Lanny Davis says he enjoyed "watching MSNBC's Rachel Maddow humiliate and embarrass Rand Paul." And then he decided to examine Rand Paul's politics: 


I decided to read the Libertarian Platform, the one adopted at the May 2008 convention in Denver that nominated Rand's father, Ron, for president. I wanted to understand better why Rand Paul was taking what seemed to be such a politically suicidal set of positions. It explained a lot ... including about why my and my fellow liberals' sanctimony about Mr. Paul might have been somewhat misplaced...

Ms. Maddow also failed to elicit from Mr. Paul, much less credit him, with clearly liberal positions on the major issues, also consistent with libertarian principles, such as the fact that he is unambiguously pro-choice ("government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration"); pro-civil liberties ("we oppose reduction of constitutional safeguards of the rights of the criminally accused ... the Bill of Rights provides no exceptions for a time of war"); and pro-decriminalizing victimless crimes, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.

For the same philosophical reasons, he and fellow libertarians also oppose the draft and the use of the U.S. military for any purpose other than "in defense of individual rights ... The United States should both abandon its attempts to act as a policeman for the world and avoid entangling alliances." For this reason Rand's father, Ron, strongly opposed the Iraq war during the presidential campaign, alienating many conservatives. Yet the outspoken anti-war Maddow did not ask him about this issue...

We liberals can and should strongly disagree with Rand Paul and libertarians on the positions they take on various issues, especially their belief in the lack of governmental power to ensure racial and economic justice in this country. But mocking him and trivializing a man who is so intellectually honest in applying his libertarian principles does not feel right to me anymore.

Maybe too many of us have grown so cynical with today's political culture that we have a hard time coping with, much less believing in, someone who is running for political office who is actually authentic and sincere, even if it means he or she is taking positions that offend, at times, both the left and the right.

Shocking, just shocking, that Rand Paul may actually be a real, authentic "Mr. Smith" who is ready to come to Washington to stick to his principles, come what may. Come to think of it, he does remind me of Jimmy Stewart and Mr. Smith. He certainly talks like him.

Lanny Davis has distinguished himself, over the past two years, by reaching across the partisan divide. Davis's commitment to common ground is absolute and unquestioned--even when no common ground actually exists. 

In this instance, much of what Davis cites is the inverse of reality. Davis's conjured Rand Paul is a libertarian. The actual Rand Paul told TIME, "I'm not a libertarian." Davis's conjured Rand Paul is pro-choice. The actual Rand Paul wants a constitutional ban on abortion. Davis's conjured Libertarian party nominated Rand Paul's father, Ron Paul, for president. The actual Libertarian party nominated Bob Barr. The conjured Rand Paul favors the decriminalization of "the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes." That one may be true; I've seen conflicting reports. But according to TIME, Paul holds no such position.

Many of us share Lanny Davis's desire to end the partisan politics of destruction. We believe in the importance of reaching across the aisle. We also believe in the importance of of fact-checking. Actual opinion-journalism, the kind practiced by Rachel Maddow, is concerned with the actual positions of actual politicians and the actual parties they belong to. Science fiction opinion-journalism, the kind practiced in this instance by Lanny Davis, is concerned with the theory of parallel worlds. 

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.