What Rand Paul's libertarian hypocrisy reveals about the GOP's giant race problem

All of the GOP candidates have found themselves catering to a far-right fringe, but Paul is particularly insructive

By Heather Digby Parton
June 22, 2015 1:59PM (UTC)
main article image
Rand Paul (AP/Susan Walsh)

If there's one thing most political media can agree upon it's that Senator Rand Paul is as authentic as it comes. He's a man of principle who doesn't bend with the wind just because it's politically expedient to do so. Indeed, he's bravely running for the nomination for president in the Republican Party despite his courageous willingness to confront both the establishment and the base on the hard issues.

Well, it is true that he has waffled somewhat on foreign policy, which is supposedly one of the libertarian bedrock principles, but hey, he's running for president and he needs to assure Republican voters that he will defend America from the bad people. Surely, he'll return to his isolationist principles just as soon as he is elected. He's also done a little plagiarizing.


And now, a book he wrote called "The Tea Party Goes to Washington" has come under renewed scrutiny, owing to the fact that it includes one fake quote from Thomas Jefferson after another. This is so common on the right, however, that people hardly even mention it anymore. Aside from sending out chain emails every year with a bunch of bogus quotes that make the founders sound like they were early members of the John Birch Society, they have anointed a known hoaxter by the name of David Barton as their official Founders' historian.

In a rare moment of right wing integrity, Barton's publisher withdrew his book once it was discovered that he'd just made stuff up. No word on whether Paul's publisher will feel compelled to do the same. But then, they weren't bothered when it was revealed that Paul's Tea Party book was co-written by a close associate by the name of Jack Hunter, also known as "The Southern Avenger", so why would this little problem cause them to have second thoughts about distributing the book now?

You'll remember that the Southern Avenger was a right-wing shock jock and member of the League of the South, a  racist group which is known for such statements by its leading members as, "somebody needs to say a good word for slavery --- where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America?" (Tea party hero and  Sovereign Citizen Cliven Bundy had similar thoughts about whether African Americans were better off as slaves picking cotton.) Hunter himself left quite a trail of racist sentiment behind including musing that he thought Abraham Lincoln was "one of the worst figures in American history."


Yes, like his father before him, Rand Paul has consorted with a number of neo-Confederate white supremacists (is there any other kind). For instance, aside from his Southern Avenger buddy, back in 2010 his spokesman had to resign when it was discovered that his MySpace page was riddled with racist rantings from friends and acquaintances which he'd not bothered to remove.

Paul has disassociated himself from these racists once it's been revealed (although he has agreed to appear at events featuring them). After all, he's a man of principle and we all know that he wants nothing more than to reach out to the African American community and try to persuade them that the libertarian philosophy is one which will benefit them the most. It's a little bit embarrassing to have white supremacists in the inner circle. It might even remind people of what Jonathan Chait pointed out at the time Hunter was unmasked as the Southern Avenger:

Now, obviously, you can like Ron and Rand Paul without being the slightest bit racist. Very, very few Rand Paul fans are glad Abraham Lincoln was shot. At the same time, the logic of southern white supremacy and the logic of libertarianism run along very similar lines. They both express themselves in terms of opposition to federal power and support for states’ rights.

Segregation was in large part a policy of government, not the free market. But it took intrusive federal power to destroy segregation. Barry Goldwater expressed his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act in classically race-neutral, anti-big-government terms. The deep connection between the Pauls and the neo-Confederate movement doesn’t discredit their ideas, but it’s also not just an indiscretion. It’s a reflection of the fact that white supremacy is a much more important historical constituency for anti-government ideas than libertarians like to admit.

So, perhaps it's not just low taxes and regulations that lure libertarians into joining the Republican Party even though it's full of theocrats, authoritarians and militaristic imperialists. Or as Rand Paul famously put it when he accidentally behaved like the truth-telling iconoclast everyone pretends he is:


PAUL: 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 Woolworth’s?

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 to, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things and uh, we're here at the bastion of newspaperdom, I'm sure you believe in the First Amendment so you understand that people can say bad things.It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior, but if we're civilized people, we publicly criticize that, and don't belong to those groups, or don't associate with those people.

The hard part about believing in freedom is that white supremacists must be allowed to discriminate against black people. It's what liberty is all about.

Sadly, watching all these Republican candidates for president dance on the head of a pin trying to avoid offending that constituency in the wake of the Charleston massacre perfectly drives home Chait's point about white supremacy being an important constituency for anti-government ideas.


In the last few days we've heard about a state's "right" to decide whether to fly that atrocity of a flag celebrating slavery on the South Carolina state house grounds more often than George Wallace babbled about states' rights in his heyday. They put it a bit more delicately: they say "the people of South Carolina" will "debate it" but in effect we are seeing the Republican Party of 2015 use the States' Rights defense to explain away the continued insistence by a good many of their supporters on displaying a symbol of white supremacy on official government property.

At the time of this writing nobody had managed to pigeonhole Paul as to whether South Carolina should remove the flag from the state's grounds but the fact that he and his father have such a long history of closely associating with white supremacists (one of whom wore a wrestling mask adorned with the Stars and Bars ) indicates that it's unlikely he will stray too far from what has been revealed as the mainstream GOP view on this. And the mainstream GOP view has been rank cowardice at best and pandering to racists at worst.

The best you can say for any of them is that some had the good sense to punt the question, as Scott Walker did, with a lugubrious call to honor the dead by refusing to talk about the flag or avoid taking the question at all as Paul has managed to do. Jeb Bush noted that he' had the flag removed from Florida's state house when he was Governor but cleverly kept his options open by merely saying that he was confident they'd "do the right thing." Cruz, Perry, Huckabee, Fiorina, Graham and Rubio all made it clear that States' Rights were the real issue at stake when they declined to say if they believe South Carolina should remove its flag. Profiles in courage, every last one of them.


Even the one African American Republican in the race, Dr. Ben Carson, could only bring himself to say that the flag causes "angst" and "people can't see beyond it" and advise that everyone should sit down and find a symbol they can all agree upon.  Tim Scott, the African American Republican Senator likewise stepped up bravely to declare that a robust conversation about the flag was in order and that as soon as it was convened he'd be there and he'd have a clear position.

Only poor old Mitt Romney, who isn't running, immediately declared that it should come down, and to his credit, he said the same thing when he was running. Apparently, he didn't think pandering to racists over the confederate flag was the best way to win the race. And as hard as it may be to believe, that makes the guy who repudiated his entire previous career in order to win the nomination in 2012 the Republican Party's bravest man of principle. For all of Rand Paul's alleged independence, when the chips are down he can't even match Mitt Romney's courage and integrity. And that's really saying something.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Elections Charleston Gop Racism Rand Paul The Republican Party