Rand Paul’s Pitch to Black Voters

Can small-government conservatives find common ground with the socially disadvantaged?

National Journal
Emma Roller
Add to Briefcase
Emma Roller
July 25, 2014, 6:39 a.m.

Earli­er this month, Rand Paul told a Ken­tucky crowd, “You’ll find nobody in Con­gress do­ing more for minor­ity rights than me right now — Re­pub­lic­an or Demo­crat.”

It’s part of a pitch — both polit­ic­al and philo­soph­ic­al — that the sen­at­or has been mak­ing to minor­ity voters around the coun­try for the past year.

Speak­ing at the Na­tion­al Urb­an League’s an­nu­al con­fer­ence in Cin­cin­nati on Fri­day, Paul again pushed his agenda for minor­ity rights. There are four planks to Paul’s plat­form: sen­ten­cing re­form, vot­ing rights, school choice, and something he calls Eco­nom­ic Free­dom Zones.

An­oth­er Re­pub­lic­an law­maker tried to fur­ther Re­pub­lic­ans’ poverty agenda with talk of en­ter­prise zones and school vouch­ers — more than 20 years ago. In 1993, Jack Kemp, the ori­gin­al com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vat­ive, made a very sim­il­ar case to the one that GOP law­makers like Paul and Rep. Paul Ry­an of Wis­con­sin are mak­ing today.

The idea be­hind Paul’s Free En­ter­prise Zones, as I’ve writ­ten about be­fore, is to rad­ic­ally lower taxes in areas that have 1.5 times the na­tion­al un­em­ploy­ment rate, which now stands at roughly 9 per­cent. De­troit’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is 14.5 per­cent.

“I think it could trans­form the poverty prob­lem in Amer­ica,” Paul told the crowd Fri­day morn­ing.

To com­bat sen­ten­cing dis­par­it­ies, an un­likely duo of fresh­man sen­at­ors has emerged: Paul and Demo­crat­ic Sen. Cory Book­er of New Jer­sey. To­geth­er, they are push­ing the Re­deem Act, which would help non­vi­ol­ent felons seal their crim­in­al re­cords, thereby help­ing them later in the job mar­ket. Paul also said he is in­tro­du­cing le­gis­la­tion Fri­day that will elim­in­ate the sen­ten­cing dis­par­ity between crack- and powder-co­caine of­fenses.

“Frankly, it’s easi­er to ar­rest and con­vict poor kids in an urb­an en­vir­on­ment,” Paul said. “As a Chris­ti­an I be­lieve in re­demp­tion, and I be­lieve in second chances.”

In Paul’s home state of Ken­tucky, across the river from the Urb­an League con­fer­ence, ex-felons are not al­lowed to vote. In his speech, Paul called it “the biggest im­ped­i­ment to vot­ing in our coun­try.”

Aside from his policy pitches, there was also a philo­soph­ic­al sell in Paul’s speech — that you should not be judged “by the col­or of your skin or the shade of your ideo­logy.”

Put less el­eg­antly, Paul’s idea is that small-gov­ern­ment con­ser­vat­ives face the same kind of dis­crim­in­a­tion as ra­cial minor­it­ies in Amer­ica. They’re in the same boat, fight­ing against the op­press­ive ma­jor­ity, which in Re­pub­lic­ans’ case is big gov­ern­ment.

“Those who have known in­justice should be at the van­guard to pro­tect our civil liber­ties,” Paul told the crowd. His ex­ample: The FBI il­leg­ally tapped Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr.’s phone. Now, the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency is es­sen­tially tap­ping every­one’s phones.

It’s a tough sell, be­cause the ad­vance­ment of minor­ity rights has so of­ten re­quired gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion. And it’s been hard for Paul to es­cape cri­ti­cism for past re­marks on ra­cial is­sues. In his speech, Paul touted his sup­port of the Civil Rights Act.

But in a 2010 in­ter­view, Paul took is­sue with the sec­tion of the act that pro­hib­ited private-busi­ness own­ers from dis­crim­in­at­ing on the basis of race. “I think it’s a bad busi­ness de­cision to ex­clude any­body from your res­taur­ant,” Paul said at the time. “But, at the same time, I do be­lieve in private own­er­ship.”

As Adam Ser­wer wrote in Moth­er Jones last year, that sec­tion of the Civil Rights Act “com­pletely re­shaped Amer­ic­an so­ci­ety.”

Soon after that 2010 in­ter­view, Paul re­versed his stance. But that fact — that re­stric­tions had to be put on busi­nesses to make life some­what less hellish for Amer­ic­an minor­it­ies — is at the root of Paul’s cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance.

Paul wants to sup­port the free mar­ket while also sup­port­ing the so­cially dis­ad­vant­aged. But when those two ob­ject­ives work against each oth­er, his mes­sage gets muddled.

What We're Following See More »
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
22 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Source:
REQUIRES CHANGE IN LAW
Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
1 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Source:
MEASURE HEADED TO OBAMA
Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
1 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login