Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why African Americans Should be Skeptical of Rand Paul’s New and Improved Republican Party

entucky Senator and rising star in the GOP, Rand Paul recently spoke at Howard University, a mostly black campus in Washington DC. He came to the campus to ask black Americans to give conservatism a second look. He appears to be banking on African Americans ignoring decades of controversial stands on racial issues. 

Now that it is clear that the Republican party can no longer win elections by appealing to white prejudices, Paul is trying to re-write history, his own, his father’s and the the Republican conservative movement. African American voters have every reason to be skeptical of Paul’s hollow overture.

The Deceptive Dodge
The problem with Senator Paul’s defense of Republican values when it comes to race is Rand Paul himself. In the past, some liberals have charged that Paul was against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, the allegation was not true. He stated clearly he would have voted for the bill. However there’s something a bit more nuanced about his view. (“Purposefully vague” might be a better way of saying it.)

On the Rachel Maddow show, Paul was asked about the specifics.
"Do you think that a private business has the right to say 'we don't serve black people'?"
Here’s what he said:
"I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race.
Private clubs, especially religious organizations, have always been a “gray area” when it comes to anti-discrimination laws. Senator Paul should be aware of this.
Then he added a nice twist:

But I think what's important about this debate is not written into any specific 'gotcha' on this, but asking the question: What about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking? . . . I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things freedom requires."
So, Rand Paul goes to Howard University and tells African Americans, that in the name of freedom, they must respect the free speech of racists? Quite a startling thing to assert. But there are some problems with his ideas.
As Paul well knows, free speech and expression are not absolute or unlimited.
They never have been. 
For example:
Speech that involves incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threats, and speech owned by others are all completely exempt from First Amendment protections.
Would Paul consider burning a cross in the yard of his black neighbor also a constitutional exercise of free speech? Would Paul’s interpretation of freedom of expression also include a restaurant’s owner right to have specially-designated areas for minorities? Would Paul consider “whites only” signs an example of free speech? Does he also believe business owners have the right to refuse to serve women, Muslims or Jews? 

If so, then the worst examples of America’s era of discrimination against black Americans could all be written off as free speech. Free speech was never intended to be used to make a certain minority feel less free. 

A Ridiculous Corner
But free speech when it comes to racism isn’t as harmless as Paul attempts to portray it. One source, citing Yale University Scholar Owen Fiss, observes:
By protecting racist speech, the law reproduces inequalities in society, as silencing effects depend not only on content, but also on the social standing of those who hear them....
Words, images, symbols, and expressive conduct have the power to silence individuals and groups in a community, especially ones with a history of prejudice. Rather than foster social benefit, it reduces the quality of discussion to racial and social difference. In such cases, the court has the duty to “curtail the speech of some to let the less powerful be heard”
The founding fathers, in drafting protections for free speech into the Constitution, sought to encourage public discussion of relevant issues. But racist speech, especially when it comes from the majority population against a minority, does just the opposite.
Racist speech not only silences, but it fosters the breakdown of community, results in real violence, and diminishes the livelihood of racial groups. These consequences undermine the fundamental aims of the First Amendment by devaluing the quality of speech and discussion in society. 
In any case, Maddow was not asking about the right to free speech but the right to discriminate. Paul understood this but deflected the question. Since the question was not asked nor answered we cannot know precisely how he would have answered. The fact that he chose to say “uncivilized behavior” (rather than uncivilized speech) is perhaps a clue to what he is really saying. He doesn’t elaborate.
Of course, Paul could not answer the question without contradicting his earlier statement of endorsing the landmark anti-discrimination laws of the 1960s. 
Because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in Title II declares illegal the 
discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce;
Therefore, Paul has painted himself into a rather ridiculous corner. According his strange logic, restaurant owners have the right to display a sign refusing to serve certain minorities as long as they don’t actually refuse.
Do you believe that’s what he means? I don't either.

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The right not to serve a particular group based on race or gender is certainly not at all the same as refusing service based on individual and controllable attributes. Putting in another way, if a restaurant owner refuses service to a particular man who has been loud and abusive to the staff or to other diners, then it is quite reasonable to show him the door. 
All Americans, whether majority or minority, should find that acceptable. However, 
...[Q]uestions of race discuss physical attributes beyond individual control. Individuals cannot separate themselves from the racial group to which they belong, and denouncing whole groups can prevent the livelihood of the respective individuals.
It' all boils down to fair treatment. Would any white person like to live in a town where he could be refused service based solely on the color of his skin? I rather doubt it. 
Still worse, is it such a stretch of the imagination to assume that any business person who would not serve an African American would also not employ a black person? Is that also an act of free expression? 

