Rand Paul's Smearing of John McCain

Rand Paul's Smearing of John McCain

By Mark Salter - September 23, 2014

Rand Paul is either a liar or too easily captivated by the kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories that excite many of his and his father’s supporters, a cohort long overrepresented by political fringe dwellers.

I would give him the benefit of the doubt but I’m not sure which characterization -- dissembler or crackpot -- would be more generous. Nor are they mutually exclusive. It’s quite possible, likely even, that he is both. In either case, as a recent incident confirms, he is completely unsuited to his apparent ambition -- election to the presidency.

The incident I refer to is the Kentucky senator’s accusation that Sen. John McCain, my longtime employer, in a meeting in Syria last year with Free Syrian Army leaders, also met with representatives of ISIL, including its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The charge is false and provably so, but that has not deterred Paul from repeating it.

The smear seems to have originated with a Hezbollah-owned television station in Lebanon, and gained currency with various conspiracy-mongering websites, with someone manufacturing an obviously Photoshopped picture of McCain giving Baghdadi a medal. Every reputable news organization that examined the charge, including the New York Times and Washington Post, has debunked it.

The senator and other participants in the meeting repeatedly denied ISIL representatives were present. Every person in the photograph taken at the meeting has been publicly identified. An ISIL spokesman violently denounced the meeting and threatened to murder the participants. But Rand Paul either still believes the falsehood, which makes him a fool, or he has decided to defame a man -- who suffered greatly for his country -- by accusing him of consorting with the enemy, which makes Paul despicable.

Paul was repeating the slander as recently as last week in an interview with the Daily Beast after the New York Times debunked it. Perhaps Paul will claim he hasn’t seen recent articles exposing the charge as false. Maybe he doesn’t read the New York Times. But I guarantee that unless he is staffed by the most incompetent imbeciles in politics, Paul has been informed there isn’t evidence to support the accusation and much evidence that refutes it, not the least of which is that some of the people identified in the photograph have been killed by ISIL.

All of this raises obvious questions about the sincerity of Paul’s recent efforts to moderate the paranoid radicalism that so delights 9/11 deniers and Ayn Rand fanboys who are the foot soldiers of the would-be Ron and Rand Paul revolution, but will cause most voters quite sensibly to reject him.

Paul has publicly speculated that a national security-obsessed U.S. government might deliberately kill an American citizen as he or she innocently sipped a mocha latte at their neighborhood Starbucks. He has called for devastating cuts in the defense budget. He wants to slash foreign aid. He is skeptical of U.S. membership in multilateral organizations and its military presence almost anywhere overseas. This past June he argued in the Wall Street Journal against attacking ISIL. Now, after ISIL murdered two Americans and political opinion in the country has shifted decisively toward a military response, Paul urges we “get on with destroying” it.

Is he sincere? I doubt it. Particularly since Paul, having ostensibly willed the end (the destruction of ISIL) is even more reluctant than President Obama to will the means (the arming of the Free Syrian Army and the possible introduction of U.S. ground forces to the conflict).

More likely, Paul recognizes that Americans, even in unstable and desperate times, always avoid electing fringe figures to the White House. He is trying to fashion a more mainstream political profile, and he’s not above using deception and the defamation of a fellow senator and a patriot to do it.

It won’t work, of course. Even if the “dog standing on its hind legs” quality of Paul’s act occasionally fascinates some political reporters, Paul’s past record and his present immaturity and character -- if his persistence in smearing McCain is an indicator -- will prove fatal vulnerabilities. His previous positions and associations will be gifts that keep on giving to his opponents’ research staffs.

Even if he doesn’t have a prayer of being elected president, Rand Paul still deserves opprobrium for his libels, and a little more skepticism from reporters who think he’s something new in Republican politics. He’s not. Both parties have always had their share of conspiracy fetishists among their ranks. Some professed so openly and some tried to obscure their views. None were ever nominated for, much less elected, president. 

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

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