Rand Paul Must Think Blacks Have Amnesia

During his Howard University speech, the senator failed to mention the GOP's racially divisive past.

Rand Paul (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The simple truth is that the present-day Republican Party has virtually no resemblance to the Republican Party of, say, 1960, when Richard Nixon got 32 percent of the black vote in his race against John F. Kennedy. Four years later, the Republicans nominated right-wing Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who based his campaign on opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By 1968, Nixon had wholeheartedly accepted Goldwater’s advice to “go hunting where the ducks are” by adopting a so-called Southern strategy dedicated to wooing segregationists like Strom Thurmond.

They consolidated their approach in 1980 when Ronald Reagan delivered the first major speech of his campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in one of the 1960s’ ugliest cases of racist violence. Reagan gave a ringing declaration of his support for “states’ rights” — code words for resistance to black advances clearly understood by white Southerners. Ever since then, the GOP has been the party of white privilege.

Paul seems to think that black voters are supposed to forget all that very recent history. He didn’t mention any of it in his speech today, or in answers to two pointed questions posed by Howard students.

On top of that, he doesn’t want us to remember that in a 2010 interview with the Courier-Journal, he took issue with parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations such as hotels and restaurants. He says he has never been against the Civil Rights Act, but his opposition is on tape. Who are we supposed to believe — him or our lying eyes?

Paul has things to say that could be appealing to many black voters, especially about the need to stop sending black kids to jail for nonviolent drug offenses. But until he and the rest of the GOP are ready to fess up about their party’s embrace of racism, apologize for it and present a serious program for moving on, they’re going to have a hard time attracting African-American support. They’re not going to get anywhere by trying to convince us to forget what they have done.

Jack White, a former columnist for Time magazine, is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va., and a contributing editor for The Root.