Friday, April 12, 2013

Only Rand Paul Can Go To Howard: The Real Story

Rand Paul, potential 2016 Republican hopeful, spoke at "Traditionally black university" Howard as the second Republican guest in 30 years: Here is a transcript. As a rising star in the GOP it was a fairly gutsy bit of outreach: he got tough questions, he got (slightly) heckled, and he probably knew going in that he wasn't going to change a lot of minds with just one speech.

What Happened?
The general consensus is that he took some hits but didn't collapse. His biggest flubs were asking if the audience if they knew that Abraham Lincoln as well as the first black legislators and the founders of the NAACP were republican. The answer from the audience was a resounding (and unimpressed) "Yes!" It turns out those guys know their history after all: there was laughter when he got the name of the first popularly elected black senator wrong.

Perhaps the worst bit was when he got quizzed on the Civil Rights Act--which he had criticized at length--but claimed he supported during the speech. As someone whose father has newsletters that discuss a coming race war he may have to provide better support for his claim that he's all-in on civil rights.

Still, he was mostly treated respectfully (some students unfurled a banner saying they rejected white supremacy--and got applause) and did not really gaffe or call Latinos "wetbacks" or anything similar.

What Did He Say?
If you read his speech, the crux of his argument is as follows:
  1. My position is that I'm really for rights for everyone. And all rights. So are all Republicans! Specifically, I and other Republicans believe rights are best served when government is run by the states! That's State's Rights, y'all.
  2. State's Rights is not just code for the right to discriminate, segregate, and abuse. 
  3. And hey, we're the face of emancipation--ask Frederic Douglas! Or, hey, how about ... Lincoln? We like Martin Luther King too ... (and a bunch of other guys) ... But we lost the black vote ... it's true ... how'd that happen?
  4. In the Great Depression Democrats promised equalizing outcomes through unlimited federal assistance while Republicans offered free markets! They put food on the table--but how'd that work out?
  5. It sucked: Black unemployment is 14% and the economy sucks. Big government isn't your friend!
  6. We'd give blacks vouchers to avoid failing schools and stop the massive drug incarceration that often puts black kids in jail when white rich kids get off!
  7. So maybe consider me in 2016, ok? (Okay. He didn't actually say that--but trust me: it's implied if maybe not the way you think).
During the Q&A he made some of the comments discussed above.

What Are People Saying?
Hot Air thinks he gave it a good try--and while he may not have 'stuck the landing' he probably came off okay.
That’s what Paul did today. It wasn’t perfect. It likely didn’t turn a lot of voters. But it gave a young, minority audience mostly ideologically hostile to the idea of libertarianism a new face to put on right-of-center ideas. A man who came to them and answered their questions.
The Root concludes Paul's plan for winning black audiences is ... amnesia:
That's the only conclusion I can reach after watching the C-SPAN broadcast of Paul's 52-minute appearance today at Howard University. He deserves credit for appearing before a potentially hostile audience to make the case for conservative policies with which most black voters utterly disagree. But he also deserves strong criticism -- even derision -- for pretending that there's any mystery about why most black folks are so skeptical about the GOP. He wants us to forget the party's recent history -- and his own.
TPM points out that Rand Paul's own father point by point refutes a lot of what he claims to be true about the GOP quoting one of the infamous newsletters on segregation:
“It is human nature that like attracts likes. But whites are not allowed to express this same human impulse. Except in a de facto sense, there can be no white schools, white clubs, or white neighborhoods. The political system demands white integration, while allowing black segregation.”
Charles Blow is even more blunt:
The speech was a dud. It was a clipped-tail history lesson praising the civil rights record of the pre-Southern Strategy Republican Party, while slamming the concurrent record of the Democrats.
What's Going On?
All that commentary is missing the real point of Paul's speech. We can see a textbook case of this when The Washington Examiner suggests that Paul "stumbled but did not fall" noting:
“I’ve never been against the Civil Rights Act,” Paul stated flatly in response. “Ever.”
After the audience was silent in response, the host of the event encouraged Paul to explain his position further, reminding him that “this was on tape.”
Paul responded that he was only concerned about certain portions of the Civil Rights Act that were beyond race.
His attempt to explain earned him a little bit of applause from the audience but it perhaps he should have been more prepared to address the topic.
Rand Paul ... wasn't sufficiently prepared? What's up with that--he ... uh ... didn't know that might come up? Does that, you know, seem likely? The guy is an eye surgeon. He knows how to be prepared. If you want to know what was really going on, everything you need to know is right here:

During the Q&A Paul was asked what he thought of Voting ID laws, comparing them to the ruled-unconstitutional literacy-test of the Jim Crow laws. He responded:
One student asked about voting rights, wondering how he could say he was in favor of voting rights when he supported voter ID laws.
“I think if you liken using a license to using a literacy test, you demean the horror of” what happened during the Jim Crow era, Paul responded.
What's "right there?" you ask? Well, it's in front of your face--Voting ID laws from one perspective make a lot of sense: why should someone who cannot provide evidence of citizenship--the bar one legally must cross to vote--be allowed to vote? That's seems--from a certain perspective--like a no-brainer.

