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What Makes Rand Paul Strange

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sen. Rand Paul believes that vaccinating children should be up to the parents, an increasingly unpopular view after recent outbreaks of measles, mumps and other diseases. And throwing a newt's eye of quack science into the vat, the Kentucky Republican promotes the myth that these shots put children at risk.

The political results have been toil and trouble.

It's not easy being a politician and a principled libertarian. One who believes in the primacy of individual freedom often takes stances far from the mainstream. It is the true libertarian's lot to be unconventional, to bravely accept unwanted consequences in the name of liberty. By not going that extra philosophical mile -- and adding junk science to the mix -- Paul comes off as merely weird.

He was already fighting blowback when he ventured into an interview with CNBC's Kelly Evans.

"Well, I guess being for freedom would be really unusual," he responded to a question about whether vaccinations should be voluntary. "I don't understand ... why that would be controversial."

Does he not? Then he again gave credence to crazy talk of healthy children ending up with "profound mental disorders" after being vaccinated.

When the chat moved to taxes and Evans challenged some of his statements, he shushed her as though she were a little girl. "Calm down a bit here, Kelly," he said.

Clearly, it wasn't Kelly who needed calming.

By the end, Paul had accused Evans of being argumentative and blamed the media for distorting positions he had left purposely vague. Not his finest hour.

A real libertarian wanting his party's presidential nomination has only two choices:

1) Come clean and acknowledge the cost side of your beliefs. If you think parents have the right not to vaccinate their children, agree that more Americans might come down with preventable diseases as a result. Provocative, perhaps, but honest.

2) If you don't want that controversy tied around your neck, say that you have changed your mind on vaccinations and now hold that they should be required. Not totally honest but at least coherent.

Put into practice, libertarianism can make a mess. If parents have the right to endanger others by not getting their children immunized, why can't individuals decide whether they're too drunk to drive?

Paul does say that it's a good idea to have one's children vaccinated. Yes, and it's a good idea to drive while sober.

Libertarian purity led Paul to question a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act some years ago. He argued that the law interferes with a private business owner's right to discriminate.

Paul said he abhors racism, and we have no reason to doubt him. But his position, though principled, would have left the disaster of Jim Crow intact.

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow asked Paul this: "Do you think that a private business has a right to say, 'We don't serve black people'?"

His answer meandered along a familiar path. Private individuals have a right to hold hateful views, Paul responded, but he resented the question because it implied that he shares them. Actually, the question could not have been more straightforward.

Paul gets credit for letting the liberal Maddow interview him. And his libertarianism on other issues -- for example, his opposition to the war on drugs -- serves him well.

But he does himself no good by continually throwing smoke bombs at questioners trying to pin him down -- changing the subject and accusing them of mischaracterizing his position. If Paul thinks the price of individual freedom is worth paying, he should concede what that price is.

Otherwise, he ends up where he is, stirring a boiling cauldron of weird politics.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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