Facing South

Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

How fast things can change. Just two days ago, Tea Party favorite Rand Paul was celebrating his stunning victory in Kentucky's primary to run as the GOP's candidate for U.S. Senate.

Now Rand is fending off questions about why, in two successive media interviews, he suggested that the Civil Rights Act went too far in telling private businesses in the South that they couldn't discriminate on the basis of race.

Both triumphant Democrats and dismayed Republicans have seized on Paul's statements as a typical scandal, responding with mixtures of shock and outrage.

But are Paul's statements and sentiments really all that surprising?

True, there's a certain disconnect when on the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights sit-ins in places like Greensboro, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee -- protests which challenged the ability of owners of privately-owned public accommodations -- leading Congressional candidate argues such discrimination amounts to "free speech."

But the idea that the Civil Rights Act overstepped in its pursuit of guaranteeing racial equality in the South is hardly an alien idea to political right. In fact, in certain conservative circles -- especially the anti-government, libertarian wing Rand Paul represents -- it's practically an article of faith.

Consider Ronald Reagan, now part of the pantheon of Republican and conservative heroes. Reagan got his start in national politics stumping for Barry Goldwater, whose fierce anti-government views led him to view the Civil Rights Act as an attack on "the Southern way of life."

When Reagan made his own run for the presidency in 1976, he positioned himself as Goldwater's heir, picking up his first primary win in North Carolina on a platform stoking resentment of government intrusion in the South. In 1980, the Californian consciously launched his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi -- just miles from where three civil rights activists were killed in the 1960s.

Like Rand, Reagan insisted his views were anti-government and not pro-discrimination -- ignoring, of course, that in practical terms, opposing federal civil rights standards would ensure that discrimination persisted. As NPR noted in a 2004 retrospective:

Today it is hard to believe that Reagan had such success using the Civil Rights Act as a whipping boy. The Civil Rights Act is now so widely accepted that it doesn't attract controversy in any region of the country -- including the South.

But Reagan's campaign was only one sign that acceptance of the Civil Rights Act wasn't -- and isn't -- as broad and deep as many believe.

Another group which still rails against federal intrusions into the South like the Civil Rights Act is the Council of Conservative Citizens, a descendant of the segregationist White Citizen's Councils of the Jim Crow era.

The CCC opposes inter-racial marriage, hates non-white immigration (legal or not), and openly praises racist-nationalist groups in Europe -- the true source of U.S. culture -- like the neo-fascist British National Party.

But it's hardly an obscure sect in U.S. and Southern politics. Dozens of mainstream politicians, almost all of them Republicans, have spoken at, endorsed or otherwise been involved in CCC activities. These include:

* Gov. Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi
* Former Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi
* Former Rep. Bob Barr (R) of Georgia
* Dozens of state lawmakers in Florida and Mississippi

While slightly more open about their hostility to people of non-European heritage, the Council's distasteful positions are largely couched in the same libertarian language as Rand's: anti-Washington, pro-state's rights.

Consider even Rand Paul's father, the libertarian maverick Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas. On the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Rep. Paul rose to speak in Congress with a speech titled "The Trouble with Imposed Integration."

Based on his libertarian views, Rep. Paul blasted the Civil Rights Act as an "expansion of federal power was based on an erroneous interpretation of the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce" that "violated the Constitution and reduced individual liberty."

Such views, a natural outgrowth of the elder Paul's staunch anti-government ideology, didn't cause a media flap or raise questions about Paul's qualifications to hold office. Neither did the revelation in 2008 that, in the 1990s, Rep. Paul sent fundraising appeals bashing African-Americans and gays -- a signal that his animosity to civil rights may be about more than opposition to "big government."

Today, candidate Rand Paul -- the latest incarnation of this philosophy -- backtracked from his earlier position, saying he supported the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act after all, and that this chapter of U.S. history was "settled."

Clearly, in Southern politics and beyond, that's far from the case.

PHOTO: The Walgreens lunch counter that was a target of the 1960 civil rights sit-in movement.


