By Gail Collins
New York Times
Rand Paul for president! Wow, we're awash with first-term Republican senators who feel the nation needs their services as leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.
Paul can also perform eye surgery, which is certainly a plus.
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What do we know about this man Rand? Well, he's interesting. Among the throngs of Republicans promising to cut taxes, slash domestic spending and repeal Obamacare, Paul is unusual in that he also wants to stop government surveillance, negotiate a peace treaty with Iran, slash defense spending and eliminate foreign aid.
Except — stop the presses! — Rand Paul is also evolving. The freshman senator who once wanted to eliminate all foreign aid, including to Israel, is now a freshman senator who wants to eliminate some foreign aid while leaving more than enough for a certain "strong ally of ours." Also, he has learned that Iran probably can't be trusted. And he now wants to raise defense spending by about $190 billion.
You could argue he was way more interesting before he started to evolve. But onward.
During a post-announcement interview on Fox News, the new presidential contender was asked about an incident when he "took a shot at Dick Cheney." This would have been a 2009 speech, discovered by Mother Jones, in which Paul basically argued that Cheney had opposed invading Iraq until he went to work for the war contractor Halliburton.
"Before I was involved in politics!" the new candidate retorted. If you agree with his theory that would mean that nothing Rand Paul said before 2010 counts.
It is true that you can't blame politicians for everything they did when they were young and foolish, but a five-year statute of limitations seems a bit short. I'd accept a rule wiping out anything that happened in college short of a major felony. That would include a former classmate's claim that when she was at Baylor University, Rand Paul and a friend forced her to bow down and worship the god Aqua Buddha.
That's way more diverting than the story about Mitt Romney cutting off a classmate's long hair in high school. But it's off the record. Do not base your opinion of Rand Paul on the Aqua Buddha incident. Really. Forget I ever mentioned it.
Once Paul began sniffing the presidential air, position changes started coming rapid-fire, and he's gotten quite touchy when people point that out. "No, no, no, nonononono," he said, accusing NBC's Savannah Guthrie of "editorializing" when she listed several of his recent shifts. It was reminiscent of an encounter he had a while back with Kelly Evans of CNBC. ("Shhh. Calm down a bit here, Kelly.") You might wonder about Rand Paul and TV women, but as we all know it takes three incidents to make a trend. Next time.
The encounter with Evans came after Paul was trying to walk back one of his more interesting policy statements: opposition to mandatory vaccinations. "I guess being for freedom would be really unusual," he said archly, before claiming that he knew of many "walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders" after being vaccinated. This one has since evolved a lot.
Paul has swung to the left on some issues, like immigration. He acknowledges that there's global warming, which he believes should be combated in ways that do not inconvenience the coal industry. He has stuck to his guns on opposing government surveillance of American citizens, and you can buy a "Don't Drone Me, Bro!" shirt on his website. (Also at the website: $20 Rand Paul Flip-Flops, although someone on the team apparently noted the irony and changed their name to Rand Paul Sandals.)
And, of course, Paul is still a libertarian. Because he most definitely believes government should get off your backs and stop messing with your lives. Unless you happen to have an unwanted pregnancy, in which case, rather than allow you access to abortion, he is prepared to tie you to a post until you deliver.
Everything perfectly clear? And, now, a brief Rand Paul Pop Quiz.
1) Paul began his presidential announcement speech by telling the people:
A) "We have come to take our country back."
B) "We come to take our money back."
C) "We have come to take our previous statements back."
2) Rand Paul did not get a bachelor's degree because:
A) He was out partying all the time with the future governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.
B) He was so supersmart that Duke University allowed him to skip right over to medical school.
C) He was expelled for the Aqua Buddha affair.
3) An avid user of all media social, Paul once twittered that politics doesn't involve enough:
A) Good ideas for using more coal.
B) People with an IQ above 90.
4) The Rand Paul presidential campaign slogan is:
A) "Defeat the Washington Machine. Unleash the American Dream."
B) "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."
C) "Beat Hillary. Release the Kraken."
Answers: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-A.