May 21, 2010

Race to the bottom

Well, that didn't take long.

In my last post, I wondered whether any of the nuttier views of Rand Paul, Kentucky's newly-minted GOP Senate candidate, would come to the surface and resonate before this fall's general election. A day later, Paul raced from TV studio to TV studio in full damage control mode, trying to put out the fire he started -- with kerosene.

News that Paul repeatedly trashed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it didn't exempt private businesses detonated a big stink bomb in his campaign, and the stench drifted south from Kentucky to Washington, enveloping congressional Republicans hoping to prove their Tea Party bona fides.

Paul's PR disaster also created an opening for Democrats, perhaps giving them the best opportunity they've had in decades to pick up a Senate seat in deep-red Kentucky.  At least in theory.  

To me, Paul's minefield tap-dance is the clearest evidence yet of the ugly racist undercurrent in the Tea Party that made him their poster child, enabling Paul to haul in buckets of cash to trounce Trey Grayson in Tuesday's primary.  It's also yet another example of Republicans' hamfisted obliviousness on matters of race (see: Lott, Trent; Sessions, Jeff; Steele, Michael; Wilson, Joe; ... ).

The Courier-Journal of Louisville, a city with its own scars from the civil rights movement, asked Paul about his views in April, and he told them on videotape.  But it didn't become an issue at all in the GOP primary -- even though the Courier-Journal refused to endorse Paul in part because of that interview (it didn't endorse Grayson, either).

That probably explains why Paul -- who vowed to "take back our government" on behalf of the Tea Party, and dared Obama, the Partier's prime obsession, to campaign in Kentucky -- had no qualms about repeating his critique of the Civil Rights Act at least twice in the last 48 hours, on NPR and on MSNBC.  As the story gained steam, news broke that Paul has held those views a long time, and hasn't been shy about making them public

By day's end Thursday, Paul had walked back his position to declare his repudiation of racial discrimination, along with his full and unequivocal support for the Civil Rights Act as written -- but not before he'd ordered up another round of stupid.  He issued a statement declaring the Act "settled law" and rejecting any suggestion he wants  to repeal it.

Whew.  That's a relief, ain't it, Mister Charlie?  

Though the ever-lingering Ghost of Jim Crow lit the fuse on this one, the Rand Paul stink bomb could obscure important points that the general population (read: white people) should think about, and give pause to any open-minded independent voters who are considering buying into the right-wing notion that government is the root of all evil. Ezra Klein raises a few of those points here, though I disagree with his conclusion that Paul deserves the BOD on suggestions he might have racist views.  Knowing how these things work, I'd be surprised if Paul, a wealthy Republican politician and a successful eye surgeon, has two black friends to rub together, much less socializes with any who aren't on his payroll.

When it comes to matters of race, unfamiliarity usually breeds contempt.

But for my money, Rachel Maddow trumps Klein with a cogent, important, intelligent, why-it-matters take on her show intro from last night -- the best big-picture explanation I've encountered all day.  I found her reporting on the intellectuals and politicians who argued in favor of discrimination during the 50s and 60s, including conservative icon William F. Buckley, to be particularly revealing.  And repulsive.

Personally, I wonder if this imbroglio will make much difference in the long run: it's happened pretty far ahead of the Kentucky general election, the state has a relatively small black population, white Kentuckians generally send white Republicans to Congress, and white Republicans typically have taxes in mind when they go to the ballot box, not the ongoing fight for racial justice.

Still, few things give white voters more discomfort than the perception that they might be pulling the lever for an overt bigot without the good sense to use code words in public -- "state's rights," anyone? -- or without the good taste to keep his views behind closed doors (see: Allen, George).

Given that, Rand Paul may pay a price for his racial hubris.  After all, if a black man with a Muslim name can win the White House, and Massachusetts can put a Republican in Ted Kennedy's old seat, then anything can happen.

1 comment:

  1. Ive always found Buckley's racist views from that era interesting since he never repudiated them. Unlike Barry Goldwater, Robert Byrd, or even George Wallace.


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