I don’t think Rand Paul is going to be President, so I don’t think a piece of sharp moral dudgeon defending the integrity of thought is going to be of much use to anyone. The Washington Times ending their partnership with Paul speaks to that, and — if we’re to look at this from a broad perspective and from a slight economic perspective — people don’t like it when their time is wasted, especially if various companies are spending their time creating an environment of fighting for “eyeballs” or seeking ever-greater efficiencies. (Jonathan Crary’s fairly flawed 24/7 is nevertheless a good primer to give you a sense of how much economic energy is being expended to try and hold and control one’s attention. (Crary’s doom-and-gloom-mongering strikes me as partly reacting to that, and it’s one reason I can’t fully get behind the book’s thesis.))
But that isn’t to say that what Paul did or how he’s subsequently responded hasn’t been annoying: it has been. Stories were published concerning acts of plagiarism — first by Rachel Maddow, then by Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed, then by Politico (and elsewhere) — and Paul responded by going to the idea of dueling to defend his honor, and then said to Robert Costa that — if he’d been a journalism professor — he would have flunked each of the individuals and institutions mentioned in the preceding hyphenated clause. He wants to “go to detention after school for a couple days, then everything [will] be okay.” Rand Paul is 50. He can join AARP. And — just to play with the Senator’s figure of speech there for a moment and literalize it (and I know this puts me more in Daily Kos territory than Atlantic territory for some, but comedy is a part of my system, so bear with me) — is there a single high school student out there who wouldn’t be fairly surprised to see a 50 year old man joining them in detention? Who wouldn’t raise their eyebrows, look around, and double check just to make sure they had the right room?
As for the dueling thing — I know we have Zell Miller and Chris Matthews out there in terms of ‘ludicrous precedent,’ but — well, let me put it this way: didn’t John Dickerson get into a fight outside a gym and end up feeling mortified and embarrassed by it? And isn’t he 45? I’m not saying we all have to mellow as we age or have various articles from The Good Men Project tattooed on the inside of our upper lip (which would make them particularly easy to read, by the way) — let alone the fact that rhetorically reaching for something like a duel so quickly is about as transparent a signal regarding one’s assessment of one’s total lack of toughness as you can imagine (I mean — I’d put it up there with pulling someone’s pigtails) — but it shouldn’t be so hard for someone to be so idea averse. If he believes in these ideas he plagiarized, why not dive deeper into the issue, saying, “Here’s what I really think?”
Dave Weigel points towards the pace Paul was trying to keep as leading towards this, and politely reminds us that Paul isn’t writing everything bearing his own name either. Staffs exist. But the idea that Paul expects someone to take a speech on eugenics seriously while campaigning for a candidate that was as bad as Cuccinelli was is a sandwich of absurdity: every layer is wrong. Every issue concerning DNA that’s come before the Supreme Court — whether it’s Association For Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. or others — disputes that claim and disputes that tenet. In fact, eugenics has been thoroughly debunked for forty years. If Paul wants to run for President on a platform of HPV vaccines and faked moon landings, then that’s his prerogative. Though he’s vaguely promised ‘to modify the current situation,’ this bears emphasizing and saying plainly: if he’s going to keep plagiarizing, it means that the ideas he presents aren’t even worth his own attention, let alone ours.