Rand Paul had a message for students at Plymouth State University who had gathered for a pizza party with the Kentucky senator on Thursday: Ebola is coming for us all and the government is hiding the truth about the deadly disease. [...] "This thing is incredibly contagious," Paul said. "People are getting it, fully gowned, masked, and must be getting a very tiny inoculum and they're still getting it. And then you lose more confidence because they're telling you stuff that may not be exactly valid and they're downplaying it so much that it doesn't appear that they're really being honest about it."
A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) started making appearances on far-right radio, questioning Ebola assessments from the actual experts, blaming "political correctness," and raising threats that seemed plainly at odds with the facts.
Soon after, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the Allergy and Infectious Diseases Institutes at NIH, appeared on CBS and was presented with the Republican senator's assessment. "I don't think that there's data to tell us that that's a correct statement, with all due respect," the doctor said.
At the risk of putting too fine a point on this, it's no longer clear just how much respect Rand Paul is due. My msnbc colleague Benjy Sarlin reported yesterday from New Hampshire, where the senator appeared eager to move the public conversation backwards.
On CNN, Paul added, "If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party they're contagious and you can catch it from them. [The administration] should be honest about that.... You start to wonder about a basic level of competence."
Yes, if there's one person who has standing to whine about "a basic level of competence," it's the often confused junior senator from Kentucky -- the one who's deliberately contradicting medical experts, confusing the public at a difficult time.
To reiterate a point from our previous coverage, because Rand Paul has a medical background, some may be more inclined to take his concerns seriously on matters of science and public health.
With this in mind, let's not forget that the senator, prior to starting a career in public office four years ago, was a self-accredited ophthalmologist before making the leap to Capitol Hill.
To assume Paul knows what he's talking about, and that he has more credibility that legitimate medical experts, is a mistake.
Stepping back, though, there's a larger context to consider, especially as the senator prepares for a national campaign. When the pressure is high and conditions get tense, the public can learn a lot about a potential leader. Do they maintain grace under fire or do they start to crack? Can they remain calm and responsible in the face of fear or do they run wild-eyed in misguided directions? Do they maintain their composure and keep a level head or do they encourage panic and anxiety?
The past couple of weeks have told us something important about Rand Paul, but none of what we're learning casts the senator in a positive light.