Accusations of plagiarism have mushroomed from a minor scrape with the media to a wave of bad press for Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. The senator’s reaction to the allegations has been criticized as bombastic, adversarial, and tantrum-like at times. What can Paul do to salvage this situation and continue with his career?
Rachel Maddow enjoyed exposing Paul’s plagiarism. She put on her best Jon Stewart imitation, mirthfully sharing details about how Paul’s speech at a Ken Cuccinelli fundraiser nearly mirrored the Wikipedia plot description of “Gattaca.” Grinning all the while and on the verge of frothing at the mouth, Maddow waxed about how this might impair Paul’s future political ambitions.
Reporters capitalized on Maddow’s find and were able to easily uncover more instances of word-lifting from Paul’s speeches. Buzzfeed noticed that Paul lifted from an article in The Week to pad his own op-ed for the Washington Times. Paul’s op-ed now bears an editor’s note reading, “Portions of the following article should have been attributed to ‘Rethinking mandatory sentencing,’ an article written by Dan Stewart that appeared in The Week on Sept. 14, 2013.” Paul will no longer write columns for the Washington Times, shifting instead to Breitbart.
Paul drew additional attention to himself with a slew of rather undiplomatic remarks he made in the wake of the plagiarism stories. “If dueling were legal in Kentucky…it’d be a duel challenge,” the senator remarked. “I can go back to being a doctor anytime, if they’re tired of me. I’ll go back to being a doctor, and I’ll be perfectly content,” he told the New York Times. On reporters breaking stories about him, he said, “If I were their journalism teacher in college, I would fail them.” Maddow seized on Paul’s ire, saying he was in the middle of a “meltdown” and “all but breaking down,” someone who “can’t handle criticism of things he has done wrong.”
Adding to his list of troubles, Jennifer Rubin wrote last week in the Washington Post about Paul’s dubious ophthalmology certifications, raising the question of whether the senator is legally qualified to claim certified status. Rubin pointed to an older story about how Paul was certified through an ophthalmology organization which he chartered himself. It turns out the organization has been defunct since 2011, meaning that Paul might not be a certified medical practitioner. Rubin writes that Paul’s office essentially dodged her questions about Paul’s certifications, and this might bode poorly for him when he is subjected to more intense scrutiny in future campaigns.
Here are a few things Paul can to make all this right.
He should start by apologizing for the admittedly juvenile remarks he made in the wake of the plagiarism revelations. If one of Paul’s staffers wrote speeches and copied chunks from other people’s writing, it’s almost a non-issue. The senator’s response included some proactive steps in that regard: He told the New York Times that he would enact “a more diligent system within his office to footnote and attribute material.” That would have been sufficient, but instead the senator went on to call the reporters writing about him “haters.” This turned something that could’ve been a kitschy and slightly embarrassing footnote into a full-on chapter in Paul’s history.
The senator should also come clean about any other possible instances of plagiarism and reveal them now. It was a bit disappointing to learn that many of the senator’s public statements, including part of his remarks at the Values Voter Summit last month, which TAS covered, were copied from other people’s work. And that Paul’s book Government Bullies had over 1,000 words expropriated from Heritage Foundation policy papers is embarrassing. It’s obvious when the senator is offering anecdotes that he is reading from a script of sorts. But he should at least order his writers to produce their own accounting of the situations, rather than plagiarize. It would be advisable for Paul to apologize to any writer whose work was clearly plagiarized in his speeches.
On his ophthalmology certifications, Paul must explain the current state of his practice. He should address the ambiguities surrounding his medical license. At the same time, he should point out whatever excellence he can find in his record as a physician, and hopefully produce evidence of a sterling reputation and fine work.
Finally, Paul should go on the talk show circuit. He’d do well to approach Maddow, who would have to be crazy not to have him on her show. Paul should be the very picture of contriteness, he should show humility. And he should kill Maddow with kindness. Yes, anyone would love to see him and Maddow pummel each other to death, perhaps in a steel cage. But language like that distracts from Paul’s issue advocacy. Besides, Paul has shown himself willing to politely take on Maddow before, even famously debating a section of the Civil Rights Act with her.
Paul fights the good fight in lots of important areas. He has a strong record on defending civil liberties and condemning drone strikes. He’s great on regulatory overreach, which he made the subject of his book. And Paul has recently been taking a strong stance against mandatory minimums, an issue which is important both to liberals and libertarians and doesn’t get nearly enough press.
All Paul has to do is make sure he fights the fight with his own words.