05/24/2010 08:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rand Paul and the Road to Perdition

Every time I see somebody like Rand Paul trying to chip away at the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I think about Wesley A. Brown.

Wesley A. Brown was the first black graduate of Annapolis -- Class of 1949. During his four years there, no one on campus spoke to him unless they had to. Not even his roommate.

I'd like to see Mr. Paul stand up to that.

I knew Mr. Brown, as my father insisted I call him, because my parents felt it wasn't enough to just talk about supporting Civil Rights. So in the '60s, Mr. Brown and his wife Crystal, and the great '40s track star Frank Dixon and his family, had many a Seder at our house.

I'll tell you this about Wesley Brown. He was -- he is -- a giant. This is a man who built nuclear power plants in Antarctica. But that was nothing compared with personally desegregating the U.S. Navy's Officer Corps.

He wasn't exactly welcome among his fellow officers. Really, his four years at Annapolis was just a warm-up. But Mr. Brown never wanted to talk about that. He liked to focus on the positive.

Still, it was common knowledge around our dinner table that on graduation day, the Commandant of the Academy called Mr. Brown into his office and told him: "We both know you'll never make Captain in this man's Navy; but you can retire today as a Lieutenant-Commander."

Mr. Brown's reply is not recorded. But he served this country for 20 years--in Korea, Vietnam, and the aforesaid Antarctica -- and retired a Lieutenant-Commander.

The Navy was unfair to Mr. Brown. But he won, because he set in motion something just, and ineluctable. Mr. Brown stood for the idea that all men are created equal; he -- and his people -- could only be defeated if the nation turned against its most cherished belief. In that way, the civil rights movement wasn't about black people or segregation; it was about America.

I suppose you could say Mr. Brown made Colin Powell's career possible. But what he really did was open the service to the power of merit -- to what Martin Luther King called "the content of our characters". And to its credit, the Navy eventually recognized it had wronged Mr. Brown: In 2008, it opened the Wesley A. Brown Field House on the Annapolis campus.

Because of Mr. Brown's courage and what he endured, the Navy is a stronger service today, just as America is a richer place today because of the courage and sacrifices of the millions of Americans who fought Jim Crow north and south, and eventually called forth the Civil Rights Act.

These are the accomplishments Rand Paul and his ilk want to roll back. It's a remarkably small-minded effort. But what's even more remarkable is that Mr. Paul seems to think his beliefs are perfectly reasonable.

Or, maybe not so remarkable. We're all the product of our upbringing. And while, in fairness to him, Rand Paul seems to be a perfectly fine individual, it's important to know that he was brought up in the orbit of the far-right John Birch Society (JBS).

It's no secret that Rand Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Tx), is close to the JBS. He said so in 2008, when he gave the keynote address at the group's 50th anniversary meeting. "I am not a member of the John Birch Society," he said then, "but many members of the John Birch Society are friends of mine and they have been very helpful in my campaign."

So Rand Paul doesn't have to bring true believer cred to his politics -- JBS ideas are Rand Paul's normal.

This isn't disturbing because members of the Paul family have radical, right wing views. This is America; people are entitled to any bone-headed idea they like. This is disturbing because groups like the JBS believe that the ends justify the means, while in politics, there are no ends -- only means.

So since the JBS financed its activities in the 1970s with what amounts to murder, hearing that a politician's passed muster with them sends up a lot of red flags for me. And it leaves me unsurprised that said politicians can find what they call "principles" when they try to roll back one of America's finest moments.

You can find a detailed account of that story in Bloodstained Politics, which I published here last August. The bottom line: The JBS, through its future chairman, Dr. Larry McDonald, promoted and profited from the laetrile fraud of the 1970s. And treating patients with laetrile was murder.

Laetrile was promoted as a miracle cure to people dying of cancer. But it was really cyanide. Cyanide attacks the central nervous system. So people "treated" with laetrile felt better because they didn't feel the cancer. Then they died. And then the people behind it all said they could have saved their victims, if only they'd come to them earlier.

You can't tell me that doctors like the Pauls (Ron is an obstetrician, Rand an ophthalmologist) don't know that laetrile is cyanide. And you can't tell me they don't know that the Hippocratic Oath forbids poisoning patients.

So you've got to wonder why they'd get within a mile of people who'd sold it as a miracle cure to dying cancer patients. That is one boneheaded idea nobody's entitled to. Though on the other hand, the fact that the Pauls hang around with people who think medical murder is ok, if it's in what they think is a good cause, does explain how Rand can endorse Jim Crow.

When you stand him next to Wesley A. Brown, it's easy to see what Rand Paul is made of.