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Rand Paul And The GOP’s New Civil Rights Movement

Politics Tribune News Service

Rand Paul And The GOP’s New Civil Rights Movement


By David Weigel, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is waking up to something fairly rare: friendly fire against his outreach to black voters on criminal justice reform. In a walk-up to Paul’s expected Tuesday announcement of a presidential bid, the Washington Post quotes Center for Neighborhood Enterprise President Bob Woodson, a frequent freelance tutor in poverty issues to Republicans.

“I find him superficial,” says Woodson. “His talk about the militarization of police felt like pandering.”

Like virtually everyone else in national politics, Paul has stopped talking about police militarization. (Police unions popped that particular trial balloon.) But as he readies for a tour of his home state and early primary states, Paul is in the rare position of forcing criminal justice reform into a Republican presidential race. Since at least 2013, his office has collaborated with black leaders in Kentucky on voter restoration and economic development. His pre-campaign operation dodged all questions last week about the Iran deal and the red-state religious freedom laws, but his tour is going to take him to the University of Iowa, the sort of place where he typically leans in on criminal justice reform.

If Paul so chooses, he can cement the GOP’s role in the reform push — a role that still benefits from the Nixon-to-China, fish-out-of-water coverage conservatives get for leading on reform. Just last week, a story in the New Republic that informed liberals of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s role in reform and a Huffington Post story about Koch Industries’ lobbying for voter rights got thousands of social media shares. Both shared the “you’re-not-gonna-believe-this” frame. Conservative reformers appreciate the attention; they’re also concerned that the legislation can only pass if they, and not President Barack Obama and civil rights leaders, are the faces of changes.

“If you build a big enough bipartisan majority in the Senate, it’s going to pass,” Newt Gingrich told reporters last month, at a daylong reform conference in Washington. “There’s no question that with Speaker (John) Boehner, Majority Leader (Kevin) McCarthy, Chairman (Bob) Goodlatte, former Chairman (Jim) Sensenbrenner, you have huge support in the House. But the trick is to put together a big bipartisan majority in the Senate — to have the president as a reinforcer, and a cheerleader, but have the president really have the patience to allow the legislative process to get a bill he can sign.”

Gingrich’s analysis could have come right from the work of Frances Lee, a University of Maryland political scientist who has researched how presidents can harden partisan opposition to a policy simply by coming out in favor of it. “Whatever people think about raw policy issues, they’re aware that presidential successes will help the president’s party and hurt the opposing party,” Lee told Ezra Klein in 2012. “It’s not to say they’re entirely cynical, but the fact that success is useful to the president’s party is going to have an effect on how members respond.”

You could say the same of the people most associated with civil rights causes, such as Al Sharpton, whose advocacy can make issues toxic for conservatives. At the Washington conference, former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, who did a stint in prison and is now basically a full-time reform advocate, talked about how conservatives could shift the movement away from attention-getting protests.

“All these civil rights leaders that came out, encouraging these protests based on Ferguson, or Eric Garner in New York — those were two events out of hundreds of thousands of interactions a year with the police,” Kerik said. “Two events. You know what? What about this stuff, where there’s over-incarceration, where you have an 800 percent increase in the federal prison population over the last 30 years. This country would be far better served by those civil rights leaders fighting for this cause and addressing this than doing what they’re doing.”

Paul’s run is likely to elevate his reform push; he spent the early part of this year re-introducing bills he can talk about on the trail. The only risk for reformers is that the conservatives who turn on Paul for other reasons might look for vulnerabilities in how he advocated after Ferguson. In speeches, Paul often introduces the reform topic with some awkward words about how the facts of the Michael Brown case were controversial.

“From day one, the first time I was on CNN, hours after the event, I said: Don’t be premature,” said Kerik. “Wait for conclusions. Wait for evidence, wait for the grand jury. And people were all over the map, condemning the grand jury, condemning the officer, trying to confuse what happened without knowing what happened. We do that too often.”

