Rand Paul Has a Race Problem

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This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaking on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. Senate Democrats pushed Wednesday for speedy confirmation of John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director but ran into a snag after a Paul began a lengthy speech over the legality of potential drone strikes on U.S. soil.
This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaking on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Senate Television)

The Republican Party needs to broaden its appeal beyond whites, argues Rand Paul, who, as the Washington Post reported, is now organizing in all fifty states for a potential run at the presidency. No doubt he’s correct. But if the senator renowned for his libertarian principles is to spearhead this change, he has some political soul searching to do.

Speaking recently at UC Berkeley, Paul told the famously liberal audience that demographically the GOP must “evolve, adapt or die.” Seeming to take his own advice to heart, Paul also used the occasion — a talk on domestic surveillance — to chastise President Barack Obama for ignoring civil rights era lessons.

“I find it ironic that the first African-American president has, without compunction, allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the NSA,” Paul said. He explained, “J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement should give us all pause.”

If this were a one-off comment, it might seem like a cheap shot, but it’s part of a larger pattern of outreach. Paul spoke last year at the historically-black Howard University; has touted “economic freedom zones” in Detroit and is collaborating with Eric Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, in order to reform prison sentencing practices that disproportionately harm blacks.

Nevertheless, when it comes to making his politics palatable to nonwhites, Paul faces deep challenges.

One problem — but not the biggest — is Paul’s close working relationships with racists. Back in 2009, Paul’s senate campaign spokesperson had a Myspace webpage that included a comment tied to the Martin Luther King holiday that read: “HAPPY N***ER DAY!!!” above a photo of a lynching. While someone else might have posted the comment, it remained on the staffer’s page for nearly two years.

Then in 2013, Jack Hunter, Paul’s social media director — and the co-author of Paul’s 2011 book on the tea party — was uncovered as the “Southern Avenger,” a radio shock jock who regularly donned a mask emblazoned with the Confederate flag and had a long history of making racially inflammatory statements, including praising Abraham Lincoln’s assassin for having his heart “in the right place.”

Under pressure, Paul reluctantly fired both offending parties — but did so while denying any racism on their parts. Back in 2009, he absolved his staffer of having “any racist tendencies,” while last year he protected Hunter for two weeks before finally letting him go and blaming the media. “He was unfairly treated by the media, and he was put up as target practice for people to say he was a racist, and none of that’s true,” Paul said. “None of it was racist.”

Beyond the problem of Paul’s close affiliation with these bigots, his inability to see them as racists suggests a huge blind spot with respect to racism — and this is a more fundamental problem, for this blinkered vision will make it almost impossible for Paul to grapple with how racial resentment fuels support for the libertarian politics he fervently espouses.

Paul presents overweening government power — especially at the federal level — as the paramount threat to ordinary Americans. If he is to popularize this message, though, Paul has to face an ugly fact: libertarianism has attracted substantial popular support not despite its occasional association with racists, but because of its ugly racial undertones.

Where white supremacists once commandeered government to enforce their appalling vision, the civil rights movement recruited government to promote integration. Government efforts to outlaw discrimination and to promote inclusion in schools, workplaces and neighborhoods became key to the effort to move the country toward racial equality.

But in response, libertarian ideas flourished, for anti-government rhetoric provided a seemingly neutral basis for opposing “race mixing.”

Pioneering this new use of libertarian rhetoric in his 1964 campaign, the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater endorsed “states’ rights,” ostensibly a position on federal-state relations, though at the time all understood the target was federal efforts to push school integration. Goldwater also championed “freedom of association,” which purported to preserve the rights of property owners to exclude whom they wished, though in practice this meant the right of white establishments to bar minorities.

Today’s libertarian politics descends directly from this tradition. Illustrating the continuity, as recently as 2010, Paul himself endorsed the “freedom of association” argument, criticizing the 1964 Civil Rights Act for unjustly limiting the rights of private property owners. Paul put his position most succinctly in an earlier criticism of the Fair Housing Act: “A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination — even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin.”

To his credit, Paul has since renounced those positions and frequently proclaims his opposition to racial discrimination. But as his responses to the controversies surrounding his staffers suggest, he still has a long way to go. Paul must grapple with why his small-government message resonates with so many whites — and if, for a sizeable number, the motive is a continued opposition to integration, then Paul must face this squarely if he is to craft a more inclusive party.

