Back a few years ago, when Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky was talking with
students, he was asked if he
had any good advice about an upcoming comprehensive exam. It was an easy chance
to wow the easily-wowed crowd with a sample of University
of Louisville Rand's
What he said, however, gives us a very clear insight into the character of the Senator from
He told the impressionable minds that on exams he never cheated. He didn't condone cheating he said. Then he added:
But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important."
He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. "We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver," he said. "We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver" and not studying much else."So, that's my advice," he concluded. "Misinformation works."
It's an interesting (and somewhat disturbing) peek into the Paul sense of ethics. Cheating is, in Paul's mind, more disreputable than spreading false information. A unique position to say the least.
A Breakdown of Rand's Rationalization
Most people however, would categorize spreading misinformation as, no matter how it is rationalized, lying. When you spread misinformation (as opposed to mere gossip) you are actively aware that the information is untrue.
So, we can assume that lying, in Rand Paul's eyes, is okay. It is not only acceptable, it is something to boast about to a younger generation.
In any case, Paul's distinction between the two is absurd. To cheat means to spread misinformation about one's abilities or knowledge or qualities of character. If I cheat on an exam, I am spreading the untrue proof that my knowledge is greater than what it actually is.
And if a cheating husband tells his wife, "Yes, dear, I cheated on you. But- wait!- I never lied to you!" most women would have the good common sense to throw whatever is close at hand.
So for him to say he doesn't condone cheating but he thinks spreading lies is perfectly alright is in itself spreading misinformation. The distinction that Paul uses is just another example of his free-form lying.
In fact, when it comes to rationalizing unethical behavior, Paul seems to be quite adept. He has been called a "serial plagiarist" when he was accused of multiple counts of plagiarism -- both in a book he wrote and in speeches he gave. Is this not cheating? According to Rand, it was not cheating or lying, it was just plain sloppiness on his part.
He flummoxed at the very accusation:
“I take it as an insult and I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting..I have never intentionally done so.”
(Again match that statement with the advice he gave the medical students. He had earlier said spreading misinformation was okay, a good thing to do.)
Keep in mind also that it was at about the same time a career ending plagiarism allegation ruined the chances for Democratic Sen. John Walsh (D-MT).
And years before that, newspaper stories charged that Joseph Biden (then one of Democratic contender 1988 presidential election) had plagiarized a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock, Biden was so scandalized and humiliated, he dropped out of the race.
Today the standards are so low that candidates begin their presidential races where in 1988, candidates left with their head hung low in abject shame.
On a personal level, this kind of rationalization for naughty behavior would tend to make for failed business decisions, shallow friendships and wrecked marriages. He would be a person that good and wise people would steer clear of. However, when a person like decides to run for the highest office, then it is another thing altogether.
If Rand Paul genuinely believes that misinformation works (meaning, lying is a means of attaining your goals) then how could any self-respecting voter think about voting for such a person. Rand's advice should make us all stop and think what it would mean in practice if given power to make important that could effect millions.
The Downward Spiral of Dishonesty
Oh, but all politicians all lie, is the usual cynical answer. Perhaps, but not so many actually laugh and brag about it. Hardly any of them would openly recommend the practice of lying. Most politicans are not so boldly stupid nor so immoral. (Or maybe they are better at hiding it.)
How can we expect our children, our spouses and our employees to be honest when we have supported a man who thinks spreading lies is "a great tactic?"
As the late Stephen Richards Covey, an educator and author, said:
The more people rationalize cheating, the more it becomes a culture of dishonesty. And that can become a vicious, downward cycle. Because suddenly, if everyone else is cheating, you feel a need to cheat, too.
Who would voluntarily want to live in a society where- starting at the top- everybody cheats and lies and then makes up a suitable story to make it all perfectly ok. Do we want to live in a world where our public servants openly lie and then get huffy when the falsehood is pointed out? We are very close to that already.
Don't American citizens deserve a little better than this? At the end of the day, the true answer to that question is demonstrated by the things we accept as routine, by the people we respect and by the leaders we choose to govern us all.