What will Rand be for halloween? Real ideas obscured by plagiarism


The Wikipedia entry on Rand Paul, Kentucky's junior U.S. senator, covers a lot of ground but mentions nothing about what he liked to be on Halloween.

Judging from the flexible persona of the adult Rand, one wonders if the little boy changed costumes from block to block after determining the preferences of the adults handing out candy.

The sheriff with a big tin star for the law-and-order crowd; Robin Hood, perhaps, for the liberal enclave.

In his early months in the Senate, Paul gave vent to the campaign-trail theatrics that got him there: waffling on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American with Disabilities Act, criticizing low-flow toilets and calling President Barack Obama "un-American" for criticizing BP after the Gulf oil spill, agitating to disband the Federal Reserve Board.

As a presidential hopeful, Paul has generally tamed his inner Libertarian, at least in public, in an effort to appeal to a broader — read more mainstream — constituency.

But then early this week, Paul gave a strange speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

Liberty's right-wing credentials aren't to be questioned. A lengthy controversy arose in 2009 when the school revoked recognition of the College Democrats club, saying, "the Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University."

Ultimately the school resolved the conflict, which could have threatened its non-profit status, deciding not to officially recognize any political clubs on campus.

So, Liberty U. was a welcoming neighborhood for Paul, one where he could drop the I'm-really-rational guise of a presidential candidate and let loose.

That he did with an anti-abortion screed that equated abortion with genetic engineering to create a master race.

To illustrate this doomsday eugenics scenario, Paul recounted the storyline of a 1997 movie flop, Gattica, in which infants get thumbs up or down based on their genetic traits.

It's bad enough to base a political position on a 16-year-old film that few people saw and fewer remember but in discussing Gattica, Paul plagiarized liberally from the Wikipedia account of the film, lifting hunks of description virtually word for word without ever acknowledging the online source.

Not surprisingly, this didn't go unnoticed. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow recounted Paul's heavy lifting on her show. Take a look on YouTube if you haven't seen it yet.

Political commentators are mixed on the plagiarism's import. Some downplay it, saying it's naive to think politicians actually write anything they say, relying as they do on staffers, talking points, etc.

Others point out that plagiarism has derailed candidates in the past and should be taken seriously.

Paul has said nothing.

But with Paul's shape-shifting history, the plagiarism raises a more fundamental concern. If the senator, or his staff, relies on key-word searches on Wikipedia to flesh out his positions, how will the public ever determine what he actually believes, or knows?