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DANIELS: Rand Paul Tries to Recast His Racial Views

Lee A. Daniels | 3/26/2014, 3 p.m.
Sen. Rand Paul (Courtesy photo)

Question: What do you call someone who believes White shopkeepers and owners of other large and small businesses have the “right” to discriminate against Black people?

Answer: Rand Paul.

That answer, of course, came from the Kentucky Republican senator’s own lips during his 2010 campaign for the office when in an interview MSNBC.com talk-show host Rachel Maddow asked him his views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Paul did not say he approved of discriminating against anyone. Nonetheless, he asserted, it was wrong for the landmark civil rights act to prevent owners of private businesses from barring certain people as customers. This was a matter of principle, and besides, the way America’s free-market economy operated, all Blacks and others who encountered such discrimination had to do was to find another similar business that would accept them.

The scorching blowback to that hypocrisy has subsequently forced Paul ever since to try to obscure the meaning of his remarks to Maddow. When he appeared before Howard University students last year, he declared to the predominantly Black audience, “I’ve never wavered in my support for civil rights or the Civil Rights Act.” But the fact that he appended a critical “out” – “The dispute, if there is one, has always been about how much of that remedy should come under federal or state or private purview.” – did not go unnoticed.

Paul’s need to continue to cast his true racial views and recent hiring practices in shadow are part of the relevant framework for considering his speech March 19 to students at the University of California at Berkeley that garnered so much attention.

The speech came as Paul is locked in an increasingly bitter battle with Texas Senator Ted Cruz for front-runner contender status for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination. It was billed by his staff as showing Paul marching bravely into a hotbed of liberalism, carrying his campaign against unwarranted government spying on American citizens, and appealing to a non-traditional (for a Republican candidate) audience.

But the real attention-getting part – which Paul’s staff the day before made sure the media knew was coming – was Paul’s assertion that President Obama had a particular racial duty to rein in illegal spying.

Paul declared he found it “ironic that the first African-American president has, without compunction, allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the [National Security Agency]. Certainly J. Edgar Hoover’s [Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from the 1920s to the 1960s] illegal spying on Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement should give us all pause.”

Paul, sliding away from history’s messy complexities, said nothing about the fact that all of Obama’s White presidential predecessors had either directly approved or allowed to continue domestic intelligence programs that put White citizens under surveillance, too.

And because, according to the strictures Paul himself had set, all the questions he was asked had to be submitted beforehand and were vetted by a moderator from the school’s Republican student club, Paul was not asked to say anything further about that particular topic. (Nor was he asked about his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.)