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Plagiarism Is the Least of Rand Paul’s Crimes

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Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, Tea Party Golden Boy, and 2016 presidential aspirant, is in a bit of a pickle these days. The short version is that he was caught lifting entire passages from Wikipedia in at least two of his recent speeches. There’s no dispute as to whether this is true. The videos are unequivocal.

My own reaction to this story is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, Rand Paul strikes me as an unctuous demagogue whose political ascent is a testament to the ignorance and bigotry of this country’s confederate coalition.

On the other hand … don’t we all sort of lean on Wikipedia these days?

If there’s a reason to be distressed ...  it’s because his speeches about complex policy issues such as education and reproductive choice are based on corny Hollywood movies.

Let’s be honest here, folks: if your job requires you to research topics of general interest (history, religion, popular culture, etc.), are you really going to march down to your local public library and check out 10 books? Or are you going to enter a few search words in the Google machine and let Wikipedia do the dirty business of distilling the data?

Wikipedia — like the Internet itself — is an incredibly powerful and seductive tool. It represents a radical democratization of information. Every schlub with a laptop now has access to the knowledge and wisdom of the ages. It’s a strange and thrilling time to be alive.

And while it’s popular to knock Wikipedia for being superficial or slanted, the entries are generally well-written, fact-checked, footnoted, and balanced.

As for Mr. Rand’s crimes of plagiarism, I have a hard time getting too worked up about them. What he did — or what his poor speechwriters did — was lift plot summaries of two recent films from Wikipedia. Big deal.

It’s not like the guy is claiming the words, or ideas, of a great thinker as his own. It’s more or less the opposite of that.

In fact, if there’s a reason to be distressed over Rand Paul as a senator, or potential president, it’s because his speeches about complex policy issues such as education and reproductive choice are based on corny Hollywood movies. Also, they make no sense.

The point of his most recent speech, for instance, is that new medical technologies allow scientists to learn a great deal about people’s genetic make-ups. For the most part, they use this knowledge to, you know, save people’s lives.

But to Rand, this kind of scientific progress, along with women having reproductive rights, will somehow lead to a future in which nefarious government officials practice eugenics on genetic have-nots. Just like in that weird Ethan Hawke movie “Gattaca.”

Got that?

If this sounds crazy and paranoid and intellectually incoherent that’s because it is. Rand’s pontification is based not on rational thought but the ranting of conspiracy theorists. And this is what’s alarming. His speeches are Libertarian fantasias masquerading as straight talk.

The same thing applies to his second plagiarized speech. This one was delivered to a conservative Hispanic group back in June. It was supposedly about immigration and education. But it was mostly intended to show how much Rand Paul wants Hispanics (read: Large and Growing Voting Bloc) to believe that he cares about them.

The reason you know he cares about them is because he said things like this:

“Unfortunately, the education establishment seems to casually discard Latinos, blacks, and others into crummy schools with no hope. I argue that the struggle for a good education is the civil rights issue of our day.”

Then he told what I’m sure he imagined was a heartwarming story, which amounted to a direct transcription of the Wikipedia entry for the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver,” about an intrepid math teacher in East Los Angeles who inspires his poor immigrant students to learn calculus.

What Rand Paul never mentioned to his audience is that, as a senator, his budget proposal called for the Department of Education to be cut by 83 percent. Because, see, the way you improve the “education establishment” of public schools isn’t by giving them the money necessary to improve “crummy schools with no hope.”

No, what you do is hire some intrepid teachers.

The real scandal — should our Free Press wish to pursue the matter — is this guy’s cruel and destructive policy positions and his frighteningly naïve beliefs.

Paul also never saw fit to mention to his audience that he once declared, on national television, that he doesn’t believe private businesses should have to abide by the  Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also failed to disclose that he’s an opponent of immigration reform, or that he once joked to Glenn Beck that he wanted to become an illegal immigrant so he could avoid Obamacare.

Because as any Hispanic knows, living the life of an illegal immigrant in this country is funny.

I could care less about candidate Rand Paul’s dopey habit of cribbing from Wikipedia. The real scandal — should our Free Press wish to pursue the matter — is this guy’s cruel and destructive policy positions and his frighteningly naïve beliefs.

Of course, if you’re a Rand Paul supporter, you can always tell yourself that I’m making all this up. The problem is, it’s all written down. On Wikipedia.


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This program aired on October 31, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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