An a-Pauling Lesson in Black History

04/15/2013 11:45 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2013
UNITED STATES - MARCH 13: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference at the National
UNITED STATES - MARCH 13: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference at the National Harbor. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

Last Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke to students at Howard University.

"How did the Republican Party, the party of the great emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race?" he asked.

The answer to Sen. Paul's question can actually be answered simply, with just one word. And that one word not only answers his question, but points to a larger issue within the Republican Party, since it's a concept that conservatives abhor.


Things change. In fact, the senator answered his own question in his own speech. In fact, you didn't have to dig very far to find it -- it was the sentence directly before his question!

He said: "The story of emancipation, voting rights and citizenship, from Frederick Douglass until the modern civil rights era, is really in fact the history of the Republican Party."

Please note that Dr. Paul (whose degree is not in history, but ophthalmology) described a history that went right up to "the modern civil rights era." Not through it, mind you, not up to today. But "until" the modern civil rights. Further, while "modern" sounds pretty swell, too, like it was just yesterday, in fact we're talking about the mid-1950s, which is 60 years ago. That's not only before all those students at Howard University were born... but it was before probably all of their parents were born It may have even been before some of their grandparents were born!

Things change. Evolution. No matter how much you want to deny science, reality has a way of creeping up on you.

The Republican Party of the last half-century is worlds different from that history that Rand Paul wanted to impress his audience. And not just the world of Abraham Lincoln, but even into the 20th century. Ask most of the far right what they think of Republican Theodore Roosevelt, and (if they've heard of him...) they'll likely hate his policies and most-everything he stood for. The great Trust Buster, who fought big business. Environmental leader. Higher wages and shorter hours for workers. In fact, when he ran later for reelection in 1912 after leaving the presidency, it wasn't as a Republican, which had already grown far too conservative, but in his own progressive Bull Moose Party, whose platform stated, "This country belongs to the people."

So, actually, it's been 100 years since that glorious story of the Republican Party that Rand Paul was trying to paint started to sour. (In fact, it started before that. Even before he was lifted to the presidency in 1901, Republicans were wary to the point of detesting Teddy Roosevelt.)

It's with great amusement that I read about Rand Paul trying to live on history (and such a long-distant, gone with the wind history, at that). After all, Republicans seem to hate history so much that they don't even want to go back to the previous president. Whenever Democrats try to remind the public about who caused the current financial meltdown we're still trying to dig out of, Republicans want to ignore any responsibility, let alone existence of George Bush, and insist we move past that already. "Already" as in four years. And Rand Paul wants to talk about history. Real history, 60 years, 100 years. The history of the Republican Party.

Of course, the issue isn't history at all, but the present. And a "present" of at least 60 years. Again, to be very clear, the world of Abraham Lincoln, that doesn't exist anymore. The South in the 1860s that seceded from the Union over protecting slavery, that world was part of Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" of the 1960s to move the entire region into Republican ranks.

Evolution. Things change.

When Rand Paul asks wide-eyed innocently how the Republican Party has lost the faith and trust of an entire race, he might want to look at all the efforts by Republican legislatures to make it difficult for blacks to do something as simple and basic as vote, for starters. He might want to look at Republican efforts to tear down a black-based organization like ACORN, which ultimately went out of business. He might want to look at Republican efforts to fight social service programs and affirmative action. He might want to look at the current effort to actually pare back the Voting Rights Act. He might even want to look at his own words about problems he has with the Civil Rights Acts, defending private business rights to discriminate -- something he tried to deny to the Howard audiences as his ever saying, despite it being clearly on tape. Or stop giving a sanctimonious, paternalistic "black history lesson" to a roomful of black college students at a traditionally black university. Or at least get the name right of the first popularly-elected black senator, Edward Brooke. (Not "Edwin Brookes.")

And Rand Paul wants to oh-so innocently wonder how in heaven's name, Scarlett, the wonderful GOP has lost the faith and trust of an entire race. He might try opening a newspaper. Or looking in a mirror.


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