Commentary: Rand Paul's calculated Civil Rights faux pas

The Kansas City StarMay 31, 2010 

Rand Paul is not as politically unsophisticated as the media, tea party organizers and Republican strategists would like you to believe.

In the hours after his victory in a Republican senate primary, Paul did not let it slip accidentally during an NPR interview that he opposed aspects of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it certainly was no fluke that later in the day on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show he repeated his "libertarian" philosophies supporting a business owner's right to discriminate racially.

While he wasn't quite George Wallace standing on Jefferson Davis' gold star and proclaiming "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," Paul still played defiantly to his angry base of tea partiers.

They're taking their country back.

How far back? Apparently the goal is 1963, a year before the federal government made it illegal for restaurants, hotels, department stores, etc., to deny African-Americans service.

Paul, a doctor, is not stupid, nor is he a political novice. No way. He's the son of an Air Force surgeon who is a political veteran. Paul was born and educated in the South. He's been a player in the Kentucky political scene since at least 1994, when he founded the Kentucky Taxpayers United.

Paul knew what he was doing. He executed a calculated, bold, political-branding move.

Does anyone know who won the Democratic primary? Does anyone care?

Paul is no different from his father, Ron Paul. Rand Paul wants to be president. To move into the White House, Rand Paul not only needed to raise his profile, he needed to raise the level of passion he could stir.

Nothing $tirs emotion and energy in America quite like race.

Rand Paul did not hurt his political brand by taking a day to criticize legislation that provided black people genuine American freedom. He's running for office in Kentucky, not New York. He's operating in a political climate in which both the anti-Obama outrage and pro-Obama blind support are fueled in part by race.

Paul chose a side. He let the 24-hour news cycle turn him into a household name, and then he retreated, claiming to be a victim of the liberal media and putting out a statement clarifying his position on civil rights.

"Even though this matter was settled when I was 2," Paul wrote in a statement the next day, "and no serious people are seeking to revisit it, except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws."

Paul scored the cheap political points, intentionally reigniting a long-settled racial controversy.

This was no mistake made by a political amateur. And I don’t believe Paul will pay a negative political consequence for it. The bet here is that he’ll benefit.

The intellectual work necessary to promote and support fairness in a country as diverse as ours is simply out of style. We're lazy. We don't enjoy mental stimulation. We've been trained to choose a brand/ideology, turn off our brains and follow the ideologue with the loudest microphone.

Paul is a libertarian. That ideology dictates that he view a free-market economy as the elixir for any societal ailment. When this country was founded and the writers of the Constitution needed to worry about the concerns of only white men, Paul’s libertarian cure-all solved a great many illnesses.

Things are more complex now. People once regarded as three-fifths human by the founders now have a constitutional right to be treated fairly.

Paul is not some unashamed, out-of-control bigot. He's a cynical and opportunistic politician who's banking on some Americans' romanticized perception of our history.

The people pretending to distance themselves and their organizations from Paul's perspective on civil rights and the pundits feigning shock at Paul's boldness in elaborating his position will be his most passionate supporters and enablers.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. He can be reached by e-mail at jwhitlock@kcstar.com.

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