At the Washington Examiner, Phillip Klein gives his thoughts on Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s recent problems with his formerly neo-Confederate aide:
There are a few broader points to draw here — one as it pertains to limited government philosophy and the other as it pertains to Paul’s political future. Let’s be clear. Nothing in American history has done more harm to the limited government cause than the association of state sovereignty arguments with defenses of slavery. Confederates who employed limited government arguments to argue for preserving a brutal and inhumane practice shouldn’t be deemed friends of limited government. Having an abstract argument about secession is one thing. But within the context of the Civil War, it’s clear that ultimately, the South was seceding to preserve the institution of slavery. That Paul is tolerant of neo-Confederate views — whether or not he personally holds them — undermines his drive to become a credible champion of limited government.
Klein concludes by saying that this sympathy is what makes Paul “not ready for prime time.” Which, I agree with. For as much as I don’t think this will hurt him with Republican voters if he decides to run for president, I do think it’s indicative of his obtuse refusal to see the problem with making these kinds of associations. It’s also why I don’t think we should take Paul seriously when he says he wants to reach out to nonwhite voters, and African Americans in particular.
Yes, Paul is on the right side of the war on drugs, and is one of the few Republican voices pushing for federal criminal justice reform. At the same time, as evidenced by his disastrous appearance at Howard University, he lacks any awareness of how his limited government views play to African Americans, who—as a group—have a strong memory of what could happen when you leave states to their own devices. On some level, he seems to think that his ideological purity makes it okay that he believes the 1964 Civil Rights Act was an imposition on “liberty,” despite the fact that this places him in the company of people who defend secession, and the Confederacy.
None of this is evidence that Rand Paul holds racist views, and if he did, it wouldn’t matter. Lyndon Johnson was almost certainly a racist—he also worked to usher a Second Reconstruction of far-reaching civil rights laws. But it is evidence that Paul is oblivious to the history of “limited government” ideologies in this country, which have been (and are) used to defend white supremacy. And indeed, when you consider his support for the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, it’s clear that he doesn’t see racial discrimination as a pressing problem, or at least, one worthy of federal intervention.
Which, for all that he presents himself as different, puts him in line with the large bulk of the Republican Party, and all but guarantees that he won’t find support from blacks, or any other Americans who live with the reality of racism.