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Rand Paul, telling the truth

If we use "gaffe" in its proper, Kinsleyan form, that's what U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul issued to NPR yesterday, and that's what he defended on Rachel Maddow's show last night. He told the truth about his stance on the Civil Rights Act. I've posted the video and transcript below the fold, because I find it fascinating to watch Paul stand by his philosophical and legal stance and refuse to dissemble in a way that would, you know, get people to stop accusing him of some archaic form of racism. It reminds me of the way his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), stuck by his belief that the Civil War didn't need to be fought even when he appeared on "Meet the Press." The stakes were lower for Ron Paul, though -- he stood no chance of winning the GOP's presidential nomination, while Rand Paul stands a good chance of being elected to Senate.

So is Rand Paul a racist? No, and it's irritating to watch his out-of-context quotes -- this and a comment about how golf was no longer for elitists because Tiger Woods plays golf -- splashed on the Web to make that point. Paul believes, as many conservatives believe, that the government should ban bias in all of its institutions but cannot intervene in the policies of private businesses. Those businesses, as Paul argues, take a risk by maintaining, in this example, racist policies. Patrons can decide whether or not to give them their money, or whether or not to make a fuss about their policies. That, not government regulation and intervention, is how bias should be eliminated in the private sector. And in this belief Paul is joined by some conservatives who resent that liberals seek government intervention for every unequal outcome.

Now, few conservatives would go as far as Paul. In an essay just this month on the thought of William F. Buckley, Lee Edwards criticized Buckley's belief "that the federal enforcement of integration was worse than the temporary continuation of segregation."

"As a result of National Review’s above-the-fray philosophizing," wrote Edwards, "and Barry Goldwater’s vote, on constitutional grounds, against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the albatross of racism was hung around the neck of American conservatism and remained there for decades and even to the present."

That, in miniature, is what is happening to Paul.

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PAUL: Thank you, Rachel, and thank you for that wonderful intro piece, quite a collection.

MADDOW: I know this must feel like frying pan and into the fire here, so soon after the election with really being the focus of this national storm right now. Everybody is trying to figure out what you meant by these things. But let's talk about it.

PAUL: Yes.

MADDOW: Was "The Courier-Journal" right? Do you believe that private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people or gays or any other minority group, as they said?

PAUL: Well, I think to put things in perspective, when "The Courier-Journal" does not endorse a Republican, that's not something very unusual in our state. They typically don't endorse Republicans, and it's a very Democratic paper.

But with regard to racism, I don`t believe in any racism. I don`t think we should have any government racism, any institutional form of racism. You know, one interesting historical tidbit, one of my favorite historical characters is William Lloyd Garrison. And one of the interesting things about desegregation and putting people together, do you know when it happened in Boston?

MADDOW: What do you mean, the desegregation? In general?

PAUL: You know when we got -- you know, when we got rid of the Jim Crow laws and when we got rid of segregation and a lot of the abhorrent practices in the South, do you know when we got rid of it in Boston?

MADDOW: I -- why don't you tell me what you`re getting at?

PAUL: Well, it was in 1840. So I think it is sort of a stain on the history of America that 120 years to desegregate the South.

But William Lloyd Garrison was a champion and abolitionist who wrote about freeing the slaves back in the 1810s, '20s and '30s and labored in obscurity (ph) to do this. He was flagged, put in jails. He was with Frederick Douglass being thrown off trains.

But, you know, they desegregated transportation in Boston in 1840, and I think that was an impressive and amazing thing. But also points out the sadness that it took us 120 years to desegregate the South. And a lot of that was institutional racism was absolutely wrong and something that I absolutely oppose.

MADDOW: In terms of legal remedies for persistent discrimination, though, if there was a private business, say, in Louisville, say, somewhere in your home state, that wanted to not serve black patrons and wanted to not serve gay patrons, or somebody else on the basis of their -- on the basis of a characteristic that they decided they didn't like as a private business owner -- would you think they had a legal right to do so, to put up a "blacks not served here" sign?

PAUL: Well, the interesting thing is, you know, you look back to the 1950s and 1960s at the problems we faced. There were incredible problems. You know, the problems had to do with mostly voting, they had to do with schools, they had to do with public housing. And so, this is what the civil rights largely addressed, and all things that I largely agree with.

MADDOW: But what about private businesses? I mean, I hate to -- I don`t want to be badgering you on this, but I do want an answer.

PAUL: I'm not -- I'm not --

MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don't serve black people?

PAUL: Yes. 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.

