Rand Paul's coronavirus posturing goes from bad to cringe-worthy

On Ebola and the coronavirus, Rand Paul did the same thing: he urged the public not to trust public-health experts and the nation's leading authorities.
Image: Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walks to the Senate chamber at the Capitol on July 31, 2019.J. Scott Applewhite / AP
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By Steve Benen

The first sign of trouble came in early March, when Congress approved a modest $8.3 billion emergency bill to respond to the coronavirus. The bipartisan measure passed the Senate 96 to 1 -- and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the lone opponent.

Two months later, the Kentucky Republican said mitigation efforts in New York were not especially effective in saving lives, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, before arguing that the crisis has been "relatively benign" outside of "New England." (We can apparently add geography to the things Rand Paul doesn't understand as well as he probably should.)

But at the same Senate hearing in May, the GOP senator also seemed to take aim at epidemiological expertise, complaining, "I don't think any of these experts are omniscient." Paul added, "[W]e have to take with a grain of salt these experts and their prognostications."

Yesterday, as The Daily Beast reported, the Kentucky lawmaker once again complained that the nation's public-health authorities aren't saying what Paul wants to hear about the deadly pandemic.

"We need to not be so presumptuous that we know everything," the Kentucky Republican said during an impassioned plea to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions about the need for schools to reopen. He went on to call America's public health community "fatally" arrogant. "Perhaps our planners might think twice before they weigh in on every subject," Paul added. "Perhaps our government experts might hold their tongue before expressing their opinion."

The senator went on to call for skepticism about the guidance offered by the nation's most trusted authorities: "It's important to realize that if society meekly submits to an expert and that expert is wrong, a great deal of harm may occur.... We shouldn't presume that a group of experts somehow knows what's best for everyone."

And what, pray tell, does Rand Paul think the nation should do about the escalating coronavirus crisis? "We just need more optimism," he declared yesterday.

It led Dana Milbank to respond, "The United States is hitting new records for infection, largely because President Trump and allied governors across the South and Southwest ignored public health guidance. While other countries beat back the virus, we're on course to have 100,000 new cases a day, Fauci said, and doing little about it. But we just need to be more upbeat!"

As ridiculous as the senator's posturing has been in recent months, let's not forget that this isn't the first time. As longtime readers may recall, in the fall of 2014, with public anxieties over Ebola growing, Rand Paul started making appearances on right-wing radio programs, questioning Ebola assessments from the experts, blaming "political correctness," and raising threats that seemed plainly at odds with the facts. At one point, he asserted without proof that the authorities were deliberately misleading Americans about the virus.

Taken together, the Kentucky senator's larger effort seems to be geared towards persuading Americans not to trust those who know what they're talking about.