Rand Paul’s past vs. Rand Paul’s future

RAND PAUL’S PAST VS. RAND PAUL’S FUTURE…. I’m generally inclined to cut political candidates, regardless of party or position, quite a bit of slack when it comes to antics from their college years. So long as at least a couple of decades have gone by, and we’re not talking about serious felonies, the “youthful indiscretion” catch-all generally works.

With extremist Senate candidate Rand Paul, though, his college years keep coming back to haunt him. In August, we learned that the Kentucky Republican allegedly kidnapped a fellow student, tried to force her to take bong hits, and demanded that she participate in a bizarre ritual involving an “Aqua Buddha.”

This week, even more of Paul’s college years is garnering attention.

Issues of the newsletter published by Paul’s secret society, the NoZe Brotherhood, during his time at Baylor reveal a more specific political problem for the Kentucky Republican: The group’s work often had a specifically anti-Christian tone, as it made fun of the Baptist college’s faith-based orientation.

Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, beat back charges in the Republican primary that his libertarian views put him outside the GOP mainstream. A practicing Christian, he has backed away from some of his father’s more radical views on cutting government programs and withdrawing the American military from conflicts abroad. But Paul’s Democratic rival, Jack Conway, has sought repeatedly to cast Paul as out of sync with “Kentucky values,” and the NoZe newsletter may provide more fodder.

It’s a stretch to characterize any of today’s revelations as scandalous. Indeed, it’s largely the opposite — in college, Paul smoked a lot of pot, was a libertarian, didn’t seem especially religious, and worshiped Ayn Rand. If you’d asked me to guess what he was like in the early ’80s, this is what I would have come up with.

The question, then, is whether any of this should matter in his Senate campaign. The answer, for me, is almost certainly not. I probably wrote plenty of papers in college that I would be embarrassed by now, and I certainly wouldn’t want those materials held against me if I sought public office. “Aqua Buddha,” in retrospect, got a little too much attention in August, and Paul’s college newspaper columns and secret society shouldn’t have any real bearing on voters now.

So, why does this stuff keep coming up? I suspect it’s because Paul remains something of a mystery, even to his allies. He’s the frontrunner for a U.S. Senate seat, but all the public really knows is that he’s a strange guy with extremist political beliefs who’s never held public office, created his own medical accreditation board, opposes most of the landmark legislative accomplishments of the 20th century, and apparently did some bizarre stuff in college.

He doesn’t know much about public policy; he doesn’t know much about Kentucky; and voters don’t know much about him. Like the candidate himself, the whole thing is just terribly odd.

For the record, so long as he never hurt anyone, I don’t care what Rand Paul did in college. I don’t think voters should, either.

I do care that he’s an extremist with a radical policy agenda right now.