Ian Haney López is a law professor at UC Berkeley, a senior fellow at Demos and the author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. Follow him on Twitter: @dogwhistlerace
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  • Anonymous

    Really?This seems to you the same as the Jeremiah Wright issue? “webpage that included a comment tied to the Martin Luther King holiday that read: “HAPPY N***ER DAY!!!” above a photo of a lynching.”

  • Anonymous

    The Tea Party and Libertarians will be uneasy allies at best. A lot of people (I’d wager much of the conservative electorate) are fairly unaware of academic underpinnings of Libertarianism and would be scratching their heads over the Rothbard reference.

    Most Tea Party types are not going to be happy with Libertarian positions on defense spending or criminal system reform. To make it through the primary elections, Rand Paul will have to sound quite a bit like a typical Tea Party approved republican, and turn into something else entirely to be able to win the general election: a strategy that hasn’t worked well for the last two GOP candidates.

    I think where the article is spot on is that he seems to instinctively defend people and policies that might seem racist. The list of people calling “I’m not racist” goes back to the John Birch Society and others that fought against civil rights. Some people will think he’s just being a politician.

  • Merry C. Carey

    The Libertarians are where the TeaThuglicans came from! They are financed and RUN by Libertarian ex-Vice-presidential candidate David Koch! His campaign taught him that a 3rd party has very little chance of making major impact in the USA so he decided to co-opt and take-over one of the 2 major parties. It took many years but he has been successful!

  • Ryan Rhodes

    The article says a Facebook friend posted it to a staff members wall and he let the guy go even though it wasn’t the staff member who posted it. I don’t see how thats a lot different from the Van Jones situation. Maybe I misspoke, and it’s not the same as the Jeremiah Wright situation, but saying Barry Goldwater = Rand Paul is a bit like saying Jeremiah Wright = Barrack Obama.

  • Ryan Rhodes

    I doubt Bill Moyers would be scratching his head, and this is his place so :)

    They’re not exactly the same, but there may have been some overlap between birchers and libertarians back in the day. I would bet they added more young tech types in the last few elections than all the people that came before put together though. I’m one of those tech types, and I would almost dare say our average work environment is so diverse that it pushed everyone else’s work to change to match us. Who wears a suit anymore?

    The best thing Paul can do for the future is to build a diverse team.

    The war gods will need some appeasing for sure, but I also think the war platform by itself with no give and take, and you lose a general election the republican voter desperately wants to win so…

  • Ryan Rhodes

    Ron Paul’s 3rd party run taught him the same thing, but the Koch brothers are not the only people funding campaigns or even libertarians.

  • JonThomas

    When did Jeremiah Wright seek to put himself in the delicate position of wanting to be be a representative for every citizen of this country by running for the highest political office?

    When did Mr. Wright even work at a high level position on the campaign staff where he’d be a spokesperson for someone wanting that position?

    In your zeal to defend, you stretched, snapped, the took your eye out with that rubber band. Next time try crazy glue to patch up the holes, it’s more thematic.

  • Ryan Rhodes

    Ok, but what about Van Jones?

  • JonThomas

    What about him? Expound.

  • rg9rts

    Origins in The John Birch Society

  • Ryan Rhodes

    Well, normally when there is a staff scandal the press jumps on it and the heat keeps increasing until they give in and let the person go. Thats what happened with Van Jones. He was eventually let go and the news dried up. In the case of Rand Paul, we’re not talking about a staff member he won’t cut. We’re still talking about a staff member he cut almost five years ago.

  • JonThomas

    Not being a follower of any real soft ‘news’ programming, I am not fully versed on what Van Jones did or didn’t say.

    To me, in my world, there was no ‘scandal’. Until you raised his name, I never heard of Van Jones. Maybe I’m woefully ignorant?

    Rarely do I care what someone may have said, or may have reportedly said in the past. So-called ‘scandals’ today are often simply negative hype expressed towards people whom certain other groups of people dislike.

    Notice please, I did not defend, nor did I agree with (or against) anything that Mr. (Dr.? Right?) Paul’s friends said – or may have said – I simply commented on your use of logic.

    I also think Mr. Lopez has made a point in this article about the actions and in-actions of those close to Mr. Paul, but as I said, these were people Sen. Paul chose to be close staff members.

    I asked about Mr. Jones in response to your reply. Without knowing how you see any potential conflict, I will refrain from a comment on his situation.

    Was Mr. Jones a close staff member of Pres. Obama’s campaign?

