Instead, it’s with his devotion to protecting the white supremacist status quo, even as he attempts to surgically cut away some of its negative effects. Fittingly, this problem is destined to cut him back three ways: long, deep, and constantly.
Paul has been getting all sorts of credit lately, even from liberals, for his bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform. Certainly, he deserves some credit, and his willingness to work with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is commendable. What’s not so commendable is that, even as he was extolling the virtues of tackling “racial outcomes” in the criminal justice system in an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber, Paul refused to concede that the criminal justice system is racist, or even “accidentally racist,” that the “racial outcomes” are “inadvertent.”
“I think it has to do with several things; it’s easier to arrest people who live in poverty, it’s easier to arrest people who live close together, it’s easier to arrest people where there are more patrols going on, and then we also give government grants to the police force based on arrest and conviction records.”
What Paul is saying here is, of course, complete horseshit, because even when you control for all of the factors he cites, the impact is still wildly disparate, but he’s also clearly denying the fact that racism is a major contributor to all of those factors. Black people didn’t just “inadvertently” become disproportionately poor, disproportionately urban, or disproportionately policed, those things are all the result of racist policies that continue to this day.
Paul’s refusal to acknowledge systemic racism could charitably be viewed as an effort to avoid alienating conservatives, for whom the word “racism” is a flaming red cape, or it could be viewed as the entirely consistent ignorance of someone who views the desegregation of lunch counters as a “philosophical discussion.”
A cynical person might view Paul’s entire effort at reform as an exercise in mitigating the racial impact of his own party by peeling off black voters with a condescending appeal to a narrow interest, while contemptuously dismissing the will of black voters, as expressed in the election of the first black president.
“If we can find African Americans who are, frankly, open and aware that the criminal justice system has had a racial outcome, that are willing to fix it, and that there are Republicans who are willing to fix it, I think we transform that vote.”
“Has there been a transformational election? Some will say ‘the first African American president,’ and I say well, no, what he did is he maximized the same people who always voted Democratic, he didn’t really change things.“
Paul has this habit of explaining that black people just aren’t aware of things that they are actually painfully aware of, and the “racial outcome” of the criminal justice system is no exception. There are also lots of black voters (and white voters) who would point out that Barack Obama did change things, like the 750,000 jobs the country was losing per month, or the two wars it was in, or the continued breathing of Osama bin Laden, or the tens of millions of people who had no health insurance, and so on. If Paul thinks that dismissing all of this, and/or promising to address “racial outcomes” without addressing racism, is going to attract black voters, well, good luck with that.
There is a reason that most libertarians are white males, because the “leave me alone coalition,” as Paul calls it, conveniently wishes to be left alone with all of the advantages they’ve accrued over generations of white male supremacy, to “call it even” now that they’re standing on third base.
To be clear, I don’t think Paul is a “horrible racist,” or even necessarily a deliberate promoter of white supremacy. I believe he really is naive enough to think that racism by private businesses would have ended on its own because it’s a “bad business decision,” or that it’s possible to bail racism out of the criminal justice system with a legislative thimble, but the effect is the same: By failing to recognize racism, let alone a responsibility to fix it, Rand Paul is maintaining white supremacy.
But that’s not his real white supremacy problem, because as far as his reform efforts go, he’s still miles ahead of most Republicans. Like Booker, I don’t particularly care if a Republican says stupid things while they’re supporting helpful reforms. Paul’s real white supremacy problem will rear up when he actually begins to run for president.
Paul isn’t the first Republican to try this. Not many people know this, but former Sen. Rick Santorum is actually not a huge piece of shit when it comes to voting rights, and even supported legislation to restore the right to felons. This, of course, led other Republicans to attack him during the 2012 campaign (culminating in a must-see takedown of Mitt Romney by Santorum). I give Santorum a lot of credit, not just for supporting the legislation, but for defending it so vociferously. Fat lot of good it did him.
Now, if Santorum’s support for a law that restored felons’ voting right after their sentences and probation were served got him attacked like that, how do you think Republican voters will react when someone runs an ad in 2016 accusing Paul of “voting to give welfare and food stamps to convicted felons?”
Here’s a hint: the last farm bill to pass Congress contained an amendment that not only banned certain felons from receiving food stamps, but required that their income be included in calculating the family’s benefits, while not counting them as a household member.
Rand Paul probably does think that he’s doing the right thing, but the real test will be how he reacts when he discovers that even if he studiously avoids using the r-word, his party will still attack him for it. Lots of Republicans thought they had cover to support immigration reform, too, but in GOP politics, Big Angry White still reigns supreme.