If he hopes to be regarded as presidential timber, Kentucky's Rand Paul should rack up some bipartisan accomplishments in the Senate, while taking a break from grandstanding on camera.
In a dizzying span of a few days, Paul went from looking like a serious reformer and consensus builder — as he and Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, teamed up to push much-needed curbs on civil forfeiture abuses — to looking like a doofus.
Some of what Paul said — "vaccines are one of the greatest medical breakthroughs" — in his now notorious CNBC interview was reasonable.
His complete reply would have been ragingly moderate in the paranoid political circles in which he hung before election to the Senate or at a gathering of the science-denying, anti-government Association of American Physicians and Surgeons of which he is a long-time member.
But Paul is in the exploratory stages of a presidential campaign; the country is in the midst of a measles outbreak brought on, at least in part, by parents afraid to have their children immunized because of debunked claims of a link between childhood vaccines and autism.
In that context, Paul deserves all the rebukes he's gotten, including from fellow Republicans, for saying: "I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines."
The fact that he's a physician compounds the offense.
Also, he said, "the state doesn't own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom and public health." Last we checked owning humans has been outlawed for a while.
Paul quickly backed off, insisting he never said vaccines caused disorders just that they were "temporally related." He should have apologized for irresponsibly misleading the public.
Leading this country demands self-discipline and prudence. Every public word the president utters, every facial expression, are analyzed around the world. Anyone testing the presidential waters invites extra scrutiny.
Paul also risks undermining his credibility on issues on which he's right, such as the abusive seizure of cars, cash and real estate by local and state authorities without warrants or criminal charges. Paul is part of a bipartisan coalition that's sponsoring reform of asset forfeitures which have spiraled out of control.
He runs the same risk of losing credibility on his outreach to the black community and black members of Congress on criminal sentencing, police brutality and voting rights — genuine injustices to which his party has been willfully blind.
Besides honing the universally desirable habit of thinking before he speaks, Paul could learn a lot about governing by working with others to move legislation.
Even if it doesn't get him to the White House, he could do some good for Kentucky and the country.