    If there is serious hypocrisy, and it is defended or allowed, then okay… there is legitimacy to the complaint. If there are situations such as a distinct lack of acceptable traits, or an abundance of negative personality characteristics which would negate effective leadership, then that too makes for an acceptable complaint.

    However, if it’s just that someone doesn’t like someone’s words or positions on issues, that’s a disagreement, not a ‘scandal’.

    Back when the Rev. Wright video was circulating, I did not disagree with a lot of the content of his message. I would say things differently, I would disagree with some of what he said, and how he said it… and I would speak against what I disagreed with, but it takes more than a person sitting in an audience hearing a few words spoken in passionate intensity to make a ‘scandal.’

    You should hear the way my white NYC relatives speak. Then throwing stones against other people’s world view quickly pales. This doesn’t make things acceptable, but it does put them in context.

    I know very few who can claim a lack of hypocrisy.

    Do I think Mr. Paul is a racist? I really do not know. I do think it is a pervasive trait in some of the communities of his background. Even where I live it would be difficult to randomly ‘shake a stick’ (as the saying goes) and not knock a racist’s teeth out.

    Do I think that context and position matter? Yes. But not knowing what you personally have against Mr. Jones’ words keeps me from posting a direct comment on his situation.

  • Ryan Rhodes

    He used some ugly language in a speech about republicans, and then it came out he was a 911truther and a member of a radical organization, and he had to resign. It’s the same basic story.

    I agree there is a lot of hypocrisy with the character assignation side of the news though. I much prefer to stick with the issues they actually vote on.

  • JonThomas

    Sorry I used the ‘crazy’ glue expression. I’m worked up today over a few things I’ve been reading. I guess that comment disqualifies me from running for office? Lol.

    You and I seem to see the world through a slightly different lens, but I agree with you that “with the character assignation side of the news though. I much prefer to stick with the issues they actually vote on.”

  • Ryan Rhodes

    No problem. I enjoyed reading your comments, and there is always two sides to everything. I do think there might be an opportunity where a small change in the republicans causes an even bigger change in the democrats.

  • Anonymous

    Rand Paul has a race problem because 5 years ago, some anonymous person left a racist comment on his Senate campaign spokesman’s myspace page? Then the guy he hired to manage his office’s Twitter account and Facebook page turned out to be a former shock jock at a local radio station? That’s what you call a close affiliation with bigots?

    Between Rand Paul’s past staffers and a guy that writes books about “coded racial appeals”, the latter is the one with the race problem.

  • urpaul

    Screw off Ian, you know how completely BS this article is from top to bottom. You dig up comments linked to a 2009 MySpace pages that could’ve been made by anyone as evidence of racism? You try and tie him to a movement that may have had some racist elements that was occurring around the time he was born, and that’s evidence of his race problem?

    By your logic is Barack Obama racist because of the Dixiecrats? Do pro-choice feminists and Progressives support eugenics because Margaret Sanger supported it? Democrats supported Robert Byrd right up until his death a few years ago, I’d love to know what that indicates in your book. If I find a racist comment somewhere below can I safely assume you’re out there burning crosses every night?

  • moderator

    If you cannot follow our comment policy, you will no longer be able to participate in the community. Period.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • tohu777

    >…he still has a long way to go.

    But the problem seems the creed, and not the man (and I’m thinking of Ron Paul, as well). Libertarianism is just atavism striking a vanguard pose, its own silly mock-Futurism. And, yes, the libertarian political program maps well to that of Jim Crow-era white supremacism; but at the same time it maps very well to very old Chamber of Commerce points (disdain for regulation & for labor policy), none of which are “political” in any real sense. A libertarian politician in the U.S. is a disingenuous imposter mouthing platitudes while wishing (like Ayn Rand herself) that this democratic republic would reset itself as a neo-Sparta.

  • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

    That sounds like the same old apologism, and to me it doesn’t wash. And I say that advisedly, having listened to it all my life in my native, very conservative state.

  • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

    Blinders. See above.

  • Anonymous

    You’ve said nothing of substance.

  • Anonymous

    All that has been “well-documented” is 2nd and 3rd degrees of separation between Rand Paul and these so called assorted right-wing racialists. If you can provide some genuine substantive action on his part that lends some credence that such views are his own, or that these groups in any way influence his policy views, I’d be more than willing to pay you some credence. In the meantime, I dismiss them as easily as I dismissed the claims that Obama was involved with the Weather Underground.

  • NotARedneck

    And the RepubliCONs have a racist problem – without the racist vote, they would drop to third place in a 2 way race!