Like Father, Like Son?
It is a little galling to hear a person of Rand Paul’s background attempting to sell the Conservative party line to African Americans for several reasons. For the sake of politics, Rand Paul has been quite willing to use his father’s record to enhance his own political career. 

As Paul Harris, writing for the UK Guardian, called Rand “ the inheritor of his father's political movement. “ As one supporter said about the contrast between father to son:
"Ron Paul was a purist, but Rand Paul can do a much better job of doing the politics. He has a more moderate approach and feel, but it is the same end game.
Considering some of his father’s past statements, that’s quite a loaded remark. Like his son today, Ron Paul, as candidate in the last presidential election, was forced to refurbish a reputation that was heavily tarnished with racism. 

There was the problem with his newsletter which Paul published during his 12-year hiatus from public office. Many of the articles were clearly racist. For example, in December 1989, there appeared one article (without a byline) which predicted that “Racial Violence Will Fill Our Cities” because “mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white ‘haves.’” 

A couple of months later, the newsletter warned of an impending race war and advised readers desert the urban areas immediately and to head for the hills. There were other examples:
In June 1991, an entry on racial disturbances in Washington, DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood was titled, “Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo.” “This is only the first skirmish in the race war of the 1990s,” the newsletter predicted. In an October 1992 item about urban crime, the newsletter’s author--presumably Paul--wrote, “I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense. For the animals are coming.”
When confronted, instead of taking responsibility for the newsletter, Ron Paul simply denied he knew anything about the actual content despite the rather hard-to-ignore fact that Ron Paul’s name was displayed in giant letters on the publications’ mastheads. As the Washington Post observes:
Paul offers implausible explanations for why so many derogatory statements made it into his publications, insisting he knew nothing about them. It’s hard to believe that a man who wants to oversee the entire U.S. government — albeit a smaller version — would provide zero oversight of his publications, or even bother to read them from time to time.
Even as Ron Paul attempted to re-brand himself as a respectable candidate in a respectable party, there were still glitches. On the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Ron Paul said:
“Contrary to the claims of the supporters of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the sponsors of H.Res. 676, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not improve race relations or enhance freedom. Instead, the forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.”
Additionally the father of Rand Paul has told audience that he would not have voted against the Jim Crow Laws which allowed the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks.

When it suits his political needs, Rand Paul likes to portray himself as having a firm grasp of the torch passed down to him from his father. That’s not unexpected. However, before travelling to Howard University, to tell the student body how much things have changed in the Republican party, he could easily have categorically rejected (in no uncertain terms) these backward paternal opinions. 

Clearly Mr. Rand Paul got ahead of himself by acting as a fast-talking salesman of the Republican party. First things first. Before going to Howard University, he might have tried a simple clear statement along the lines of:
I reject every racist remark, whether intentional or not, that my father has made or has been alleged to have made. Furthermore, I stand against discrimination based on color, gender or any religion in any form.
Had he issued a concise statement like that before booking an engagement at Howard, he might have been a little more convincing. But then, both father and son are well aware of the dangers of rejecting racism in such a clear language. 

Their core supporters would be heating up the thick gooey Texas tar and emptying the pillows as fast as they could.

The False Narrative of Rand Paul
In a larger context, attempts to ignore and rewrite his family history presents Rand Paul with the same problems that the conservative Republican Party has. There’s too much of conclusive evidence to refute. In a summary of his Howard University address, on source explains:
He said after the Great Depression and Civil Rights Act, blacks wanted "economic emancipation" and began voting Democrat because Democrats promised "unlimited federal assistance". He added: Republicans offered something that seemed less tangible-the promise of equalizing opportunity through free markets. After nearly 50 years of Democrat policies, Paul argued the evidence shows that big government is not a friend to African Americans. ...
This statement is fascinating. Paul has a strange view of American history. Blacks did not begin voting for Democrats because they were bribed into doing so, as Paul implies.. They voted for the party because President Kennedy and President Johnson recognized that inequality between the races was abhorrent to the American system.

Speaking about his proposed Civil Rights Legislation in 1963, John Kennedy told the american people:
"We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?"
It is an insult to African Americans to claim the entire Civil rights movement was about entitlements.

Following the Kennedy-Johnson era, came Nixon and his Southern Strategy. By using the Democratic party’s support for Civil Rights against in the segregated South, the Republican strategy turned the once solidly Democratic South into a Republican stronghold. It did this feat by turning its backs on black voters and appealing to the worst tendencies of the white Southern voters. 
In 1970, Nixon's political strategist Kevin Phillips described the plan:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that...The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are.
It was an extraordinarily cynical but extraordinarily successful political strategy.
Until now.

