Rand Paul Misled Howard University Students, Liberals Pounce

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul may have fibbed a little during a question and answer session with Howard University students following the first speech a Republican lawmaker has given at the historically black university in decades. Liberals smelled blood and quickly pounced on the polarizing Republican’s statements.

“I do question some of the ramifications and the extensions, but I have never questioned the Civil Rights Act and never come out in opposition to the Civil Rights Act,” Paul said when a student questioned him about the landmark 1964 legislation.

Rand Paul’s stance on the issue is already well-known. The senator sat down with the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2010 and said this during the interview:

“PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.


“PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners — I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant — but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.”

In short, yes, Paul has questioned the Civil Rights Act. While he has toned down his criticism since the interview, Paul has made clear that he disagrees with the approach the Civil Rights Act took to dealing with segregation and does not like new legislation to replicate the same approach.

Mother Jones described Paul’s positioning this way:

“So Paul made it quite clear in 2010 that he didn’t believe in federal law banning discrimination in privately owned businesses that are open to the public. At Howard, Paul seemed to be saying he never opposed the Civil Rights Act in its entirety, but he certainly opposed a key part of it that completely reshaped American society. Supporting the right of white business owners not to serve blacks may be the “hard part of freedom” for someone, but not for anyone who looks like Rand Paul.”

Rachel Maddow was much harsher:

Rachel Maddow, unsurprisingly, was not Rand Paul’s only critic at MSNBC. Chris Hayes compared the speech to the new country sound, “Accidental Racist,” saying that both were cringe worthy.

Paul gave a speech that emphasized the Republican Party as the party of Lincoln, the first black legislators, and the founders of the NAACP.

“Would everyone know here they were all Republicans?” he asked.

“Yes!” the audience boomed back.

But the party has changed, and despite Paul’s best efforts, the audience was well aware. One student asked Paul if he belonged to the Republican Party of the past or the present.

“The argument that I’m trying to make is that we haven’t changed,” Paul said. “We don’t talk about it… There are some of us who haven’t changed, who are part of that party that you liked, who truly believe that Reagan was still part of that. Who don’t see an abrupt difference.”

How does ThinkProgress feel about Rand Paul’s speech? The title of their critique, “Five Ways Rand Paul Whitesplained Politics At Howard University,” says it all.

Talking Points Memo had this to say about Paul’s performance:

“As Rand Paul told it, the biggest problem keeping African Americans from voting Republican is that they didn’t know Republicans have long been leaders on abolition and civil rights. As students at Howard University heard it, the problem was that Paul was condescending, misleading, and removed from the issues facing their community.”

When Rand Paul asked how the Republican party came to lose over 90 percent of the black vote, he was asking the right question. The problem is, the question shouldn’t have been aimed at his audience, it should be aimed at his colleagues in the GOP. Paul should continue to ask himself that question, then try the speech again next year.

At the very least, Rand Paul should be commended for venturing where few modern Republicans have dared to trek. If you want to form your own opinion, here is Rand Paul’s speech to Howard University in its entirety:

[Image by Gage Skidmore (Flickr: Rand Paul) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]