  • http://police-state-watch.blogspot.com/ JTWilliams

    Weak stuff, weak guilt by association. Believe it or not, not everyone who opposed Lincoln and the Civil War was/is a racist who wants to see black folks back in irons. Im sure due to government worshipping educational system- the writer is probably correct, and libertarianism will be rejected in favor of Santa Claus, again. SO dont worry

  • Anonymous

    The “senate campaign spokesperson”is not exactly a lowly staff member. He should have known better. The comment was up for TWO years! It surely didn’t turn his stomach like it would many of us.

  • Anonymous

    He’s playing the chameleon here…jumping around to find just the right message, without bothering to change his associations. Today’s position may be totally different after he’s “thought it over” and developed a new strategy to advance himself toward the Presidency…God help us.

  • Anonymous

    Claptrap hogwash.

  • Anonymous

    That might be true if you completely disregarded Ron Paul’s racist newsletters of the past that he also tried to whitewash.

  • RyanP

    Having spent a lot of time in the comments sections of both libertarian and white nationalist type websites I can assure you that these groups are not very fond of each other. Libertarians usually support open borders which horrifies the white nationalists. White nationalists also have a great fondness for very non-libertarian Scandinavian countries because they are so white! It is true that freedom of association would make discrimination legal and this has some appeal to the racists. But just because two groups have an overlapping interest does not make them morally equivalent. The KKK naturally opposes affirmative action, I also oppose affirmative action. That does not make me a Klansman.

  • Anonymous

    Of course he could follow Obama and say everything the voters wanted to hear, then get elected and rule just like GWBush Jr.!

  • Marsha

    paul himself has “abhors racism” but he supports private feelings and businesses to employ it under the label libertarianism and does not sanction ANY government policies/laws to be made to stop such abuse and prejudices’ in society, as well as more importantly the work place…they are sectioned by him to not employ whomever they dislike for whatever reasons they wish….flies in the face of a democratic republic…he may not foster radical racists but his form of government he wished America to employ makes a breeding ground for them…Anytime Rand Paul walks into my business I have the perfect right under HIS concepts and government he wishes to create to tell him to GET OUT I DO NOT SERVE CURLY HAIRD INDIVIDUALS>>>>what don’t you or he GET? you may abhor racism and “hope” it won’t happen in no way means using HIS form of governing will prevent it as a matter of fact it will grow.(see history) He is as well hopes Businesses will realize this is not a lucrative way to run your business and still serve them…but it made no difference in the past why would it change now? What? suddenly people will be like Jesus? LMAO You are funny…seems to me people who wish to keep their civil rights wouldn’t follow a libertarian and are ignorant to what even Paul is espousing…He would foster the divisions between peoples if it benefited the businesses he wishes to have free will…Kids aren’t seeing the whole picture..you can STILL have your drugs and if you feel you support a business invading your privacy is ok but not the government whom would show more discretion then have at it..because if I were a business under libertarian government. I would hire a hacker and get every single last dirty info. on my workers from how much $ they had in their bank account to there tiniest tweet and hold it against them to keep them working for the pay I decide a my OWN “free will”. It’s not moral, it’s not right, even my president Mr Paul doesn’t even agree with it…but I have the free will to do it as long as it makes my business prosper at YOUR expense..There will be no rights under Paul accept “free speech” . I don’t agree with blackmailing you to stay in your position by saying I have found out you are apart f a birtial couple you either find yourself a “roprer” partner or you are out on your ear and I will make sure my other businesss associates don’t hire you either, because I can…how this fosters ANYONES civil liberties is kidding themselves…keep in mind you separate yourself from all thse silly regulations and laws tht were made to protect you are all gone…so you HAVE no rights because the federal government is no loner able to protect you and the states can do as they wish so you may have to move as well as get a divorce…I absolutely abhor to break up a nuclear family but that’s what working for me requires. Sorry you miss the point of what Libertarianism really is about..Hey I TOTALLY disagree with ANY type of prejudices but if it makes me more money dude I’m going to do it!!! And about the no regulation on drugs…I can give you a blood test every day you work for me…why? because I CAN…I OWN YOU. Extreme? maybe but that’s the environment you wish to go back to…ah it’s so good to be ignorant and young and know NOTHING about American history and the struggles of those that came before you…nor an inkling about radical political parties that could NEVER even survived …
    when will you believe me? I totally am against any form of prejudices’ but in order to work for me it’s allowed so it’s ok. I don’t have to exhibit those “qualities” in my personal and private life but I have every right to allow it in the work place that’s why I allow my underlings leave up intimidating racist comments in the work newsletters that will keep you in your place because I separate myself from them so they do not reflect on me because they have free will to intimidate and subjugate another human being free will…HOW is NOT that an environment that fosters and propagates hate and prejudice IDK You and he only wish to keep only 1 amendment LOL I guess you all will have fun burning the rest of the amendments….I don’t condone it but anyone else has free reign to do it brings society back to pre civil war times

  • Anonymous

    Rand Paul supports the Civil Rights Act insofar as it applies to public (government) accommodations. We already have those laws on the books, and any additional laws to promote that is entirely superfluous.

