the national interest

Rand Paul, at Howard University, Pretends He Favored Civil Rights Act [Updated]

March 8, 2012 - Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. - Senator RAND PAUL (R-KY) during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday where he announced an alternative 2013 budget proposal that Republicans plan to introduce in the Senate. (Credit Image: ? Pete Marovich/
It was a pun?

Rand Paul gutsily chose to speak today at Howard University. Inevitably, the uncomfortable subject of the 1964 Civil Rights Act came up, and Paul, non-gutsily, handled the awkwardness by lying: “I have never wavered in my support for civil rights or the civil rights act.”

Does Paul know what the word wavered means? Just to be sure I wasn’t making some horrible mistake, I looked it up. Because he has definitely wavered. He’s wavered publicly, repeatedly, and at tedious length.

Owing to the tediousness, I will not cut and paste Paul’s 1964 Civil Rights Act wavering in its Homeric entirety. It begins with a 2010 interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal:

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

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.

INTERVIEWER: But under your philosophy, it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworths?

PAUL: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part—and this is the hard part about believing in freedom—is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example—you have too, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things… . It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior.

We English speakers call this kind of response “wavering.”

Then, in a follow-up interview with Rachel Maddow, he said the same thing. Banning segregation by the government is good; banning segregation by private business, which the 1964 Civil Rights Act did, is bad:

MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don’t serve black people?

PAUL: Yes. [See update.] I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race.

But I think what’s important about this debate is not written into any specific “gotcha” on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?

There’s a word for this sort of dodge, when you oppose something without quite admitting forthrightly what you’re doing — wavering.

And then again, last year, he told CNN, “There are things that people were concerned about that were unintended consequences [of the Civil Rights Act], for example, people who believe very fervently in people having equal protection under the law, and are against segregation and all that, still worried about the loss of property rights.” Wavering!

It’s odd that Paul is denying that he wavered on his support for the law. The most favorable possible interpretation of his position is that he has wavered. The more accurate interpretation is that he has unwaveringly opposed it.

Update: Paul’s office points out that the official transcript of Paul’s interview with Maddow is inaccurate, and they’re right. He did not answer in the affirmative. He did, however, waver madly, in this and his other interviews.

Rand Paul Pretends He Favored Civil Rights Act