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Thursday, May 20, 2010  

Randy Republicans

I think it's fair to say that if you spend your first day as your party's nominee for Senate qualifying the precise nature of your opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act (and the Americans with Disabilities Act), your campaign is off to a rough start. Rand Paul's father is the guy with the deeper roots in true-blue white supremacist politics, but it's clear that the son shares some of the father's crankishness: pro-gold standard, anti-federal reserve system, and so on. I don't suspect Dr. Paul of being personally bigoted, but as I've had to make a habit of pointing out, that doesn't matter. When a politician is trying to deny a group their full dignity as citizens, it doesn't matter whether he's doing it out of personal prejudice, unconscious privilege, political calculation, or high constitutional principle.

So it should be at least a little embarrassing to have such a crackpot bearing the standard of a major party into the U.S. Senate. Movement conservatives are enormously touchy about the Goldwater-Reagan-Buckley legacy of fierce opposition to legal and social equality for black Americans, claiming--and who could deny it?--that no one today holds those views. Well, no one did until Tuesday night. Now a candidate for high office in the Republican Party wants to re-litigate one of the most important issues of the last century. Does Michael Steele have anything to say about this? Is there still some kind of penalty for opposition to something that has become sacred in our politics?

But you know, I'm just not going to get into high dudgeon about it. Paul's opposition to Title II of the Civil Rights Act is part of his seamless garment of lunacy. Or I should say, almost seamless. Like his father, his foreign policy views are suspected of dangerous sanity, such that David Frum asks with a straight face, "How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?" He does not seem to have Paul's right deviationism on civil rights in mind--hey, big tent, after all--but rather his preference for a much more modest foreign policy stance. This prompts Conor Friedersdorf to retort,

I’d say that the GOP has lost its ability to discredit candidates with libertarian foreign policy sympathies by backing an enormously expensive, strategically ill-conceived war in Iraq. They’ve compounded that error by refusing to publicly acknowledge that many of their judgments about the war have proved utterly wrong.

I have no idea how much this had to do with Paul's upstart victory, but it seems pretty clear that this was part of the campaign against him and it's noteworthy that it failed in a party primary where "almost all of the incentives...are still on the side of fairly shameless demagoguery on foreign policy." Friedersdorf, conceding that he doesn't share all of Paul's views, points out that it is "vanishingly unlikely Dr. Paul will cast a decisive vote to abolish the federal reserve," while "a far greater danger is a reflexively hawkish GOP Senator foolishly backing a future military campaign as ill-conceived as Iraq."

This has to explain some of the ambivalence liberals felt about Ron Paul's candidacy, considering that our own party leadership is considerably more hawkish than the activist base. No one should be worried that Rand Paul will cast a decisive vote against renewing the Civil Rights Act in toto. We should be very worried about how any new senator will handle questions of war, peace, and executive authority. We're about to find out how our national political discussion handles these issues when put in a particularly harsh, cranky light.


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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 9:32 AM
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