    The only objections he has are those to privately owned accommodations, where government mandates on mutual association are a direct violation of the 1st amendment. If you own a business and you don’t want to be around people with curly hair, then of course you should have the right to tell Rand Paul to leave. And he then has every right to form an organization of concerned citizens to boycott your business until either you go out of business or change your policy. No government intervention required.

  • Marsha

    Well I do so hope your idea of doing it on your “own” goes as far as your front door..in that, I mean no fire dept. no police, no snow plowing, no tree removal because ALL those things are done by GOVERNMENT…Just because it is your LOCAL government…I hope you have a taste of prejudices as well for instance the fire/police/ambulances will only make a call to names that don’t begin with an “A” on every other day of the week. And then after your home is burnt down, your loved one didn’t make it to the hospital in time, or the tree blocked your road so you couldn’t get to work etc then tell me how well it went for you when government wsn’t mandated and regulated to help ALL people. Tell me how many times and for how long will your “friends” and neighbors stick up for you and go to bat for you as a group to fight this injustice done to you..How long do you think that would last? And exactly how would your little group be strong enough to boycott big chemical companies when they use their free will to dump chemicals in your back yard? You actually think libertarianism works? Hysterical. As well as thinking it’s sustainable and thinking you have time to boycott all these injustices? Seriously you think big companies you support will have the morals to “police” themselves? ROF laughing right now… The typ of people who follow this line of thinking are the ones that want to “get over” on others and hid behind only the certain constitutional rights their narrow minds hold but will deny the rest to others.. The funniest thing of all when I talked to a libertarian that was retired from a UNION LMAO! Nothing could be more funnier than that…Funny thing is, the first unfair thing to happen to you, you will be on your phone to your lawyer, because your house was needlessly destroyed by fire because your name was Aaron and you no longer have a place to pursue your right to happiness.. Hate to tell you there are laws and regulations so people CAN be afforded a safe and just environment to live in.. the funny thing is your type wishes to afford only those perks to big business to crack your back in two and your fellow citizen not get a fair shake…..Is sending us backward… So you like a politician who affords ONLY those civil rights (made for the PEOPLE) to only be given to privately owned businesses? Because businesses are “people” to? So tell me do you handcuff your wife to the stove on voting day? Do you not stick up for your kid when he’s being bullied ? Or your wife not served at a restaurant because she drives a Ford? I mean this is so stupid If in fact he DID understand what the civil rights act was all about…he would know it was NOT made for businesses…I UNDERSTAND the theory but that’s ALL Libertarianism is –it’s an idea and is not suitable to be combined with our democratic republic, nor try to pick and choose which parts of the constitution the government may have nor can it pick and choose which rights are FOR THE PEOPLE out of the Bill of Rights….too many people in this USA of OURS have been targeted and swept under the rug to afford big business the rights that people DIED and suffered to get. The framers were not so stupid as to leave out the rights of the people and the funny thing is I never really saw too many right afforded to business and I KNOW NO civil rights were given to Businesses…They may be owned privately but they are a PUBLIC service and can not go against ANY individuals civil rights for ANY reason.

  • Anonymous

    Privately owned businesses are not a public service. They should be allowed to refuse service to any individual for any reason.

    I don’t know what you are talking about with all that Fire department and trees on the road nonsense, since those are all government services and nobody here has denied the importance of the Civil Rights act to prevent government services from being discriminatory. The only objections raised here are about the Civil Rights act preventing private businesses from being discriminatory (which has nothing to do with dumping chemicals in your yard or whatever you were talking about).

  • PostSurgeOperative

    Apparently, the libertaryans at Reason magazine’s website didn’t get your memo. Read the comments under recent articles about Ron or Rand Paul’s statements regarding the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and you will struggle to find anyone defending open borders, while virtually all of the comments are extremely anti-immigrant and virulently anti-Muslim.