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Opinion: Rand Paul, part-time individualist

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Rand Paul is a fan of individual freedom, specifically the freedom of one individual: himself.

Paul, the junior senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, gets a lot of attention these days with popular opinion saying he’s the likely Tea Party candidate in the Republican presidential primary. Paul has made it abundantly clear, however, that the kind of attention he has received in the last few days is not to his liking. It began last week, when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pointed out that a recent speech by Paul contained language that was apparently copied directly from the Wikipedia page for the movie “Gattaca.”

This could be explained as a simple mistake, an oversight by the senator’s staff. By itself, the incident appears just to be a quirky little goof, nothing more than a drop in the bucket. But the drops kept coming. On Nov. 2, Buzzfeed reported that three whole pages of the senator’s book “Government Bullies” were copied word-for-word from a 10-year-old Heritage Foundation study. On Nov. 5, the conservative newspaper The Washington Times announced that it would no longer publish commentary from Paul after it found that Paul had plagiarized sections of one of his columns from another publication.

At this point, two possibilities appear to emerge. Either Sen. Paul suffers from a rare compulsive disorder that forces him to plagiarize everything he produces, or the great libertarian candidate for 2016 is incapable of an original thought.

At issue here is not simply that Rand Paul plagiarized so much of the material that helped make him a libertarian advocate and a contender for 2016, it’s also that the senator has very little apparent remorse given the language he has used to explain these incidents and apologize for them.

Sen. Paul told the National Review on Wednesday that the reports on his plagiarized material “annoy the hell out of me.” According to the New York Times, Sen. Paul is now referring to the reporters who have uncovered and published evidence of his plagiarizing as “haters” and promises to add footnotes to the material coming out of his office, not to necessarily correct any problem, but rather in the hopes that “it will make people leave me the hell alone.”

These comments are highly indicative of the problem with Rand Paul and perhaps with high profile Tea Party leaders in general. They place so much emphasis on the individual that the individual is all they imagine matters. Conspicuously enough, the individuals who matter most often happen to be themselves.

It doesn’t occur to Rand Paul that these reports and the embarrassment that has followed them are not devised to annoy him, but rather to inform the public on a breach of ethics. It doesn’t occur to Rand Paul that he must change his ways not because people won’t “leave him the hell alone,” but because he is doing something wrong. Here is an ambitious, upstart politician who has ridden to fame and fortune and the edge of presidential candidacy partially on borrowed words, and his main regret seems to be that anyone noticed.

Therein lies the grand hypocrisy of the Tea Party. Individual responsibility applies to everyone but themselves, and certainly not to Rand Paul.

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