The new New Republic features a cover story about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and "it's certainly got people talking," says James Carroll at the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal. Not so much for Julia Ioffe's article itself — which, though sold on the cover as "The Real Rand Paul (Can't Be Trusted)," actually "is pretty favorable to Paul," Carroll notes — or even the fact that Paul sat down with a liberal-leaning magazine.

No, it's the cover photo:

The tie, the plaid suit, the expression, the lighting — all are kind of strange, thanks to Paul's taste in clothing and the aesthetics of photographer Platon Antoniou. But the focus of the conversation is Paul's left hand, specifically his crossed fingers.

New Republic editor Noah Scheiber was quick to dispel one rumor:

The cover is so remarkable, The New Republic even ran an interview with Platon about photographing Paul. When the senator entered the room for the shoot, Platon says, "he was very defensive."

[B]ut I appreciate how he feels. Anyone who has their picture taken knows it's a slightly uncomfortable idea to begin with.... Dealing with an unknown quantity like a photographer — who's going to be capturing that brand — you're working with someone who you don't trust. It's a very difficult thing to do. On top of that, Senator Paul was probably convinced that any serious portrait photographer is not really going to be a member of the Tea Party movement. So it's a loaded situation all around. [New Republic]

Platon reportedly didn't even notice the crossed finger until he was going through the proofs, long after the shoot was over. Paul hasn't explained what he was thinking, but even he has gotten in on the fun, posting this poll on his Facebook page:

"So why was Paul crossing his fingers?" says Tim Murphy at Mother Jones.

As some Internet commenters have observed, there may be deeper significance to this "good luck" hand gesture. The crossed fingers have traditionally been used by POWs trotted out for propaganda purposes to indicate that the subject is participating under duress. Perhaps Paul was embracing the role he's carved out in Washington from day one — that of a conservative freedom fighter deep in enemy territory. [Mother Jones]

The only person who can clear up this incredibly unimportant mystery is Paul himself. But he's probably best served just letting people speculate — it's more fun for everyone, and a little mystery is the spice of all speculative presidential campaigns.