By: Frederick Cosby
Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul was blasted by Democrats and GOP officials last Sunday for his comments that the federal government, through the Civil Rights Act, has no right to tell private businesses that they can’t discriminate.
The Sunday morning network news shows resembled a Rand Paul barbecue, with liberal Democrats and even the most conservative Republicans roasting Paul for his civil rights comments and other remarks he’s made since defeating a GOP establishment-backed candidate in the Kentucky primary.
Paul is running against Democrat Jack Conway in November’s general election for the open Senate seat created by the retirement of Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).
Paul’s comments about civil rights – and his remarks that President Barack Obama’s criticism of BP – British Petroleum – for its handling of the Louisiana oil spill were “un-American” -created such a firestorm that Paul cancelled an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” marking him only the third guest in the show’s 62-year history to back out of going on the show.
“I think his philosophy is misplaced in these times,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said on “Fox News last Sunday.” “I don’t think it’s where the country is right now. The country litigated the issue of ‘separate but equal;’ the country litigated the rights of minority people in this country to access the free enterprise system in accommodation and all of that. That was crystallized in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of ’64.”
Paul’s problems began when he appeared on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and expressed strict Libertarian views on the limits of government in dictating to business what it can and cannot do.
“I like the Civil Rights Act in a sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains,” Paul said last week. “I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. There’s 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act. One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.”
Steele, appearing on ABC News’ “This Week,” said he wasn’t comfortable with Paul’s views on civil rights, but stopped short of condemning him. He said Paul has since clarified his civil rights remarks.
“I can’t condemn a person’s view,” Steele said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “I am not comfortable with a lot of things, but it doesn’t matter what I’m comfortable with and not comfortable with. I don’t vote in that election. The people of Kentucky will.”
Steele said he has spoken with Paul – son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a former 2008 Republican presidential candidate – and feels that the two are now on the same page.
“Our party stands four-square about moving forward on civil rights,” Steele told Jake Tapper. “Looking at the civil rights issues of the day – education, for example – there are many other fights that loom ahead for us in this area, so Rand Paul as United States senator will be four-square with the Republican Party, in lockstep with moving forward on civil rights, not backwards.”
Still, other Republicans joined Steele in taking Paul to the political woodshed. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said Paul’s remarks were “unfortunate.” Gov. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Paul, a political novice, is having trouble adjusting to all the attention he’s getting.
“Even a very good baseball player sometimes has a hard time going from Triple A to the major leagues, and that’s what happened to him,” Alexander said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
But Democrats say Paul’s problems go beyond adjusting to the political big leagues.
“Rand Paul’s statements along these lines are very, very troubling, and it’s important for Republican leaders to say whether they back this kind of an attitude or not,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine. “I was a civil rights lawyer for 17 years. Rand Paul wrote a letter about the Fair Housing Act to a local newspaper, saying a free society should tolerate private discrimination, even if it means that hate-filled groups exclude people based on the color of their skin.”
Steele acknowledged the letter and chalked it up to the Libertarian “very strong view about the limitations of government intrusion into the private sector.”
“We have a lot of members go to the United States Senate with a lot of different philosophies, but when they get to the body, how they work to more the country forward matters,” Steele continued.
Paul had some Republicans in his corner. Rep. Paul said last week that reporters are taking selected lines from his son’s comments and distorting them. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Tea Party favorite who endorsed Rand Paul’s candidacy, said the younger Paul is the victim of a reporter – presumably Maddow – with an agenda.
But conservative pundit George Will wasn’t as forgiving of Paul as Steele, Palin or the elder Paul.
“There’s no reason to believe that Rand Paul is a racist,” Will said on ABC’s “This Week,” “but there is now reason to believe that he’s frivolous – that is, that he doesn’t understand that his job is to win a Senate seat and not conduct a seminar of libertarian philosophy.”
Will said the government did the right thing with the Civil Rights Act. “And in the process, we refuted an old notion – and this offends some libertarians – the notion was you cannot legislate morality. Yes, you can. We did.”