Rand Paul suggested to Howard University students on Wednesday that the very notion states rights conservatives are — or ever have been — tied to race-baiting is a figment of their imagination.
But students at Howard took issue with the idea the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was no different than the southern-dominated GOP of the last 40 years or so.
“Are we discussing the Republican Party of the 19th century?” one questioner asked Paul afterwards. “Or are we discussing the post-1968 Republican Party?”
“The argument I’m trying to make is we haven’t changed,” Paul replied. At another point, he said that “the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights.”Paul’s theory is that it was just a coincidence of sorts that starting around the mid-1960s, after Lyndon Johnson’s adoption of new civil rights legislation and Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” whites in the former Confederate states abandoned Democrats en masse for the GOP while black voters went the other direction. By his account, the only reason Democrats consolidated the black vote around the same time is that they offered more federal aid.
If only there was an older version of Rand Paul with a similar philosophy who was active during the historical period in question that could help test this thesis. Hey, how about Ron Paul?
While the two don’t share the exact same views, Rand Paul has served as a spokesman on his father’s presidential campaigns and generally has praised him as the inspiration for his own libertarian worldview. So it’s worth noting that the younger Paul’s description of the party, let alone its libertarian wing, as an eternal beacon of racial tolerance does not comport at all with the elder Paul’s own record.
For example, Ron Paul might help answer this question Rand Paul posed at Howard: “How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race?”
Well, as National Memo noted yesterday, it might have lost it by giving interviews about the Great Emancipator in which party members described him as an “iron-fisted” warmonger. Like the following one from Ron Paul in 2007:
“600,000 Americans died in this senseless Civil War,” Paul told NBC’s Tim Russert. “No, he shouldn’t have gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic.”
Ron Paul might also shed some light on his son’s confusion that African Americans have have some lingering suspicions about conservatives espousing a “states rights” philosophy.
“Republicans do, indeed, still believe many rights remain with the people and states respectively,” Paul said. “When some people hear that, they tune us out and say: he’s just using code words for the state’s right to discriminate, for the state’s right to segregate and abuse. But that’s simply not true.”
As it turns out, Ron Paul published a series of newsletters for years aimed at, as he put it in a 1995 interview, “expressing concern about surviving in this age of big government.” And they didn’t bother with “code words” much at all.
A 1993 item entitled “The Disappearing White Majority,” for example, offered this take on civil rights history:
“It is human nature that like attracts likes. But whites are not allowed to express this same human impulse. Except in a de facto sense, there can be no white schools, white clubs, or white neighborhoods. The political system demands white integration, while allowing black segregation.”
Then there was this 1990 piece on Martin Luther King, whom Rand Paul has cited as a hero:
“[Martin Luther King, Jr.], the FBI files reveal, was not only a world-class adulterer, he also seduced underage girls and boys…And we are supposed to honor this ‘Christian minister’ and lying socialist satyr with a holiday that puts him on par with George Washington?”
Promotional materials for the newsletter made clear talk like this wasn’t just an occasional digression, it was the chief selling point.
“I’ve been told not to talk, but these stooges don’t scare me,” one 1993 mailer presented as a direct message from Paul himself read. “Threats or no threats, I’ve laid bare the coming race war in our big cities.”
Ron Paul has claimed more recently that he had not seen the newsletters, despite discussing them in detail in past interviews. But for the purposes of testing Rand Paul’s claim that the modern GOP’s small government message has no roots in the segregation era, it doesn’t really matter. That Ron Paul’s staff thought the best way to appeal to “states rights” enthusiasts on the right was to dish out a steady diet of racially inflammatory articles is proof enough that these elements existed.
Finally, while Rand Paul now claims to embrace the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Ron Paul is another story. And his problems aren’t just nitpicking or theoretical — to hear him describe it, it’s the root of all that’s wrong with government.
“If you try to improve relationships by forcing and telling people what they can’t do, and you ignore and undermine the principles of liberty, then the government can come into our bedrooms,” Paul told CNN in 2012. “And that’s exactly what has happened. Look at what’s happened with the PATRIOT Act. They can come into our houses, our bedrooms our businesses … And it was started back then.”
In many ways Ron Paul is not the best representative of his party on this issue — his history is far more extreme than virtually every nationally prominent Republican today. But it does offer another link in the chain that connects Nixon’s “law and order” campaign in 1968 to Jesse Helms’ “Hands” ad in 1990 to Trent Lott in 2002 waxing nostalgic about Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential run. (That would be the Strom Thurmond who left the Democratic Party during the period Rand Paul says the party was still in full Lincoln mode).
Rand Paul has said repeatedly he abhors racism and there’s no evidence that he’s anything but sincere. But the history of his political ancestors, including his own father, is well established enough that RNC chair Ken Mehlman apologized on behalf of the party in a 2005 appearance at the NAACP.
“Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization,” Mehlman said in a very different outreach speech than Paul’s. “I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”