People Referenced:


re: Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

Is this really what our "great" nation is coming to? I'm ashamed to say I live in Mississippi and sadly enough, I see this every day. Discrimination, more discreet than Paul, still runs amok. Racial discrimination is a rarer occurrence in my own city, but, trust me, as an open bisexual, I find orientational discrimination all the time. The bigotry that runs rampant in this ridiculous region drives me insane. I thought that the South had at least a slight bit of common decency and kindness in its "Southern hospitality", but apparently that only exists if you fit into the social peg hole of straight white male with 2.7 kids, perfect wife, and all such other things. This coupled with Itawamba Agricultural High School raising its ugly head against a lesbian student, and even worse, the Westboro Baptist "Church" protesting the very graduation of her based on the grounds of her being a lesbian, has caused me to lose all faith in the South. I cannot wait to escape this amalgamation of fools.

re: Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

Blatant racism. No matter what you call it. I'm for state's right too but to say each state has the right to make their own laws & not follow federal than we're all individual "countries". We are "united" not divided...

re: Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

Thanks so much for this, Chris. I just posted it on a friend's FB page. I hope it gives him some ammunition to counter those who claim that Rand Paul is way outside the Republican mainstream.

re: Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

More than anything, Rand Paul's remarks show that he is a very insular and sheltered kind of person.

It is clear that his only political asset is his name. Clearly the libertarians are even more into group-think and herd mentality than people belonging to mainstream parties.

re: Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

Rand Paul IS NOT A RACIST. This is a planned tactical red herring and has nothing to do with his campaign or why he won the Republican primary. He is running on the traditional Libertarian platform which is anti-government, pro-power-to-the-people, just like the civil rights activists of old taught and died for.

Few of them would consider the Civil Rights Act a benchmark of success. Instead, it's just more government regulations meddling in the affairs of the people.

You are purposely confusing the issue and undermining the campaign of someone who will actually vote to end the wars, vote to end the Federal Reserve, and vote to protect civil liberties by reducing big brother government and its regulations of private citizens.

re: Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

[quote]the Californian consciously launched his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi -- just miles from where three civil rights activists were killed in the 1960s.[/quote]

The ole "Ronald Reagan, with a wink wing to racists, kicked off his presidential campaign in Philadelphia MS, the place where, 16 years prior - 3 Civil Rights activists were murdered"

Dear sir -
Why is it that when the Democratic Presidential contenders held their debate in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 2008 - you and other progressives never mentioned that not one of these Democrats on stage asked the audience to remember the more than 200 Black Americans who were murdered in Philadelphia, Pa in 2007 - ONE YEAR PRIOR?

Do you see, sir, that it takes a media operative with a particular agenda to synthesize a story when they don't have anything else to talk about.

(For background but not that it is important - I am a Black male living in the South)

Rand Paul's theories that are mouthed among fellow travelers clearly were never tested enough on this subject. I applaud Rachel Maddow for keying in on a flaw and tripping him us as such.
Paul should have used the example of a private "Supper Club" who chooses to allow their members to smoke at the dinner table regardless of what the local laws forbid otherwise.

Mr Paul's key mistake is that he failed to note the importance of Public Accommodations and how race should not be a means by which a person is denied access.

At the same time - when I look over the problems in our community I am far more concerned with people who have FLAWED THEORIES but have the benefit of having them in place right now - to our community's detriment.

Whereas Rand Paul has 99 other senators to potentially rebuke his views - in the average Black majority community there is an array of Black Establishment and Progressive Establishment forces that amplify rather than blunt the impact when the flaws surface in real life.

I am more concerned with the ability of the statements by one White man to clear the deck in our focus about all of the ACTUAL problems rather than revisiting settled law.

It seems to me that the best advantage that some people who don't want to be held accountable for their present control over the institutions in our community have is to feign outrage over comments about "back in the day" and get the Black Establishment Press to spend the next two weeks pumping out articles on the subject. They successfully retain our UNITY as a people because after all - the return of Jim Crow is indeed a bigger threat than reforming a failing Black school or addressing the crime problems that are terrorizing many of our communities

Constructive Feedback

re: Why Rand Paul's views on civil rights are no surprise

Destructive Noise, you should really go back to Field Negro's blog with that noise you are speaking of because what you said has nothing to do with the topic at hand. If you are so concerned with the black community then why aren't you spending that time outside of your computer making a difference? Otherwise, you are wasting everybody's time and show just stay off this blog with your demagoguery.