Not Exactly the Moral of the Story

"U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks in Washington on Dec. 2, 2014." (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Compartmentalization. Equivocation. Misdirection.

Watch the birdie.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has once again dug himself a hole, and yes, he’s annoyed that anyone noticed:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday continued to walk back his comments that parents should be allowed to choose whether to vaccinate their children, saying he holds the same position as President Barack Obama on the matter.

“I got annoyed that people were trying to depict me as someone who doesn’t think vaccines were a good idea,” Paul told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday, noting that he had been vaccinated before a recent trip to Guatemala and had vaccinated his children.

“I’m not sure I’m different from the president or anyone else on the position,” Paul said. “We have rules to encourage people to have vaccines in the country, but I don’t think anybody’s recommending that we hold them down.”


Did you catch that?

What’s that? The Republican junior from Kentucky wants to stand with President Obama?

Take a moment to enjoy that one.

Because, you know … that’s not all.

President Obama didn’t connect vaccines to “profound mental disorders,” but Rand Paul did. President Obama has never connected vaccines to “martial law,” but Rand Paul has.


Nor, as Steve Benen reminded in the next paragraph, was President Obama ever part of an alternative-medicine association that sounds pretty much like a physicians’ version of the infamous NARTH; that is to say, an organization for professionals to exploit their certifications as fallacious appeals to authority in order to promote discredited quackery.

Or, as Jeremy W. Peters and Barry Meier put it for the New York Times:

Back in 2009, when Rand Paul was pursuing his long-shot bid to win Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary, he spoke to a small physicians’ association that has publicized discredited medical theories, including possible links between vaccines and autism and between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer.

At the time, Mr. Paul, an ophthalmologist, was no stranger to the group, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. He boasted at its annual meeting that he had been a member for more than two decades and that he relied on its research, statistics and views about the role of government in medicine.

“I am not a newcomer to AAPS,” Mr. Paul said, referring to the group.

There is an encouraging trend suggesting itself in recent days, or perhaps one might counter with the phrase dubiously hopeful. As we continue to revisit settled controversies―despite Mr. Paul’s anti-institutional fearmongering about mandates, for instance, that question was settled over a century ago―there seems to be some sense that traditionally sleighted groups are putting their feet down, and finding public support. The trend is that the exceptions appear to be running out of time; in most cases it appears that is at least in part because of public weariness about both the discussion in general and the exceptions in particular. And this weariness that leads to wariness would, if real, be genuinely encouraging.

We must at some point recognize the axiom that while equality is a step up for the vast majority, it necesarily requires the denigration of privilege; and that privilege is often presupposed by the privileged as a right for the simple fact that they are accustomed to seeing the world that way, and have enjoyed widespread acceptance of that outlook.

But it is the strangest theme insofar as it is present in seemingly small things―the metal censorship wars of the eighties loomed huge in youth, but come on, really?―as well as large. Consider the excess of privilege. They hauled musicians in front of Congress to answer for art. It seems small, but recall Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. The thing is that what Akin said about women’s magickal … er … um … come on, don’t make me say it, okay? The thing is that it is actually a widespread belief pushed by, well, quackery; and the quack in question is Dr. John Willke, who pushed that particular idiocy both during and after his tenure as president of the National Right to Life Committee. And Mourdock? He actually used the phrase “gift from God”, and, yeah, then there was what happened next.

And consider Scott Lively. And please understand that without him marriage equality might not be happening. Future generations will scrutinize the concept of coming out with a weird fascination, wondering at this phenomenal threshold. But it was one of the most powerful influences on the board in this fight, because it brought homosexuality closer to everyone; in the end it’s nearly impossible to not know someone who happens to be gay. The other massive piece on the table was the excessive desperation of privilege. For a number of reasons, some of which involve the astounding rhetoric we heard not only from Akin and Murdoch, but also former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX14), a handful of public officials, the idea of Operation Rescue taking credit for terrorism and nobody seeming to want to talk about it, and other bizarre episodes involving subjects coincidentally pertaining to women, the social conservative bloc has been losing influence over recent decades. And part of what we are witnessing in this seemingly vicious denigration around certain human rights issues is a cultural influence in full-blown neurotic rupture. It is not surprising to consider the list of conservative closet cases, including a founder of one of these quack organizations―George Rekers, formerly of NARTH―fell from grace and spilled their secrets into the open. They’re coming apart. And as a result, the case against whatever they’re complaining about―e.g., women’s human rights, civil rights for homosexuals, hell, remember premarital sex and cohabitation?―starts to sound more and more absurd.

