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Published: Friday, 10/22/2010

Aqua Buddha

Serious questions can lurk within even the most unpleasant forms of political mudslinging.

Ohio has its share of hard-fought, even nasty, campaigns this year. But voters here have been spared the worst of the weirdness that has marked U.S. Senate campaigns in Delaware, Nevada, and Kentucky.

If who's running the country weren't so important, you might just shake your head at candidates who have to deny being a witch or suggest Dearborn, Mich., is governed by Islamic law. The Kentucky race between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul, however, has raised an important question: Are middle-aged adults responsible for the beliefs they held as college students?

Mr. Conway says yes. His campaign unearthed an incident from the 47-year-old Mr. Paul's college years at Baylor University to raise questions about his religious convictions.

Mr. Paul, according to an article in GQ magazine, belonged to a secret society that delighted in tweaking the conservative Baptist college. The magazine quoted a woman who claimed that Mr. Paul and a friend of his orchestrated a prank in which they tied her up and made her kneel in a stream and worship their “god,” Aqua Buddha.

Mr. Conway has been running an ad about the incident, asking why Mr. Paul belonged to a group that mocked Christianity. Mr. Paul, the son of former Texas congressman Ron Paul, insists it's a lie.

But if it were true, should it matter?

The late Rep. Henry Hyde (R., Ill.) crossed a line when he claimed in 1998 that an affair he had at the age of 41 was “a youthful indiscretion.” But if adults always were held to account for what they did as teenagers, there would be few politicians. There wouldn't be many saints, either.

As a young man, St. Augustine of Hippo ignored his Christian mother and dabbled in Manicheanism and Neo-Platonism into his 30s. That didn't stop him from becoming one of the most important Christian thinkers in history.

St. Francis of Assisi lived a mostly carefree life of wealth and privilege until his early 20s. That didn't disqualify him from founding the mendicant order of friars named after him.

College student Bill Clinton opposed the Vietnam war and experimented with pot, but he still became president. And George W. Bush would not have been elected president had he been successfully tarred with the indiscretions of his youth.

There are good reasons for Kentucky voters to reject Mr. Paul. His expedient flip-flop on whether private businesses should be able to discriminate on the basis of race and his desire to abolish the federal Department of Education are two of them.

Proselytizing for Aqua Buddha in college doesn't make the grade.

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