The father of the conservative movement, Ronald Reagan fought hard against the implementation of Affirmative Action, by equating it with hiring quotas. Yet, as Reverend Jesse Jackson pointed out at the time, it was a misrepresentation designed to appeal to the majority white middle class:
Affirmative action, with goals, timetables or quotas, does not require the hiring, promotion or admission of unqualified minorities or females. Affirmative action only requires that members of historically discriminated groups--minorities and females--be included in the pool of qualified individuals from which the eventual selections will be made. All in the pool qualify.
Reagan’s plan to overturn Affirmative Action were effectively stymied by the Supreme Court which upheld the constitutionality of the laws. 

Had the Republicans actually been all about equalizing opportunity for blacks, then why did Reagan have such a hard time coming out against the policy of apartheid in South Africa? Instead of merely remaining silent on the matter (bad enough) Reagan even chose to veto a bill to impose sanctions on South Africa for its discriminatory policy. Like the Supreme Court, Congress overruled Reagan’s veto. 

Science and Pseudoscience 
The post-Reagan, if anything, was more of the same or worse. Paul rehashes the views that eventually became part of the Republican conservative ideology. Namely, that, when it came to race and solving the problems of inequality, government was actually the problem. Importantly, this concept was strengthened by the American political scientist, Charles Murray. (Murray, like Rand Pau and his father, is a libertarian

Murray's 1984 book, “Losing Ground” which was hailed by the conservatives, provided the intellectual justification for Reagan’s social views. Here’s how one source describes his theories:
The book argued that the explosion of welfare programs didn’t help their intended targets, especially poor African-Americans; in fact it hurt them, encouraging men to forgo supporting their children by substituting government in the role of provider.
If Murray had stopped there, it might well have provided merely a starting point for a real discussion on the issue. However, in 1994, Murray (with psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein) went further in his next book, “The Bell Curve.”
Murray went on to argue that racial and class divisions in society were largely due to genetic intelligence differences that caused whites and Asians to excel and consigned blacks and Latinos to lower status, and there was nothing government could do to fight that natural order.
So, in effect, there really was a “master race” after all.
Incidentally, Murray in his youth, according to a New York Times profile, exercised his first amendment rights to free speech and burned a cross on a hill in his Iowa town when he was in high school. Despite the event occurring at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, he claims he had no idea that act had any racist symbolism. 

Even in the last election, Murray’s opinions were considered worthy of review. In The Wall Street Journal, Murray wrote of the candidacy of Mitt Romney:
Mitt Romney's résumé at Bain should be a slam dunk...Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist?
One wonders if Murray would have been quite so enthusiastic if Romney had been Latino or Black.
Probably not. Reality hasn’t been a friend to Murray. 

After all, despite his claim of Negro inferiority, Obama, as a Harvard graduate, senator and president of the United States, has proved all of Murray’s theories about white supremacy incorrect. Perhaps this is where so much of the hate comes from on the Right when it comes to president Obama. It’s hard to admit when you are wrong.
In any event, thanks to Murray and his conservative support, intellectualized racism and the Republican Party became all but indistinguishable.
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There are still more problems with Senator Paul’s statement before the Howard University audience. Paul claims that it was Republicans that offered black Americans the promise of equal opportunity. Again, a quick glance at history says something very different. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law in the Democratic Johnson administration, was the first federal law designed to protect most U.S. employees from employment discrimination based upon that employee's (or applicant's) race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 

For 35 years, despite constant complaints from conservatives, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which was established by the Civil Rights Act) has attempted to protect employees from discrimination making equal opportunity more than just a fairy tale. 
Since its creation in 1964, Congress has gradually extended EEOC powers to include investigatory authority, creating conciliation programs, filing lawsuits, and conducting voluntary assistance programs..
On the other hand, the last Republican administration did everything it could to undermine the effectiveness of the EEOC by budget and staff cuts. The excuse was an all-purpose one. According to Bush officials, more money was needed for defense and homeland security. From 2001 to 2006, staff at the EEOC had shrunk by nearly 20% and that trend continued right up until Obama took office. 
Despite the astounding election of a America’s first black president, the last election proved conclusively that Republicans understood that there would be no negative repercussions by being openly racist. It was perhaps wiser to keep things vague and deniable but appealing to white man’s fears was not, they thought, such a bad idea. 

They were disastrously wrong about that.

Some like Rand Paul want to convince black voters that, despite nearly forty years of evidence, the Republican party has always their friend. He clearly believes that Black americans are too ignorant of their history to know the truth about what the Republican party has and has not done when it comes to race relations. 
This is exactly the reason why African Americans must constantly be on guard against when it comes to the so-called re-branding of the conservative Republican party.