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Rand Paul's personality predicament

Sen. Rand Paul articulated a real stunner in what appeared to be prepared remarks in the Senate. He said "Some of them [people in Washington], I think, secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me."

Dispensing for a moment the megalomania of Mr. Paul's perceived centrality to others' perception of the war on terror, does he really believe that some people want a terrorist attack to prove him personally wrong on his opposition to NSA's collection of bulk data and the Patriot Act?

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The irresponsible attribution of motives is the latest in a long line of foolish positions and foolish inconsistencies in Senator Paul's rhetorical quiver. As I have written on these pages, not all changes of heart are suspect in politicians. Some positional change merely reflects that situations change. I would argue that even for many politicians' original votes and subsequent reversals on the invasion of Iraq, including Hillary Clinton's.

Indeed, the inconsistency gotcha attacks on some political leaders leads one to the famous dictum of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Rand Paul gives me the opportunity to point out that indulging inconsistency has its limits.

In a 2011 interview with ABC News, Senator Paul stated, "I think [Israel is] an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world. Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don't think so."

Subsequently, he denied proposing legislation to end federal aid to Israel falsely implying that he never took such a position.

The inference that Senator Paul is an isolationist was originally derived from the isolationism of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, who has taken a wide array of non-mainstream positions, some of them appalling. These include vile anti-black and anti-Semitic screeds published in his long-running newsletter, though the former House member claims he was unaware of them.

In September of last year, Senator Paul told Sean Hannity, in a classic false dilemma, that he was "neither an isolationist nor an interventionist." Arguing for an ad hoc foreign policy might be an improvement over the current president's leading-from-behind, non-interventionist strategy, but it allows for no predictability for friendly and unfriendly principals. In other words, with President Rand Paul the impetus for nuclear proliferation would be continued by the lack of dependability on the United States. Already there are rumblings of nuclear acquisitiveness by Middle East states and others who no longer feel they can rely on the United States.

In April of this year, Senator Paul's kerfuffle with Today Show host Savannah Guthrie on the heels of his other clashes with media personages revealed a personality unfit for the presidency. Keep in mind that my views and Ms. Guthrie's general liberalism are quite at odds:

Ms. Guthrie: "You have had views in the past on foreign policy that are somewhat unorthodox, but you seem to have changed over the years. You once said Iran was not a threat, now you say it is. You once proposed ending foreign aid to Israel; you now support it, at least for the time being. And you once offered to drastically cut … [cross talk] so I wonder if you've mellowed out."

Mr. Paul [testily]: "Yeah, why don't we let me explain instead of talking over me, OK? Before we go through a litany of things you say I've changed on, why don't you ask me a question: 'Have I changed my opinion?'"

Ms. Guthrie: "OK, is Iran still not a threat?"

Mr. Paul: "No no no; you've editorialized it. … [Ask,] "Have your views changed?" instead of editorializing and saying my views have changed."

Mr. Paul subsequently admitted that he is "universally short-tempered and testy with both male and female reporters."

Point granted, he is not sexist, but substantively and temperamentally Senator Rand Paul is not qualified to be the Republican presidential nominee.

Richard Vatz has taught political persuasion at Towson University for four decades and is author of "The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion" (Kendall Hunt). His email is rvatz@towson.edu.

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