Rand Paul’s war on basic honesty

"As Teddy Roosevelt once said, '
“As, ah, James Madison (?) once said, ‘stop getting on my ass about this trivial bullshit, OK?'”

Senator and soon-to-be presidential primary drop-out Rand Paul, who (full disclosure) has guest-blogged here in the past (we’ve also carried the full text of his speeches), has an ongoing problem, which is that he doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between “telling the truth” and “lying.” There was that whole thing where he decided to start reading Wikipedia articles in lieu of delivering original speeches. Also, we went through that little episode where it turns out that his board certification to practice medicine was more of a self-certification, not that he ever explained that to his patients. Now it turns out that he’s been attributing quotes to the Founding Fathers and to past US Presidents that actual scholars are pretty sure they never said. It’s reached the point where a couple of writers at Buzzfeed actually wrote an open letter to Paul begging him to stop:

Just this week you released a new book, Our President &Their Prayers: Proclamation of Faith by America’s Leaders, with co-author James Robison who “compiled and edited” the text. It too is full of fake quotations.

If you Google the language of the “National Prayer of Peace,” which you attribute to Thomas Jefferson, the first result is a page from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation debunking the quotation.

When we called Harold Holzer — who’s written 50 books on Abraham Lincoln and is the one of country’s foremost Lincoln scholars — to ask about a Lincoln quotation in your book, he replied, “Oh, not this again.”

Paul, who did (as far as we know) graduate from medical school, and therefore must have at least been given a student code of conduct as an undergraduate at some point in his life, responded to the criticism that he’s just making shit up and then misattributing it to famous people by calling the whole thing “partisan”:

“That guy,” Paul said dismissively, referring to [Buzzfeed’s Andrew] Kaczynski. “The only criticisms have come from some guy who’s a partisan. We discount partisans. However, there’s a ridiculous cottage industry out there of people who think they’re smarter than everyone else, and because certain quotes are disputed – well, yeah! If you want to say something’s not a Thomas Jefferson quote, you can get a whole book on whether it’s a quote or not.”

At least there’s no question that the above is an original Rand Paul quote, since it mostly doesn’t make any goddamn sense, but he then went on to essentially describe a call for minimally honest discourse as “idiocy” and “pedantry”:

“I mean, this idiot says the same thing about my speeches,” Paul said. “Do I need to say in my speech, ‘as many people attribute to Thomas Jefferson, but some people dispute,’ before I give the quote? It’s idiocy, it’s pedantry – it’s ridiculous stuff from partisan hacks. And I’d say that guy’s one of ‘em.”

Well, yes, Senator, that’s pretty much the bare minimum that you have to do in order that people don’t start to think that you’re just a complete liar. When you’re quoting other people to try to make a point, it’s generally considered proper to: 1) quote words that they actually wrote and/or spoke at some point in their lives, and 2) properly attribute their own words to them. It’s generally in bad form to pretend that somebody said something they didn’t or to just swipe somebody else’s words and claim them as your own.

Now, I know that Rand Paul and his staff tend to fall back on a “hey, it’s just politics” defense when confronted on this point, arguing, I guess, that if they were working in a “serious” field they would actually take the time to do this stuff the right way. But I have to say, if you’re running for president and pulling shit that would get you put on academic probation as a freshman in college, you’re doing it wrong. Passing somebody else’s words off as your own is lying. Pretending to be board-certified when you’re not is lying. Attributing made-up quotes to real people is lying. I realize that everybody lies, and everybody who runs for president probably lies more than the average person, but I’m not sure we should be electing people who do it quite so often, quite so trivially, and quite so reflexively.

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