Politicians parse their words with extreme care. And Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul is very much the politician these days.
Witness his carefully worded response to GQ magazine's story about an alleged "Aqua Buddha" incident from Paul's days as a member of the NoZe Brotherhood secret society at Baylor University.
"No, I never was involved with kidnapping," Paul told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "No, I was never involved with forcibly drugging people."
Well, no one accused Paul of kidnapping or of forcibly drugging people. True, the unnamed woman who described the incident told GQ's Jason Zengerle that Paul and a fellow NoZe Brother came to her house, blindfolded her, tied her up, put her in a car, took her to their apartment and "tried" to force her to take a hit from a bong. But she said she refused to smoke pot with them.
That was where Aqua Buddha came into the picture. The woman said Paul and his friend then took her to a creek outside Waco, Tx., and made her bow down to their god in the creek and say, "I worship you Aqua Buddha, I worship you."
If true, this is not the story of a kidnapping. It's the story of a college prank. The woman herself described it as "some kind of joke" by a couple of guys who were "messing with my mind" but who "never hurt me" and "never did anything wrong."
So, after Paul told Cavuto he didn't kidnap or forcibly drug anyone, Cavuto understandably asked if the incident was just a prank. That's when Paul started to hedge, which is another trait of a politician.
"Well, I'm not really going to go back 27 years and remember everything I did in college. ... I don't think that really politicians should be asked to answer anonymous accusers from 27 years ago," he said. "But I will categorically deny that I ever kidnapped anyone or forced anybody to use drugs."
As noted previously, no one has accused Paul of kidnapping. And the still unnamed woman subsequently told The Washington Post's Greg Sargent no physical force was involved in the incident, that she went along with the ritual because the two men were her friends. "I felt like I was being hazed," she said.
She also said the incident was so "weird" she ended relations with Paul and his friends.
So, Paul is denying accusations that really haven't been made. And in doing so, he is "categorically" avoiding the real question of whether this prank actually happened.
If it did and Paul acknowledged it, so what? College pranks are college pranks. Sometimes, they involve blindfolds and bongs, although "Aqua Buddha" is a new one to us. But college pranks where no one gets hurt and no one does anything really wrong don't define adult political candidates 27 years later.
What can define adult political candidates is if they get caught parsing their way around the truth. Therein lies the danger for Paul.
If Aqua Buddha arises from that creek outside Waco to prove the unnamed woman's story to be true, voters won't care if Paul was technically truthful.
They'll just know the darling of the conservative Tea Party movement intentionally misled them about his involvement in a prank that included smoking pot and bowing down before Aqua Buddha.