Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) addressed students and faculty at Howard University on Wednesday, continuing the Republican Party’s effort to reach out to young, minority voters.
A press release for the event laid out the theme of the discussion as “inclusion in the Republican Party,” and promised that “Sen. Paul’s speech will focus on the importance of outreach to young voters, as well as minority groups. He will also discuss the history of the African-American community’s roots in the Republican Party and current issues, such as school choice and civil liberties.”
That the Tea Party-backed senator deems himself qualified to speak at an institution with such a long record of advancing African-American equality is ironic considering his own history on civil rights. Paul told the audience on Wednesday, “I’ve never been against the Civil Rights Act. Ever.” The fact that a member of Congress, in 2013, needs to proclaim this raises questions on its own — but it is even more outrageous after considering remarks Paul made in 2010.
During interviews with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and the Louisville Courier-Journal, Paul expressed his concern over the authority that the Civil Rights Act has on private businesses. “[T]he thing is, is if we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about: Do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well?” Paul said. So the senator now claims to fully support a law that he believes oversteps the Constitution by prohibiting private business from discriminating on the basis of race.
During the speech Senator Paul also claimed, “What gets lost is that the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights. Because Republicans believe that the federal government is limited in its function—some have concluded that Republicans are somehow inherently insensitive to minority rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.” This fits with the message laid out by the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project,” which insists that there is nothing wrong with GOP policies, but that the party should merely rethink the way it voices its message to voters.
One suggestion in this report states, “The African American community has a lot in common with the Republican Party, and it is important to share this rich history. More importantly, the Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.” But since the publication of the report, Republicans’ attempts at minority outreach have fallen completely flat. Republicans have acknowledged their history of intolerance, claim it’s an unfair representation of the party, and yet have continued to promote the same racist policies.
—Republicans have proposed and passed voting legislation in several states that deters African-American and other minority groups from turning out in large numbers to vote for a Democratic candidate.
—The proposed House Republican budget would provide tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting programs that ethnic minorities rely on.
—Former Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) recently echoed Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments when he wrote, “Today, more people than ever before — 69.5 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries — depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions.”
—Republican commissioner Jim Gile from Saline County, Kansas told colleagues that “the county needed to hire an architect to design the improvements rather than ‘n[*]gger-rigging it.’ In attempt to cover up the offensive comments, Gile said, “I am not a prejudiced person. I have built Habitat homes for colored people.”
Republican Party leaders now admit the party urgently needs to reach out to minority voters in order to compete in upcoming elections, but their approach so far has continued to prove that they remain completely out of touch with the majority of Americans. Rand Paul’s speech on Wednesday was just another superficial appeal to African-American voters that will neither end nor amend the history of GOP attacks on ethnic minority voters.
You can watch Senator Rand Paul’s full speech at Howard University here.
Photo credit: Associated Press