So then there’s this big swing bloc that wants to be really cautious and judicious about who gets civil rights, or whatever. And there comes a point where they start to roll because, well, this is the spectacle, and it is disgraceful. You know, something tacit, like, “Really? That’s what it takes to say this is right?”

And it just happened again, and the thing is that this has been a growing issue overseas; it doesn’t get much play in the United States, but right now it is, because this thing that used to simply be a bunch of flaky celebrities pissing people off by saying something so stupid as to actually be dangerous suddenly found itself in the clumsy hands of two of the most watched 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls. Chris Christie is getting thrashed, and his part in this public relations gaffe is pretty much dimmed by other issues making for more of a political waking nightmare in which this sort of blunder feels like a good day. Rand Paul, meanwhile … well, right.

And it seems like this time people are just sick of it. That happens, sometimes. The fact that two expected presidential headliners―and we can wonder about the scandal-plagued Christie as a contender all we want, and it won’t change the fact that people keep giving him attention, will it?―not only landed on the wrong side of the issue but also did so with the complete lack of something, something, something. No, seriously, could either of them have done worse?

Senator Rand Paul got a hepatitis A booster shot at the Capitol on Tuesday to help demonstrate his support for vaccinations. (Jeremy W. Peters/The New York Times)But Sen. Paul? We know why he is a contender; his supporters just don’t care how ill-prepared he is for the role he is attempting to play. That he is a farce unto himself will, in the early primaries, be an asset, but a question remains whether or not he can make it through Ames without embarrassing himself yet again. And it might well be that in this issue, that instinctive revulsion is in effect: Really? This is what it takes?

And even the GOP is putting its foot down. That’s the thing; this issue was settled, and yet we might note the coincidence of women and health care specifically, because that is another question in which some on the right wing hoped to turn back the clock and pretend there was still room for discussion on questions like who ultimately has authority over any given human female. And in this question of vaccination, yes, it looks like it happened that quickly: What? You want attention? Okay, we will give you enough attention to actually and explicitly say no.

We will see who lands where if legislation to strike exceptions actually makes it out of the hopper, but for now, no, the question is not open for discussion. And perhaps the fact that it happened that way is more important than Messrs. Paul and Christie managing to drop so many jaws.


Levine, Sam. “Rand Paul Now Says He Shares Obama’s Position On Vaccinations”. The Huffington Post. 4 February 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Rand Paul falls in a ditch, keeps digging”

Peters, Jeremy W. and Barry Meier. “Rand Paul Is Linked to Doctors’ Group That Supports Vaccination Challenges”. The New York Times. 4 February 2015.

Supreme Court of the United States of America. Jacobson v. Massacusetts. 197 U.S. 11. 20 February, 1905.

Belluck, Pam. “Health Experts Dismiss Assertions on Rape”. The New York Times. 20 August 2012.

Groer, Anne. “Indiana GOP Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock says God ‘intended’ rape pregnancies”. The Washington Post. 24 October 2012.

Parker, Jameson. “American Pastor Who Helped Uganda Create ‘Kill The Gays’ Law Will Be Tried For Crimes Against Humanity”. Addicting Info. 8 December 2014.

Ambinder, Marc. “Rand Paul and Chris Christie’s big whoops: The GOP isn’t actually anti-vax”. The Week. 4 February 2015.

Redden, Molly. “Chris Christie Is Now Waging 23 Court Battles to Keep State Documents Secret”. Mother Jones. 4 February 2015.

Sirota, David. “Chris Christie Administration Is Target Of New Federal Criminal Probe”. International Business Times. 5 February 2015.

Maddow, Rachel. “New video makes Rand Paul backpedal on vaccines even less convincing”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc, New York. Television. 4 February 2015.

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