By now, you've probably seen the amazing bit Jimmy Kimmel aired this week, in which he sent out a correspondent to ask folks which they like better: the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. All kinds of people offered spirited opinions on the matter, arguing on behalf of one policy or the other, completely unaware that the two measures are exactly the same thing.
It was funny to watch folks express opinions on a subject they know so little about, though it was also easy to feel kind of bad for people who were made to look foolish on national television. After all, these were just regular Americans, not public officials whose job it is to understand the nuances and details of public policy.
When they say strange things on national television, it's harder to feel charitable.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued Wednesday that there's no need to raise the debt ceiling because the U.S. can pay the interest on its debt with existing revenue.
"What's going on is, interestingly, the Democrats are scaring people saying we might not pay [interest on the debt] because Republicans don't want to raise the debt ceiling," Paul said on CNN. "If you don't raise the debt ceiling that means you won't have a balanced budget, it doesn't mean you wouldn't pay your bills."
Paul argued that the House has passed a bill, the Full Faith and Credit law, that mandates payments on debt interest, Social Security, Medicare and soldier's salaries go out first. He said that if the debt ceiling is breached, other government function wouldn't get financed, but that no default would occur.
This is, for lack of a better word, bonkers. Ezra talked with Rachel about this last night, explaining, "The way to think about Rand Paul's plan is, imagine I said to you that unless you give me what I want, I'm going to burn down the studio. You said to me, 'That sounds like a very bad idea if you burn the studio, nobody will have a studio.' And I said, 'No, no, I've got a plan. While it's burning down, I will run in and grab all the things of value amidst the chaos, so that will all be fine.' That's basically the theory that he's come up with here."
The United States has a series of obligations and debts. For Paul, default is apparently an impossibility -- the government will continue to collect a certain amount of revenue, which we can use to pay creditors. Once they're paid, we can see if there's money left for Social Security recipients and the military. If we still have a few bucks lying around, we can ignore some obligations and pay the others. Problem solved!
The world would abandon its confidence in the United States, many legal obligations would have to be ignored, and our full faith and credit would become a global punch-line, but isn't Paul's wacky idea easier than simply authorizing the Treasury to simply pay for the stuff we already bought?
Why would Rand Paul -- a U.S. senator, mind you -- say all this stuff out loud and on purpose? Because he thinks he's saying things that entirely sensible.
This comes up all the time with the junior senator from Kentucky. In August, Paul spoke about the philosophic nature of "rights," though his opinions on the subject were largely gibberish. The senator says he cares deeply about minority rights, which he struggles to grasp. Paul talks about drone policy, which he flubs badly. He's expressed a great interest in the Federal Reserve, which he doesn't understand in the slightest. Paul claims to hate Obamacare, but he fails to appreciate what the policy is and what it does. He says he's deeply concerned about the deficit, but doesn't know what the deficit is.
Obviously, no one is an expert in everything, but the key here is that Rand Paul, like the folks in the Jimmy Kimmel video, have strong opinions about subjects he claims to care deeply about, but about which he seems hopelessly confused.
The senator speaks with great confidence about these issues, as if he's given them a great deal of thought, but the confidence masks a degree of ignorance that Paul seems blissfully unaware of.