Since delivering a thorough mollywhopping to Trey Grayson in the Republican primary for Kentucky’s Senate seat, Rand Paul has become something of a media favorite, an easy avatar for the supposed electoral might of the Tea Party movement. Though the Tea Party has strenuously argued that it is a populist movement that eschews top-down direction, his nomination is their biggest accomplishment so far, and so he will have tremendous influence over how they are branded nationally.
It’s probably not good for them — a cohort that tends to get pissy when someone points out that many of its adherents are openly racist — that their new herald was so slippery when asked by Robert Siegel on NPR’s All Things Considered about his stated positions on antidiscrimination law, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in particular.
SIEGEL: You’ve said that business should have the right to refuse service to anyone, and that the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, was an overreach by the federal government. Would you say the same by extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?
Dr. PAUL: What I’ve always said is that I’m opposed to institutional racism, and I would’ve, had I’ve been alive at the time, I think, had the courage to march with Martin Luther King to overturn institutional racism, and I see no place in our society for institutional racism.
SIEGEL: But are you saying that had you been around at the time, you would have – hoped that you would have marched with Martin Luther King but voted with Barry Goldwater against the 1964 Civil Rights Act?
Dr. PAUL: Well, actually, I think it’s confusing on a lot of cases with what actually was in the civil rights case because, see, a lot of the things that actually were in the bill, I’m in favor of. I’m in favor of everything with regards to ending institutional racism. So I think there’s a lot to be desired in the civil rights. And to tell you the truth, I haven’t really read all through it because it was passed 40 years ago and hadn’t been a real pressing issue in the campaign, on whether we’re going for the Civil Rights Act.
SIEGEL: But it’s been one of the major developments in American history in the course of your life. I mean, do you think the ’64 Civil Rights Act or the ADA for that matter were just overreaches and that business shouldn’t be bothered by people with the basis in law to sue them for redress?
Dr. PAUL: Right. I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think that we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that. I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who’s handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to the solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.
Paul said he has quibbles with the legislation, even though he is against “institutional racism” in the public sector, because he felt it went too far in regulating the behavior of private businesses. So basically, he’s not actually against institutional racism at all, since there are any number of really obvious private sector enterprises — banks, universities, random employers, etc. — whose discriminatory practices were all integral parts of the wide tapestry of institutional racism that flourished during Jim Crow.
He’s made this incoherent argument at other media outlets — see his disastrous appearance on Rachel Maddow last night — and the fact that he hasn’t modulated or reframed underscores how deeply he holds these views. In more ways than one, then, he’s the Tea Party movement’s most fitting spokesperson.