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 is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it. I think the problem with this debate is by getting muddled down into it, the implication is somehow that I would approve of any racism or discrimination, and I don't in any form or fashion.

MADDOW: But isn't being in favor of civil rights but against the Civil Rights Act a little like saying you're against high cholesterol but you're in favor of fried cheese?

PAUL: But I'm not against --

MADDOW: I mean, the Civil Rights Act was the federal government stepping in to protect civil rights because they weren't otherwise being protected. It wasn't a hypothetical. There were businesses that were saying black people cannot be served here and the federal government stepped in and said, no, you actually don't have that choice to make. The federal government is coming in and saying you can't make that choice as a business owner.

Which side of that debate would you put yourself on?

PAUL: In the totality of it, I'm in favor of the federal government being involved in civil rights and that's, you know, mostly what the Civil Rights Act was about. And that was ending institutional racism.

MADDOW: When you --

PAUL: And I'm in favor of -- I'm opposed to any form of governmental racism or discrimination or segregation, all of the things we fought in the South, in fact, like I say, I think it's a stain on our history that we went 120 years from when the North desegregated and when those battles were fought in the North. And I like to think that, you know, even though I was a year old at the time, that I would have marched with Martin Luther King because I believed in what he was doing.

MADDOW: But if you were in the --


PAUL: But, you know, most of the things he was fighting -- most of the things he --

MADDOW: I`m sorry to interrupt you. Go on, sir.

PAUL: Most of the things he were fighting -- most of the things that he was fighting were laws. He was fighting Jim Crow laws. He was fighting legalized and institutional racism. And I'd be right there with him.

MADDOW: But maybe voting against the Civil Rights Act which wasn't just about governmental discrimination but public accommodations, the idea that people who provided services that were open to the public had to do so in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

Let me ask you a specific so we don't get into the esoteric hypotheticals here.

PAUL: Well, there's 10 -- there's 10 different -- there's 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 deal with public institutions. And I'm absolutely in favor of one deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.

But you know, the other thing about legislation -- and this is why it's a little hard to say exactly where you are sometimes, is that when you support nine out of 10 things in a good piece of legislation, do you vote for it or against it? And I think, sometimes, those are difficult situations.

What I was asked by "The Courier-Journal" and I stick by it is that I do defend and believe that the government should not be involved with institutional racism or discrimination or segregation in schools, busing, all those things. But had I been there, there would have been some discussion over one of the titles of the civil rights.

And I think that's a valid point, and still a valid discussion, because the thing is, is if we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about: do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well. Do you want to say that because people say abhorrent things -- you know, we still have this. We're having all this debate over hate speech and this and that. Can you have a newspaper and say abhorrent things? Can you march in a parade and believe in abhorrent things, you know?

So, I think it's an important debate but should be intellectual one. It's really tough to have an intellectual debate in the political sense because what happens is it gets dumbed down. It will get dumb down to three words and they'll try to run on this entire issue, and it's being brought up as a political issue.

I think if you listen to me, I think you should understand that -- I think you do, I think you're an intelligent person. I like being on your show. But I think that what is the totality of what I'm saying -- am I a bad person? Do I believe in awful things? No.

I really think that discrimination and racism is a horrible thing. And I don't want any form of it in our government, in our public sphere.

MADDOW: The reason that this is something that I'm not letting go even though I now realize it would make the conversation more comfortable to move on to other things and I think this is going to be a focus for national attention on you, I guess until there's at least clarity on it, is that issue of the tenth, not the nine, but the tenth out of the 10 portions -- proportions of the -- the tenth of the Civil Rights Act that you would want to have discussions about. As I understand it, what you`re saying, that's the portion of the Civil Rights Act that said you can't actually have segregated lunch counters here at your private business.

I mean, when Bob Jones University in the year 2000 --

PAUL: Well, it's interesting. Actually, it's even --


MADDOW: Hold on just one second. Until the year 2000, Bob Jones University, a private institution, had a ban on interracial dating at their school, their private institution. If Bob Jones University wanted to bring that back now, would you support their right to do so?

PAUL: Well, I think it's interesting because the debate involves more than just that, because the debate also involves a lot of court cases with regard to the commerce clause. For example, right now, many states and many gun organizations are saying they have a right to carry a gun in a public restaurant because a public restaurant is not a private restaurant. Therefore, they have a right to carry their gun in there and that the restaurant has no right to have rules to their restaurant.

So, you see how this could be turned on many liberal observers who want to excoriate me on this. Then to be consistent, they'd have to say, oh, well, yes, absolutely, you've got your right to carry your gun anywhere because it's a public place.

