Rand Paul Is Opposed to Discrimination (and Stopping It, Too).

A completely hypothetical Rand Paul would have been opposed to racial discrimination at all those government-run lunch counters, like the one pictured above.

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.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Ash

    I watched the clip of this on Huffington Post. Supposedly prohibiting private businesses from discrimination is infringing on their private property rights and freedom. My question is: Wouldn’t private businesses who prohibit the entrance of black people be infringing on the rights of black people? If Paul is so concerned about freedom or individual liberty, why is it okay for private businesses to get more rights than citizens?

  • bp

    not to be on the side of racists, but why do you think it is your ‘right’ to enter a private business? in the case of public institutions, publicly traded companies, and entities that accept any type of government subsidies or funding; I agree that these places should be legally prohibited from discriminating.

    But if you’re talking about a completely privately owned establishment, then I also believe that businesses like that should have the right to refuse entry and service to whomever they choose. If I owned a bar or restaurant, I think I would have the right to decide who can and can not be in my place, the same way I have that right in my home.

    • could you explain which companies are not subject to government regulation/oversight — building codes, health inspections, and the like?

      do you see where your analogy between a private home and a public business like a lunch counter might be kinda leaky?

  • I think the point behind all of this is that private businesses would have eventually “come around” to accepting minority patronage because to not would hurt their bottom lines. Interestingly, there are many businesses who craft their marketing campaigns to subtly “encourage” certain groups not to enter their stores. For instance, do you think a black youth from the inner city would shop at Abercrombie & Fitch. Their advertising campaigns seem to exclusively target middle to upper middle class white youths. Would they benefit by broadening their target audience?

    Well, we first have to ask this question: will their current customer base be put-off by this “reaching out” and would this force them to compromise their image? Furthermore, is this image a fabrication or does it actually exist in the culture? Just pay attention to ads on TV, notice the subtle profiling that takes place. Also, next time you’re out at your local mall take note of the “types” who populate certain boutiques and it is uncanny how they often resemble the figures featured in the advertising material (posters, mannequins) that adorn the entrances. These places celebrate a culture that is typically non-native to the areas where the mall exists…

    “Hey tasteless suburbanite, you too can look like Miley Cyrus or Drake or whatever artist ‘sticks’ per se. Yeah, that’s right, we throw a bunch of these pretty young things at you and when one sticks, albeit temporarily, we dress them, make ’em look all nice and shiny and then turn around and sell you their wardrobe at premium prices. We know you’re not buying clothing, but entré into a ‘mostly’ fabricated culture to fill the void left by your lack of creativity. A void we helped to create. Sorry.”

    So what came first? The marketing campaign or the culture? In the case of A&F the scenes displayed in their advertising speak to an unrealistic ideal. An ideal many can only aspire to. A&F knows this and they offer ground level entry through their clothing. The pecs and washboard abs are up to you to acquire. But hey, another industry is waiting to cash in on that as well.

    Before the Civil Rights Act passed there were businesses that did quite well selling exclusively to blacks just as there are businesses today who benefit from this same dynamic.

    Hey, GD, shani and the rest, if you’re getting tired of my drivel just let me know and I’ll stop…you guys bring attention to a lot of interesting subjects and sometimes I just can’t help myself.