The reason these laws are controversial is because for a certain demographic (poor, black, and often older) providing that documentation turns out to be hard in a way it really, really, honestly isn't for most middle class and even poorer whites. Many in this group don't drive, may not have easy access to their birth certificate (I can't lay my hands on mine, for instance--I'd have to go hunting for it), and otherwise get by day-by-day without citizenship-proving ID.

If you know someone in that demographic (or someone sympathetic to that demographic who also knows that particular demo doesn't statistically contain any Republican voters) then it looks different: specifically, it looks like voter suppression. This looks a lot like the Jim Crow laws where a test (can you get an ID vs. can you read) is layered on top of the constitutional requirement (are you a citizen) in a way that makes it specifically hard for one demographic that is voting against the one pushing said law.

In other words, to the black audiences they look a lot alike. To you, reader, the white audience (how do I know? I know--even over the Internet) they (maybe) don't.

That's what this was about: Rand Paul was physically at a historically black college talking to a black audience. Politically he was on the Internet talking to a white audience: his potential base-voters for the 2016 primary.

His arguments--that Republicans historically loved MLK (his dad didn't)--that Democrats won the black vote with "gifts" in the New Deal Era (true--but they also won white votes with that deal--they won everyone)--and to totally ignore the Southern Strategy and, uh, perceptions of GOP racism--sound great to the GOP Base and almost nonsensical to the black audience at Howard. You can argue that the GOP as a whole is misrepresented by the media and liberals (but I repeat myself)--but to not address it at all? That's insane and that's how you know what his real purpose was.

It's key because his approach is not intended to win over blacks in the audience who found it a bit preposterous--could he really think the kind of educated students who go to Howard wouldn't know that Lincoln was a Republican? No. But modern day white voters might not. Eh?

What he's doing is preparing a battery of approaches--a talking-points-strategy--intended to shore up the Republican base against charges of racism and stop "white flight" from the party. Consider:
It was frequently observed that a Romney victory would have required a historic performance among white voters, provided that Obama could match his ’08 performance among non-white voters. Bush’s 2004 performance among white voters wouldn’t get it done anymore. In 2016, the math gets even more challenging. If the white share of the electorate declines further, Republicans won’t just need to match their best performance of the last 24 years among white voters, they’ll also need to match their best performance of the last 24 years among non-white voters.
Rand Paul wishes to position himself as the "savior" of the party. He's doing this by sticking a very public thumb in the eye of the administration (his theatrical 13 hour filibuster) and now by providing a narrative to be used against charges of racism which he hopes will make him seen as a leader both in outreach and strategic ideological positioning against the biggest hurdle of 2016: the potential of another huge minority vote turn-out and under-representation by whites.

That's what this is all about. He isn't trying to win blacks with his outreach--he's trying to win the hearts of white GOP base voters. Trying to rehabilitate State's Rights? The use of Frederick Douglas (remember the CPAC dust-up where a black speaker was trying to get Republicans to use Frederick Douglas as a defense against leftists playing the race card)? The Obama-Failed-Blacks narrative? These are all white talking points that are used in discussions, largely, with other whites when the race thing comes up. They're not convincing to black audiences who will need more than Rand Paul waxing elegant about general constitutional rights to change their minds about the Southern Strategy.

But for white people feeling that the GOP might be ... toxic? This is a a darn good try at an antidote to their fleeing the party or just not turning out in sufficient numbers. That's what Rand Paul's trip to Howard was all about--being that champion. His speech was properly structured and filled with all the right talking points for that.

And in that context? He did a pretty good job!


  1. It's been six months since the election, and despite all of its re-branding efforts and "autopsies" the GOP is still pandering to its base 100% of the time.

    If the GOP ever wants to win the White House again, they need to stop looking for the next Reagan and start looking for the next Eisenhower.

    On a side note, I can't wait to see what happens when the national media figures out that Rand Paul is really just a cuddlier version of Pat Buchanan. Good luck explaining the fetal personhood bill he introduced.

    1. The idea that Rand is just a more media-friendly version of Pat is actually a plus for him. The GOP right now is trying the "new coat of paint" approach (before dipping a toe in the embrace policy changes waters). So Rand's great for that--but if something doesn't change around demographics and minority turn-out, no, Rand's going to have some problems in a national election.