Friday, October 9, 2015

Oops, they did it again

The loose lips of Rand Paul and Dick Blumenthal

Oops, they did it again




Oops, he did it again.

Here's tea-party hero Rand Paul, in a newly-unearthed letter to a Kentucky newspaper, telling us that it's perfectly fine, in a "free society," for private businesses to discriminate against black Americans:

"Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate...A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination - even what that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin."

That letter was published on May 30, 2002 - at a time when Rand Paul was merely an eye doctor guided by his antiquated libertarian theories about the intrinsic evil of government. As such, that passage tells us deep down what Paul really believes - that if, for instance, a bed and breakfast proprietor wants to post a sign in the window telling black people to go away, he should have every right to do so as an American. In other words, a "free society" for hateful whites, and an oppressive society for the target of their hatred.

Yesterday, of course, Rand Paul the politician was in full damage control mode, scrambling to recover from the MSNBC and NPR interviews where earlier this week he had clearly suggested (consistent with his '02 letter) that racial discrimination is the price we must pay for freedom, that the federal government should simply butt out. That's clearly what he still believes, but he no longer has the luxury of saying it out loud. With his win in the Kentucky GOP senatorial primary, he has taken a big step toward entering the grown-up world of governance, where it's not 1963 anymore.

Accordingly, when asked in various media venues yesterday about the landmark 1964 federal Civil Rights Act, he declared, "Yes, I would've voted yes," and "there was a need for federal intervention." He had to say those things, if only to reassure anxious Senate Republicans that he understands the political necessity of distancing himself from the Magic Marker slogans on the tea-party placards.

Yet despite Paul's ritual insistence yesterday that he would've voted Yes on the Civil Rights Act, the truth is that, given the convictions he voiced in the '02 letter when nobody was looking, he surely would have voted No. I'm vetting his libertarian convictions as genuine. Indeed, even some of the Senate's most conservative Republicans believe Paul's convictions to be genuine.

Yesterday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions reportedly said, "My view is that (the Civil Rights Act) issue has been settled - the courts have ruled on it. If you open a restaurant, a hotel to the public, then you can't discriminate on who you allow to come in and out. I think that's settled. I think America is better off that the segregation views are over, and that (federal law) played a role in it...But if you take a more libertarian view, a stronger view of private party, you could reach the conclusion he reached."

Let's unpack that passage. An Alabama Republican is saying that the issue is "settled" - in other words, the mainstream consensus view is that the feds have the pivotal role in barring racism - and yet, he says, there is also "a more libertarian view." Translation: Jeff Sessions says that prospective colleague Rand Paul is out of the mainstream.

True that. The GOP's bigger problem is obvious. Republicans have been trying to empower themselves by feeding off the movement's inchoate emotional energy - and now they face the very real prospect of welcoming, to their ranks, a guy who could make it even more difficult for the party of white people to attract minority voters. Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House aide, said it best in a column today: "Paul's position, if not unequivocally disowned, will badly damage the GOP 'brand'....Relitigating the merits of civil rights laws of the early 1960s is exactly what the GOP doesn't want."

The thing is, the Republicans wanted to tap into that tea-party fervor. Well, now they have to deal with the political consequences.

By the way, Paul was originally slated to appear on Meet the Press Sunday morning, but guess what: earlier this afternoon, Paul canceled. No surprise there. The last thing that a fringe character currently out of his depth would want to do is expose himself to tough, rigorous questioning - you know, the kind of questioning that a U. S. senator should be equipped to handle.


Oops, he did it again.

Here's Connecticut Democratic Senate hopeful Dick Blumenthal, addressing a veterans' parade in Stamford on Nov. 9, 2008: "I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect." And here's the state attorney general at another military tribute on May 18, 2009: "When we returned from Vietnam, I remember the taunts, the verbal and even physical abuse we encountered."

Those quotes surfaced yesterday, just as Blumenthal supporters were laboring feverishly to knock down The New York Times' Monday story that detailed similar Blumenthal misrepresentations. The liberal Daily Kos website - which has a partisan interest in defending Blumenthal, given the Democrats' desire to hold that  Senate seat in November - tried to undercut the Times account by listing quotes from the various Connecticut reporters who had never heard Blumenthal utter his Vietnam claim. But so what if they hadn't? The '08 and '09 quotes resurrected yesterday by The Stamford Advocate speak for themselves.

Moreover, Blumenthal's defenders haven't been able to explain why the candidate never bothered to correct the numerous newspaper stories that erroneously placed him in Vietnam. An editorial in The Day, a New London newspaper, put it best: "The candidate explains he can't track all news reports about him. Yet this newspaper knows from experience that Mr. Blumenthal is quick to correct unflattering statements published about him, or to refute opinions with which he disagrees. One reporter got as call from the attorney general for inserting a middle initial in his name. He has none."

These pols see everything written about them. They react - or choose not to react - on the basis of one criterion: whether the passage in question makes them look good. Being described as a Vietnam-based veteran made Blumenthal look good, so he left those passages alone. No spin can defend his convenient errors of omission.


Inquirer National Political Columnist
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