POLITICS

On the Slide: 'Southern Avenger' lands Rand Paul in hot water

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Politics,Congress,Rand Paul,Tim Mak,Filibuster

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has been raising his profile recently. His attention-grabbing March filibuster on the Senate floor over the Obama administration's use of drones earned him respect across the political spectrum.

But his handling of a report that accused one of his close aides of making inflammatory, neo-Confederate statements has generated criticism from both Left and Right.

Paul's latest problems started when the conservative Washington Free Beacon reported that the aide, Jack Hunter, had been a radio host in South Carolina who called himself the "Southern Avenger" and wore a mask emblazoned with the Confederate flag. Hunter had that job until 2012.

Hunter, who helped write Paul's 2011 book "The Tea Party Goes to Washington," has argued in favor of secession and the Confederacy, the website reported.

"Although Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth's heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln's murder automatically turned him into a martyr," Hunter said in 2004.

Despite Hunter's past statements, Paul stood by his aide. He said that while some of Hunter's past statements were "absolutely stupid," the aide was "incredibly talented."

"If I thought he was a white supremacist, he would be fired immediately," Paul told the Huffington Post. "Are we at a point where nobody can have had a youth or said anything untoward?"

This isn't the first time Paul has had to explain away embarrassing revelations. In his last campaign, he had to address questions about his time in college when he and a friend blindfolded and tied the hands of a female student, had her smoke marijuana and then told her to worship "Aqua Buddha." Paul dismissed it as a prank.

This time around, opinion writers on both ends of the political spectrum were quick to criticize Paul's defense of his controversial aide.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, said the Kentucky senator "made things worse" by defending Hunter.

"Hunter's comments were not isolated, nor were they made in the distant past. ... He was saying these things as recently as 2009, well into his 30s and at a time when he came to Paul's attention," Rubin wrote. "Hunter's judgment, views and conduct are bad enough to disqualify him from employment in any other House or Senate office."

The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein said the incident showed that the senator was "not ready for prime time."

Over at the New Republic, Julia Ioffe argued that "if he doesn't learn how to staff better," among other things, "the Southern Avenger and his ilk will continue to haunt him." New York magazine's Jonathan Chait added, "One strange thing about Ron and Rand Paul is that racists keep popping up in their inner circles."

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