It's only June, but collisions between reality and the ideals of Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul are lighting up the sky like bottle rockets on the third of July.
There's the time that Paul, an eye doctor, wanted board certification but didn't like the new rules for earning it. So he created his own medical board. He's now certified by the National Board of Ophthalmology of which he's president, his wife is vice president and his father-in-law is secretary.
At the the junction of principle and pragmatism, Paul denounces big government and its costs and intrusiveness, but depends on the little things that big government does for him. Paul's campaign told reporter John Cheves that about half of his medical income comes from payments by Medicaid and Medicare, entitlement programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.
The state reports that Medicaid has paid Paul $130,461 since 2006. Federal policy blocks the release of such information about Medicare. The Paul campaign is refusing to say how much his medical practice earns from Medicare, except that it provides substantially more of his income than Medicaid.
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Interestingly, Paul, who wants to end federal payments to farmers and abolish the Department of Education, is OK with Medicare.
Finally, Paul promised during the primary campaign to refuse contributions from any lawmaker who supported government bailouts of banks. But now he's agreed to be the guest of honor at a D.C. fund-raiser hosted by the Republican Senatorial Committee, which includes lawmakers who voted for bank bailouts. Seats will go for $1,000 to $5,000. His campaign apparently pulled from its Web site his earlier promise to reject contributions from bailout backers.
All this may come as a disappointment to Kentuckians who were drawn to Paul's conservative/libertarian principals and his formerly refreshing candor. In a major turnaround, he's begun refusing reporters' questions unless they're in writing.
For voters, the biggest question is how Paul's ideas and ideals would translate on the ground.
In fairness, many of us are guilty of wanting the benefits of something — whether it's board certification or full campaign coffers — without paying the price.
Like the Gulf Coast residents who want government off their backs, until a hurricane or oil spill comes along.
Or the Farm Bureau that wants government off the farm, except for the mailbox which is always open to subsidy checks.
Or politicians who rail against out-of-control spending but show up to take credit when a ribbon is cut or oversized check presented.
Or all the rest of us, who resent the chunk of change that government extracts from our pockets but want smooth roads, good schools, police and fire protection, national security, personal security in old age, free markets governed by laws, student loans, flood walls, lakes and parks and the list goes on.
The Tea Party movement, of which Paul is both a leader and beneficiary, feeds the comforting illusion that we can have all we've come to expect from government without paying for it. We buy into this illusion at our own peril.