(c)2015 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr



  1. Paul Bass April 7, 2015

    Rand Paul just throwing a bone to the blacks, hoping to get some votes from those too stupid to research Paul’s bigoted and regressive policies and ideas.

    1. joe schmo April 8, 2015

      You idiot. What has your side done to help the Blacks but throw them a bone. You race-baiter’s have only help incite violence on their part.. Oh and helped them stay disenfranchised within the ghettos.

      1. pisces63 April 8, 2015

        Not to start anything but I really get tired of hearing they keep us disenfranchised and in the ghetto. We are an upper middle class black family down to our children and choose to live in our black neighborhood. My dad did because social conservatives would have bombed him out of the neighborhood. I know. They did it to a black man and blew up a new house he was building. They also set fire to a home and the elderly black woman could not get out and died. I vote democrat and shall continue to. If black and republican, no way. talk about an oxy-moron. Paul has said too many things that sets off warning bells with me. He or/and his father said the 14th amendment should be repealed. No one threw us a bone. We worked for what we achieved, including my sharecroppers children parents. Within ten years of moving north from Louisiana, they owned their home. They put their five daughters through college and my dad had a thriving business. He also started a Christian basketball league which, with the help of his family funded a scholarship for at risk young black males. We helped to get them to Morehouse, OSU, BGSU, Etc. Now our 7 children are either college graduates or in progress. #6 is about to graduate and her sister in 2 years. I believe 12/12 college graduates, from the Hough and Glenville areas of Cleveland, Ohio are doing damned well. Thank you. We do no incite. We react. My son, 41, computer graphics engineer was always stopped walking out of a home he owned with his wife for over 10 years, by this white cop to ID him. Until you walk in my shoes, you have a view, not a valid opinion. PLUS, if I see a republican on fire in the gutter, I will throw a barbecue. I used to vote for them. No longer. You do not denigrate me and mine and disrespect this president just because he is black and expect me to pay you for it. I research. fact check. Listen to them. I know a bigot when I see hear and smell one. IF you said the sky is blue, I would ask Stevie Wonder for a second opinion when it comes to bigotry. democrats just said I could vote. Could live. Could go to school and when I graduated in 1967 social conservatives said I could not go to most of your colleges. Could not even apply. They said I could sit at a lunch counter. Drink at any fountain. Not social conservatives. They said the Lovings could marry. Not social conservatives. In fact, they prevented a black couple from marrying in their church because no black had ever been married there, before. This was just a couple of years ago in Louisiana. Members of this church this integrated church.

  2. highpckts April 7, 2015

    We know from his past remarks that he can change according to circumstances just like Romney used to do! I don’t trust any of them!!

  3. Paul Anthony April 7, 2015

    Some would condemn him for being a Republican, without actually listening to what he (and his father) have been saying.

    Rand Paul is a Republican ONLY because one must join one of the two major political parties in order to get elected.

    He is actually a Libertarian – a fiscal conservative but a social liberal.

    Democrats who aren’t too invested in a bloated nanny-state government might find a lot of common ground with him, if they would take the time to listen.

    1. jmprint April 7, 2015

      I have listened, and he is to wishy-washy, and he runs from problems, he could not lead our country.

      1. joe schmo April 8, 2015

        …and Hillary is pure as the driven snow…. Geez. You will stand by your man or woman no matter how corrupt they are.

        1. Daniel Jones April 8, 2015

          &*^&%&$%( you, you projectionist. That entire sentence describes how we see your endless lies about the right wing word-for-word.

    2. Mr Corrections April 9, 2015

      I condemn him for being a transparently pandering fraud, personally. Basically he’s just like his father, only he never wrote all those racist newsletters that you doubtlessly handwave away.

  4. Daniel Jones April 8, 2015

    “Just last week, a story in the New Republic that informed liberals of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s role in reform and a Huffington Post
    story about Koch Industries’ lobbying for voter rights got thousands of
    social media shares. Both shared the “you’re-not-gonna-believe-this”
    They’re right. I don’t. Let me know when it inevitably turns out to be nothing but hot air.


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