Rand Paul, and his views on the Civil Rights Act, dominated the news yesterday.
His campaign wriggled and squirmed all day, trying to defuse the situation his sincerely held and clearly expressed beliefs have got him into. His campaign issued a statement at midday:
Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.”
“As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years.”
It’s puzzling why the Paul and his campaign thought that such a statement would make the controversy go away. The issue has never been whether the matter is settled, either due to the courts or by societal consent, or even whether Rand Paul accepts the matter as settled.
What the Paul’s previous statements make painfully clear — because he spelled out everything with admirable openness and honesty — is that he believes very strongly that if a private business wishes to practice racism, the government shouldn’t interfere with its right to do so. That it was a mistake to outlaw segregated lunch counters and white-only drinking fountains on private premises.
The issue may be well settled, and there may be no move to repeal this part of the Civil Rights Act, but the Paul still disagrees with it. He knows in his heart that it’s just plain wrong.
It is those beliefs that many people find incomprehensible and abhorrent. And that’s what the controversy is about—that the Republican Party’s official nominee for the Kentucky Senate election not only has these beliefs but is perfectly unabashed about expressing them in public. Or at least he was, till yesterday.
When the mid-morning statement did nothing to defuse the controversy, the Paul and his campaign seems to have decided that the only thing left for them to do was to start lying:
After multiple interviews in which Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul explained his opposition to the Civil Rights Act infringing on private enterprise, his campaign aides have decided to try a new tack. As of this afternoon, the new strategy is to simply pretend that the positions the candidate has already articulated are not actually the positions the candidate believes.
In other words, afraid of how explosive this may be, the Rand Paul Senate campaign is giving lying a shot.
This afternoon, a spokesman for the Paul campaign told Greg Sargent, “Civil Rights legislation that has been affirmed by our courts gives the Federal government the right to insure that private businesses don’t discriminate based on race. Dr. Paul supports those powers.”
Except, of course, he doesn’t. We know Paul doesn’t support this policy because he’s told us he doesn’t support this policy. Indeed, just last night, Rachel Maddow asked the Republican candidate, “Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don’t serve black people?” Paul replied, “Yes.”
Worse, this has always been Paul’s position. This afternoon, Dave Weigel notes remarks the right-wing ophthalmologist made several years ago.
“The Daily News ignores,” wrote Paul, “as does the Fair Housing Act, the distinction between private and public property. Should it be prohibited for public, taxpayer-financed institutions such as schools to reject someone based on an individual’s beliefs or attributes? Most certainly. Should it be prohibited for private entities such as a church, bed and breakfast or retirement neighborhood that doesn’t want noisy children? Absolutely not.”
In language similar to the language he’s used talking about the Civil Rights Act, Paul criticized racism while defending the right of businesses to discriminate.
“A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination,” wrote Paul, “even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin. It is unenlightened and ill-informed to promote discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin. It is likewise unwise to forget the distinction between public (taxpayer-financed) and private entities.”
So, when the campaign spokesperson argues that Rand Paul “supports” government restrictions on private enterprise regarding discrimination, that’s plainly false. That, or Paul woke up this morning with a policy position entirely at odds with everything he’s said and/or thought on the subject for years.
And the Paul still wasn’t done with lying to try and disavow beliefs he’s already articulated all too clearly all too many times. He appeared on CNN‘s The Situation Room and tried this on for size with Wolf Blitzer:
…Paul sought to walk back his explosive comments.
He said he would have voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act if he were in the Senate at the time, calling the racial climate at the time “a stain on the South and our history.”
“There was an overriding problem in the South that was so big that it did require federal intervention in the Sixties,” he said. “The Southern states weren’t correcting it, and there was a need for federal intervention.”
Commentators weren’t exactly impressed:
As political flip-flops go, Rand Paul’s reversal is one for the books. “Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?” He had a very specific answer before yesterday, which he’d articulated on multiple occasions, over the course of many years. It just happens to be the exact opposite of the position he endorsed while on CNN.
It appears that Paul had a choice: defend his deeply held principles and try to convince voters of the merit of his ideas, or abandon those principles when they became politically problematic and put his Senate bid in jeopardy. Paul has obviously made his decision.
Indeed, he’s trying to soften other extreme beliefs, too. Paul has already voiced opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, but when asked about the ADA by Wolf Blitzer yesterday, the Senate hopeful said, “I’d have to look at it and see.”
Stay tuned for today’s developments. I suspect the Paul will be on stage, front and center, most of the day.
Of course, it’s not just the Paul and his campaign that finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Since he is now the Republican Party’s official nominee for the Kentucky Senate election, party leaders are facing questions about where they stand on the Paul’s unorthodox beliefs.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor chose to embarrass himself another day:
Not being familiar with the context of his response or his questions, I really can’t opine as to his position.
The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, John Cornyn, (R) also dodged the question, saying: “I haven’t heard it, so I’m really not in a position to comment.” But the NRSC jumped into that vacuum, “nevertheless issu(ing) a statement attacking Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) for having been on the wrong side of the civil rights debate in the 1960s.”
Smart move, guys!
And the leaders of the Republican Party are still going to have to decide whether they distance themselves from him as a whack job, or whether they enfold him in their warm embrace.