Nothing is more underhanded, small-minded or desperate than a writer who pores through the ancient history of a political candidate looking for an angle, a stain, a Donna Rice astride a lap. And surely no recent politician has been more pored over, through, and around than Dr. Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
So let me say that, as I ordered, then pored over Dr Paul’s single article in the academic medical literature, I felt a certain embarrassment. Though not too much. For what better way to see what a guy is really about than by looking at something he wrote before he realized desperadoes like me were going to pore over his every word.
In this article, the earliest public statement of a naïve ambitious medical student, Dr Paul suggested that the immune system is not the solution to our problem; the immune system is the problem, not unlike government itself.
In 1988, Dr. Paul, then a senior medical student at Duke, wrote and published a scholarly article, “Presumed autoimmune corneal endotheliopathy,” in the prestigious American Journal of Ophthalmology (volume 105, pages 519-522). In these four pages, he summarized the world’s experience with this rare but extremely interesting condition. For a medical student to publish a single-author article is quite an achievement, a testament to Dr Paul’s intellect and drive. And in fact, the article itself is nicely laid out, properly boring, and modest in its claims.
• Kent Sepkowitz: Rand Paul’s Biggest Outrage Yet• Benjamin Sarlin: Dems’ Albatross StrategyThe future Dr. Paul, the ophthalmologist-turned-politician who rejects standard certification as an ophthalmologist in favor of self-anointment, can be glimpsed in these pages. From my Freudian vantage point, the article seems to give us a unique portrait of the libertarian as a young man.
Indeed, these dense medical pages can be seen as a metaphorical rumination on liberty.
Here is the proof: even as a whippersnapper, young Rand seemed to love the cornea. The cornea, you ask? What is possibly lovable about the cornea—or the iris or the retina for that matter?
In a word: privilege. Unlike the rest of the eye, or most of the body, the cornea is a privileged organ. “Privileged” in this usage does not refer to a life of comfort and ease (though his attraction to privilege of this sort also may bear some consideration). No, in the body “privileged” means one thing: the immune system, that hulking police state, can’t reach you. You are out there away from the fumbling white blood cells, the blustery cytokines, the vascular mishaps and miscalculations—you are free, on your own.
In this article, the first public statement of a naïve but ambitious medical student, Dr Paul suggested that the immune system is not the solution to our problems; the immune system is the problem, just like big government. And only one place in the body is truly free, untouched by the madding crowd, the busy-bodies, the nannies and their stifling concerns, the regulations and the taxes and the seatbelts. It is the cornea—the last redoubt of virility and independence.
Untouched and untouchable, not surprisingly it was the cornea that the future Dr. Paul fell in love with.
Kent Sepkowitz is an infectious disease specialist in New York City. He has contributed to The New York Times, Slate, and, oh-so-briefly, O Magazine. He also writes academic medical articles that are at times pretty tough sledding.