains that “no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony.” Why, then, did he bother reporting on Paul’s college days in the first place?

Zengerle explains: “the reason I wrote about Paul’s college days was not because I thought they revealed anything interesting or significant about his religious faith, or even his attitudes toward illegal drugs. Rather, I wrote about them because I believe they point to traits that are crucial to understanding Rand Paul: namely, his anti-authority streak and his lack of respect for institutions.”

But Paul — who Zengerle depicts as anti-authority — has expressed the very authoritarian view everyone should have a “Christian” moral compass. Paul, who supports outlawing abortion in all cases, even when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest, is an advocate for constitutional amendments that would define life as occurring at conception. To make passing such an amendment easier, he supports legislation that would strip federal courts of jurisdiction from hearing “cases like Roe v. Wade.” What light-hearted, prankish anti-authoritarianism!

While Paul’s opposition to the federal Department of Education in general, and more specifically on the grounds that it might teach kids about two mommies, might be viewed by an untrained eye as being in opposition to federal “authority,” it actually grows out of Christian right opposition to public education, as further evidenced by Paul’s support for homeschooling. (And to be sure, that view might eliminate a federal agency, but it would replace it with another kind of authoritarianism — the “biblical worldview” of homeschooling.)

But Zengerle, piling on with the anti-Conway liberals, writes, “If it’s disgusting when conservatives question Barack Obama’s Christianity, then it’s disgusting when Jack Conway questions Rand Paul’s.” As I wrote before, Conway’s ad didn’t question Paul’s Christianity, it questioned his respect for religion. Even if Aqua Buddha was basically a fraternity prank, something Greg Sargent confirmed with the woman who first revealed it to him and Zengerle, it stands in stark contrast to Paul’s authoritarian moralizing today. As the woman told Sargent, “My whole point in sharing [the episode] was that Randy used to be a different person with different views that have radically changed, and he’s not acknowledging that.” (That’s why I argued in my previous post that Conway’s ad should have highlighted that hypocrisy.)

Seriously, though, these are political ads. They’re always perfect, careful, and compassionate, aren’t they? Imagine, for a moment, that it was Conway who was the college pothead. You think the Republicans would have politely omitted that from an ad because it’s irrelevant, or would have neglected to contrast it to Conway’s current professions of being a good Christian?