The easy impulse today would be to shake our heads in wonderment, yet again, at the antics of the tea-party Senate candidates – in Alaska, Joe Miller’s goons putting a working journalist in handcuffs; in Nevada, Sharron Angle telling a group of Latino kids, “I don’t know that all of you are Latino, some of you look a little more Asian to me”; in Colorado, Ken Buck still trying to explain why he compared homosexuality to alcoholism – but instead let’s check out the preposterous Democratic TV ad now airing in Kentucky.
I stand by my recent verdict that Florida Democratic congressman Alan Grayson has sponsored the worst TV ad of the election season (worst is a synonym for disgraceful, mendacious, and inaccurate). But Jack Conway, the Democratic senatorial candidate in Kentucky, has arguably locked down second place by performing a two-fer slime job on his tea-party opponent, Rand Paul.
Besides, I never expected to discuss the 2010 midterm elections while actually typing the words “Aqua Buddha.” Who needs the satire in The Onion, when craven reality will suffice?
There are plenty of policy grounds on which to question the creds of Rand Paul, the libertarian who infamously has suggested, among other things, that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was an unfair intrusion on the sovereignty of private business. But Conway apparently senses that he’s going to lose, and that only a desperate lunge for the jugular can potentially turn the tide. How else to explain his decision to dredge up some of the juvenile stuff that Paul did in college…30 years ago?
From the Conway ad, which debuted this past weekend: “Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Bible a ‘hoax?’ That was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ? Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol, and say his God was ‘Aqua Buddha?'”
The ad refers to Paul’s youthful membership in an iconoclastic group, the so-called NoZe Brotherhood, that took a strong (and often satirical) stand against religion. The ad also refers to an alleged incident (reported last August in GQ magazine, based on an anonymous source), in which Paul and a college classmate tied up and blindfolded a woman, and tried to get her to smoke marijuana before commanding her to kneel down and worship Aqua Buddha.
You can’t make this stuff up. Quite the contrary, everything in the preceding paragraph may well be true.
But so what?
As many of you probably know from personal experience, people do all kinds of nutty things in college. People experiment with drugs, puke at parties, embrace political views that later strike them as repugnant, and frequently thumb their noses at all manner of authority (the school, the government, the church, whatever you got). And that latter impulse was what the NoZe Brotherhood was all about.
So young Rand Paul, somewhere around 1980, mocked Christianity while engaging in a particularly distasteful example of frat-house-style hazing? Democratic candidate Conway seems to think his ad is a potential silver bullet. I am profoundly underwhelmed. So is the woman who bowed down to Aqua Buddha; as she told The Washington Post two months ago (while still maintaining her anonymity), “The whole thing has been blown out of proportion. They didn’t force me, they didn’t make me…I went along because they were my friends. Thete was an implicit degree of cooperation in the whole thing.”
Conway, while defending his ad last night on MSNBC, insisted: “It’s wrong to mock people of faith.” In other words, Conway thinks that a college student’s lampooning of religion should automatically disqualify that person from elective office 30 years later. But since when are we supposed to judge a candidate on the basis of his faith – or lack of faith? Last I heard, the U.S. Constitution prohibits a religious test for elective office.
Conway is clearly trying to dampen turnout among Christian conservatives by tagging Paul as an atheist, but there’s something un-American about intimating that atheists and other insufficiently Christian people are not qualified for office. Democrats are often enraged when the looniest Obama critics pass judgment on the president by falsely assailing him as a non-Christian; Democrats should be just as repulsed by a party colleague who invites Kentucky voters to pass judgment on Rand Paul via a religious test.
And this penchant for dredging up collegiate behavior is getting out of control. Unless the future candidate was thrown out of college for committing a crime – something egregiously serious, in other words – these trips down memory lane don’t mean squat. Democrats were enraged recently when Delaware tea-partier Christine O’Donnell, and various conservative commentators, tagged Senate opponent Chris Coons as a “Marxist” simply because of an article he wrote for his college paper 25 years ago; Democrats should just be just as repulsed by Conway’s trudge through the same muck. (Some Democrats apparently are; yesterday, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said: “This ad if a very dangerous ad because it reaches back to college.”)
In the end, of course, the voters in Kentucky will pass judgment on the ad. I won’t be shocked if they determine that the Democrat’s demagoguery was evidence of his desperation. And voters are generally loathe to reward desperation.
But now it’s back to the tea-party antics, because there is a new one – and it’s priceless. Naturally, it involves Christine O’Donnell.
During a Delaware debate with Coons today, she asked: “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Coons informed her that the First Amendment barred government from establishing any religion.
Whereupon she skeptically replied (and I swear this is what she said):
“You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”
Uh yeah, that’s what he’s telling you. Fetch yourself a copy of the First Amendment, Christine. Put your finger on the words. Read along. Move your lips if you have to. It states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
If tea-partiers want to present themselves as the defenders of the document, they should at least know what it says.