So, you see, when you blur the distinction between public and private, there are problems. When you blur the distinction between public and private ownership, there really is a problem. A lot of this was settled a long time ago and isn't being debated anymore.

MADDOW: But it could be brought up at any moment. I mean, if there - - let's say there's a town right now and the owner of the town's swimming club says we're not going to allow black kids at our pool, and the owner of the bowling alley in town says, we're not actually going to allow black patrons, and the owner of the skating rink in town says, we're not going to allow black people to skate here.

And you may think that's abhorrent and you may think that's bad business. But unless it's illegal, there's nothing to stop that -- there's nothing under your world view to stop the country from re-segregating like we were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 --

PAUL: Right.

MADDOW: -- which you're saying you've got some issues with.

PAUL: Well, the interesting thing is, is that there's nothing right now to prevent a lot of re-segregating. We had a lot of it over the last 30 or 40 years.

What I would say is that we did some very important things in the '60s that I'm all in favor of and that was desegregating the schools, desegregating public transportation, use public roads and public monopolies, desegregating public water fountains.

MADDOW: How about desegregating lunch counters? Lunch counters. Walgreen's lunch counters, were you in favor of that? Possibly? Because the government got involved?


PAUL: Right. Well, what it gets into is, is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, well, no, we don't want to have guns in here.

The bar says we don't want to have guns in here, because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each other. Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?

These are important philosophical debates but not very practical discussion. And I think we can make something out of this --

MADDOW: Well, it's pretty practical to people who were -- had their life nearly beaten out of them trying to desegregate Walgreen's lunch counters despite these esoteric debates about gun ownership. This is not a hypothetical, Dr. Paul.

PAUL: Yes, but I -- yes. Well, but I think what you`re doing, Rachel, is you're conflating the issue.


PAUL: You're saying that somehow this abstract discussion of private property has any bit of condoning for violence. This -- there's nothing in what I'm saying that condones any violence and any kind of violence like that deserves to be put -- people like that deserve to be put in jail. So nobody's condoning any of that.

MADDOW: Well, I understand that you're not condoning violence, but the people who were beating for trying to desegregate Woolworth`s lunch counters weren't asking to be beaten. They're asking --

PAUL: Those people should have gone --


MADDOW: -- for private businesses to be desegregated by the government. You're saying those people should have gone to different places? Left them segregated?

PAUL: People who commit -- people who commit violence on other individuals should go to prison and go to jail. And there's nothing we should ever do to condone violence on other individuals.

MADDOW: And should Woolworth lunch counter should have been allowed to stay segregated? Sir, just yes or no.

PAUL: What I think would happen -- what I'm saying is, is that I don't believe in any discrimination. I don't believe in any private property should discriminate either. And I wouldn't attend, wouldn't support, wouldn't go to.

But what you have to answer when you answer this point of view, which is an abstract, obscure conversation from 1964 that you want to bring up. But if you want to answer, you have to say then that you decide the rules for all restaurants and then you decide that you want to allow them to carry weapons into restaurants.

MADDOW: I can -- we could have a fight about the Second Amendment.


MADDOW: But I think wanting to allow private industry -- private businesses --

PAUL: It's the same fight. It's the same fight.

MADDOW: -- to discriminate along the basis of race because of property rights is an extreme view and I think that's going to be the focus nationally on your candidacy now and you're going to have a lot more debates like this. So, I hope you don't hold it against me for bringing it up. I think this is going to be a continuing discussion for a long time, Dr. Paul.

PAUL: Well, I think what you've done is you bring up something that really is not an issue, nothing I've ever spoken about or have any indication that I`m interested in any legislation concerning. So, what you bring up is sort of a red herring or something that you want to pit. It's a political ploy. I mean, it's brought up as an attack weapon from the other side, and that's the way it will be used.

But, you know, I think a lot of times these attacks fall back on themselves, and I don't think it will have any effect because the thing is, is that every fiber of my being doesn't believe in discrimination, doesn't believe that we should have that in our society. And to imply otherwise is just dishonest.

MADDOW: Dr. Rand Paul, Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Kentucky, where he'll be representing not only his own views about how to live but what kind of laws we should have in America, sir, I enjoy talking with these things about you. I couldn't disagree with you more about this issue, but I do respect you for coming on the show, and for being able to have this civil discussion about it. Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you, Rachel.

By David Weigel  |  May 20, 2010; 8:50 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Election , Race  
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