Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has a racism problem. It’s not the same as Paula Deen’s racism problem. He didn’t try to serve up “Sambo burgers” or hire actors to play slaves at a wedding. That we know of (kidding… maybe). But a trend is developing in which he bashes face first into one race-based ordeal or another.
You might recall how Rand Paul’s head-banger spokesman, Christopher Hightower, was forced to resign over racist posts on his MySpace page (made slightly worse by the fact that Hightower still had a MySpace page in 2009). You might also recall how during an MSNBC interview with Rachel Maddow, Rand Paul, like his father, questioned the wisdom of the Civil Rights Act, arguing that business owners should to be able to decide for themselves whether they can serve African American customers.
Yesterday, Rand Paul’s new media director, Jack Hunter, was outed as a bit of a racist maniac. In his previous gig as a radio shock jock in the totally-not-crazy state of South Carolina, Hunter would regularly appear as a non-satirical superhero character named the “Southern Avenger,” complete with a mask made from a Dixie flag. He was also a member of the secessionist group known as the League of the South and believed John Wilkes Booth’s heart “was in the right place.” Sounds like a classy guy.
It should come as no surprise that Rand Paul surrounds himself with characters like this.
There’s a huge Venn Diagram overlap between his politics and old-school Confederate, secessionist racism. Rand Paul staunchly supports nullification, which has its roots in antebellum, southern fire-eater politics. It’s the Tenther argument — the thoroughly debunked 10th Amendment-based heart of states’ right radicalism. The states, they say, can overrule any law handed down by the federal government. Pre-Civil War, it was considered unconstitutional for the federal government to command the southern gentry to free their slaves. The same crackpot interpretation of the 10th Amendment is alive today in the person of Rand Paul and other tea party favorites.
In fact, nullification and states’ rights — not libertarianism — are the true centerpieces of both Rand and Ron Paul’s politics. How many times have we heard Ron Paul tell us that any and most if not all laws should be left up to the states? True libertarians, however, wouldn’t be as staunchly anti-choice as Paul & Son. Ron Paul, in particular, disguises his absolutist, intrusive, contra-libertarian abortion position in a familiar “leave it up to the states” dodge.
Yet I continue to hear how it’s okay to agree with Rand Paul when he takes opportunistic stands on civil liberties issues like drones or NSA surveillance. Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with agreeing with someone who is otherwise loathsome. But what’s too often overlooked with Rand Paul is that which specifically informs his so-called civil libertarian views.
Rand Paul, or Ron Paul for that matter, aren’t taking liberal positions on these issues — it just sounds that way. Liberal overlap is completely incidental and cosmetic. Instead, it has everything to do with Paul & Son’s view that the federal government is too powerful and ought to cede most of its power to the states. Where liberal opposition to drones is a feature of anti-war pacificsm, and liberal opposition to NSA surveillance is a feature of civil libertarianism, Rand Paul’s opposition to these policies grows directly from an anti-government, nullification, states’ rights posture.
When liberals “stand with Rand,” they’re standing with a nullificationist and, therefore, further legitimizing and empowering his ability to pursue all of the terrible things that go along with states’ rights conservatism. He’s cleverly deceiving liberals into helping to empower and sustain that movement, which is connected to racist weirdos like Hightower and Hunter. By appearing to reach out, he also appears bipartisan. He’s not. The more support Rand Paul receives, the more capital he can spend on his pursuit of nullificationist policies — policies that are utterly horrendous and damaging to democracy.
In other words, yes, you’re welcome to stand with Rand Paul on drones and NSA, but what exactly will vocal support for this guy on these two issues achieve for liberalism? Nothing. Instead, too many liberals attached themselves to a guy who has highly questionable views on the Civil Rights Act, a top shelf success story for liberalism, and who appears to routinely hire racists. Put another way, replace the name Rand Paul with the name George Wallace or Strom Thurmond, states’ rights nullificationists both, and then check your optics. While we’re at it, couple the shaky optics with the fact that many of these same “Stand with Rand” liberals have relentlessly criticized the first African American president and accused him of war crimes. Taken together, it looks awful.
It’s clear that Rand Paul will say anything to appear more mainstream that he really is — his recent flip-flop on abortion, for example. Rand Paul famously sponsored a fetal personhood bill, then conveniently pandered to the mainstream on CNN, and then slipped back to his no-exceptions default. On drones, Rand Paul has performed the same gymnastics routine, leaping all around the floor. Eventually, he always lands back at his home base, which is occupied by fringe cranks and archaic views about significant civil rights legislation. He’s neither a libertarian nor a civil libertarian. Instead, he’s happy to shove women into the path of regressive, punitive laws; and minorities into the path of throw-back Confederate states’ rights dogma.
Standing with Rand means standing with his creepy buddies — not to mention the twisted values that led him to hire those buddies in the first place.