Kentucky GOP senate candidate Rand Paul may or may not learn what his father Ron learned. And that's when you pop off on the always thorny issue of race there's a consequence. The horrid thing is that the consequence might not be the same for Rand as it was for dad. The senior Paul and his backers went apoplectic during presidential campaign 2008 when it was amply and correctly pointed out that Ron Paul's official newsletter was stuffed with off-color unabashed racial jibes and barbs. It bashed Martin Luther King Jr. as a "pro-Communist philanderer." It declared that the 1992 L.A. riots petered out "when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks." And it branded black males as "the criminals who terrorize our cities -- in riots and on every non-riot day." And then assured the reason for that is they were genetically engineered "to hate whites and to steal and loot as much money from the white enemy as possible."
An outraged Ron Paul vehemently denied that he uttered the vile racial slurs and claimed that he did not know they were said or written by him or anyone else in his camp. The colossal problem with his denial was that the racial bile appeared in his officially approved newsletters. There was no evidence then or later that he wrote a correction, issued a clarification, or even as he hinted they were written by someone else, and, if so, that he publicly disavowed and fired that someone else.
Ron Paul had to denounce the racially loaded quips in 2008 because for a brief moment he was deliriously embraced by thousands as the populist alternative to the supposedly hopelessly corrupt, bought and paid for, corporate interest Democrat and Republicans presidential candidates. Paul's fanatic backer's mix of blind adulation and desperation meant more media and public scrutiny than Paul had ever gotten. That in turn meant that his past, or alleged past words, were now wide open for public dissection and accountability. The senior Paul knew that he had to indignantly deny he wrote or uttered anything that could be construed as fanning racial bigotry. The issue quickly faded mostly because Paul's presidential candidacy quickly faded.
Things may be different with Rand. There's his widely quoted smoking gun interview with the Louisville Courier Journal in which he blew off the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a slap against private businesses' right to racially discriminate. He had a second and third chance to eat his words in two separate interviews after his primary win. He blew both. He did the obligatory disavowal of racism, but did not back away from his belief that the Civil Rights Act went way too far in telling private businesses that they couldn't racially discriminate. Junior Paul, unlike dad, is suddenly a national figure and counted on by legions of revved up tea party activists to carry the party flag into battle against President Obama. Rand hasn't disappointed. He made it clear that he'll pound Obama and his agenda at every turn.
Even if Rand, as his dad, didn't trash the Civil Rights Act, his odd mishmash of ultra-conservatism and libertarian pronouncements would mark him as racially suspect. A cornerstone of the jumble is his view of government and what it should or should not do about civil rights. Rand, as Ron, holds that government should have minimal or better still no role in civil rights laws and enforcement. The government passed and enforced civil rights laws, did nothing to solve the country's racial ills, and worse, fueled even more racial polarization, he says. That old, worn, and thoroughly discredited view warms the hearts of the packs of closet bigots who pine for the old days when racial and gender discrimination was the American norm and government did little to protect black and gay rights.
Rand pretty much said the same thing in the Courier-Journal interview. Any other time and place in recent American politics, that would instantly make him unfit to hold any state or national office. And those who defend his view would be branded as bigots and crackpots. But this is not any other time or place. Rand, unlike Ron, has the most inviting and vulnerable target in President Obama to level his fire at. He has the cheers and backing of untold numbers who share his belief that the President is leading the country to social and financial ruin. They will do everything they can to drive him from the White House.
If Rand and company have to reach back nearly half a century and dredge up a monumental piece of legislation that totally remade the racial map in America to fire up the faithful, then so be it. After all, why let a little thing like racial bigotry trip a Paul up. Ron tipped around it. Rand will do the same. The frightening thing is that he may get away with it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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