Rand Paul Is Celebrating the Civil Rights Act’s Anniversary Today

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 1 2014 10:52 AM

Rand Paul Is Celebrating the Civil Rights Act’s Anniversary Today

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Maybe I would have voted for the Civil Rights Act, but let's not put those words in my mouth

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It was just over four years ago that Rand Paul trampled over the establishment's candidate and won the GOP nomination for Kentucky's U.S. Senate seat. In his opening round of post-victory interviews, he sat with NPR's Robert Seigel, who used his time with a real, free-range libertarian to quiz him on the Civil Rights Act.

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?
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.
SEIGEL: But are you saying that had you been around at the time that you would have, hoped you would have marched with Martin Luther King but voted with Barry Goldwater against the 1964 Civil Rights Act?
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 on the campaign on, for the Civil Rights Act.
SEIGEL: 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?
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 them 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 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.
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The next day, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow talked to Paul. Most people don't even remember the Seigel radio interview—they remember Maddow taking Paul to the ropes on whether he personally would have voted with Everett Dirksen or with Barry Goldwater. An excerpt:

MADDOW: But maybe voting against the Civil Rights Act which wasn't just about governmental discrimination but public accommodations, the idea that people who provided services that were open to the public had to do so in a nondiscriminatory fashion.
Let me ask you a specific so we don`t get into the esoteric hypotheticals here.
PAUL: Well, there's 10—there's 10 different—there's 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 deal with public institutions. And I'm absolutely in favor of one deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.
But you know, the other thing about legislation—and this is why it's a little hard to say exactly where you are sometimes, is that when you support nine out of 10 things in a good piece of legislation, do you vote for it or against it? And I think, sometimes, those are difficult situations.
What I was asked by "The Courier-Journal" and I stick by it is that I do defend and believe that the government should not be involved with institutional racism or discrimination or segregation in schools, bussing, all those things. But had I been there, there would have been some discussion over one of the titles of the civil rights.
And I think that's a valid point, and still a valid discussion, because the thing is, is if we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about: do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well. Do you want to say that because people say abhorrent things—you know, we still have this. We're having all this debate over hate speech and this and that. Can you have a newspaper and say abhorrent things? Can you march in a parade and believe in abhorrent things, you know?

At the time, lots of conservatives (also this guy) saw what Paul was getting at. He was unwilling to give up his theory and overall criticism of the state just to make a point about the Civil Rights Act.

Time passed. After the 2012 election, Paul stepped up his campaign to talk directly to black voters—almost none of whom were Republicans. He denied having said he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act, getting some umbrage from the left, but moving right on. Today, he announces that he'll be joining the family Dr. Maurice Rabb—the great black opthamologist—for a memorial dedication ceremony in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He announces it with this statement:

Today we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is simply unimaginable to think what modern America would be like if not for the brave men and women who stood up for the rights of all Americans. This legislation changed the future of our nation by enforcing the belief that all men and women are created equal. We must continue to build an America that our children—of every race, creed and color—deserve.

Still not quite "and I would have voted for it," but clearly this is a man who avoids making the same mistakes twice.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics