It's time for Rand Paul to decide.
Paul has spent quite a bit of energy recently casting himself as an inclusive sort of guy. With presidential ambitions, the junior senator from Kentucky seems to be eager to cast off the undercurrent of racism that has dogged his father, former presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
The younger Paul has toed a moderate line on immigration and spoken at historically black colleges in this effort.
But this week, a conservative website broke the story that Jack Hunter, the director of new media on the senator's staff who also co-authored a book with him, has a history that is decidedly at odds with most notions of inclusivity.
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Hunter worked for some time as a radio personality in South Carolina, using the name "Southern Avenger" and wearing a Confederate flag face mask in public.
He also worked for a time as director of an organization that advocates the secession of Southern states, and he has toasted the assassin who killed President Abraham Lincoln.
"John Wilkes Booth's heart was in the right place. The Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln's murder automatically turned him into a martyr," Hunter said in 2004. He also has written that he raises a toast to Booth annually on the assassin's birthday.
Rand Paul remained mum about Hunter for a couple of days but yesterday stood by his man. "If I thought he was a white supremacist he would be fired immediately," the senator said.
Hunter has danced ever so delicately away from his past pronouncements.
"In radio, sometimes you're encouraged to be provocative and inflammatory," he said after his past became news. I "am embarrassed by some of the comments I made precisely because they do not represent me today," Hunter said.
All very nice — Americans love confessions and second chances — but Rand Paul can't have it both ways.
Spin it however you want, but embracing the Confederate flag, Southern secession and the man who killed a president known as The Great Emancipator are consistent with yearning for a time when enslaving black Americans was legal and acceptable in Southern states.
The fact that Hunter now claims he advocated those positions because it was his job to be provocative just adds "shameless opportunist" to the labels that can be applied to him.
Hunter is a sideshow. He can shape-shift at will.
Rand Paul, however, is a U.S. senator and an acknowledged presidential hopeful. He can't have it both ways.
It's time for Paul to decide whether he'll retain among his closest advisers a man who was willing to fan racial conflict and celebrate a presidential assassin just to make a buck, or if he wants to convince the public that his professed inclusivity is something more than political posturing.