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Rand Paul's Flight

When you watch a media feeding frenzy of the sort currently engulfing Rand Paul, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for the target. Paul has a coherent worldview, and news reporters encountering unfamiliar worldviews tend to ignore all the subtlety of the thought and reduce them to caricature. But two of Paul's qualities make me feel that he is actually, in an odd sense, getting off lightly.

The first is that Rand is wildly evasive. He's not attempting to explain his ideology while falling victim to a sound-bite press corps. He's desperately trying to deny his ideology. Paul explicitly believes, or at least believed, that the 1964 Civil Rights Act erred in forbidding private discrimination. But he simply changed the subject over and over to avoid explaining this belief, before finally abandoning it altogether without acknowledging that he ever held it. Likewise, he evaded a question about whether he supports the minimum wage. He seems to be attempting to run a stealth candidacy.

Second, I don't think even Rand's liberal critics have properly defined his ideology. We've been calling it "libertarian," but it's much more paleoconservative. Rand's conspiratorial belief that the government is secretly creating a Nafta superhighway is distinctly un-libertarian. And while you can't fully associate him with every view of his father, for whom he campaigned, Ron Paul published a relentlessly racist newsletter for years. Rand managed to win the primary mainly by defining his ideology in vague, right-wing populist terms. The media has a positive duty to force him to explain what he actually believes.