Rand Paul’s primary win in Kentucky has raised serious concerns about representation in this county (the United States). On the one hand, Paul’s win proves that voting and representational democracy still matter in N. America. While we may disagree with the Tea Party, they are part of the N. American political landscape and they have the right to be represented if they have the votes to back them. On the other hand, the Tea Party’s public face has included racism, homophobia, general ignorance about both economic and political systems in place in the world, and funding from corporations implicated in the health crisis and neo-white supremacy in this country. This is not to say that all Tea Party members are guilty of all of these things, but rather that many, if not all, of these things have been present at the majority of the meetings held by Tea Party members or people representing the Tea party in the media. In this light, Paul’s win signals a major warning sign that discrimination is becoming an accepted part of the public face of our democracy once again. Moreover his own insistence that he is not participating in discrimination (see his statement in response to his MSNBC interviews near the middle of this post as well as youtube below) represents the kind of cognitive dissonance that seems to permeate the movement, so that people can actively engage in discussions, the making of posters, or the proposal of policies that would create wide scale inequality on the basis of identity all the while claiming they support equality.
Last night, Rachel Maddow did her best to nail down Paul’s beliefs about racial discrimination in public spaces. Paul deftly avoided giving definitive answers to her questions by conflating “public space” with “public property.” Public space is any location open to the public, it includes shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. Public Property is owned by the government like Parks, Schools, Government Buildings, Libraries, etc. While both types of locations are open to the public, the latter is privately owned. Maddow asked Paul if he believed that public spaces should be allowed to discriminate since he had implied as much on several occasions. Paul responded by saying that regulating public spaces was akin to making private property public property and shifting the discussion to one of government control. In so doing, he directly contradicted the 1964 Civil Rights Act which designates certain privately owned businesses as public accomodations which are thus part of the overarching mandate to serve all people regardless of race. Public accomodations include: hotels, stores, gas stations, and restaurants. In other words, they are places that are necessary for people to have freedom of movement in this country and to interact daily with others with similar freedoms. While some may look at eating out as a choice, imagine trying to go on a business trip for your job when you could not guarantee access to gas for the car, a place to sleep, or somewhere to eat your meals along the way.
People also equated allowing black people to eat in restaurants to allowing guns in a bar where people could then get drunk and shoot each other. Not only are these two things not equitable but the implication is that the very presence of black people predicates violence. During the interview he claimed to be staunchly against violence and to abhor people who engaged in it, yet a spokesperson for Paul at the launch of his campaign admitted to wearing a sweatshirt with KKK on it to the maill and kept an image of a lynch victim on his Facebook page for 2 years in response to Martin Luther King Day. While Paul eventually fired this man after his campaign took off and people began looking into his background and the background of his campaign team, the decision to include Hightower on his team hardly speaks to Rand Paul’s crafted image of himself as a potential freedom marcher with the late Dr. King or critic of anyone racist or violent.
Paul also avoided discussing concrete examples by claiming that they were historical issues and philosophical rather than concrete concerns. Yet, one needs only look at what sparked the Jena 6 controversy, the recent statement by the Harvard Law student about black people’s intelligence, or the subprime lending practices of Banks that targeted and ghettoized black and brown homeowners to know that discrimination exists here and now. Compare the conditions of schools in South Carolina that serve white students versus those that serve impoverished black ones, or border schools in the American Southwest to similar schools in affluent schools in the Northern regions of those same states and you know that discrimination is alive and well in the public sphere. Anyone who has ever had to shop while black also knows that in some establishments the only thing keeping people from demanding they leave immediately is Civil Rights law and that there have been and continue to be subtle ways that employers, business owners, and others send the message of racial exclusivity even when they cannot actively post it on a wall. The same can be said for other groups as well, just look at the number of same sex couples excluded from Prom, suspended from school, or kicked out all together because they or their parents are queer this year alone. While many of those cases took place in private settings, some of them occurred on public property proving that even Civil Rights is not enough to police growing hatred in this country.
After Maddow’s interview, Paul issued the following statement:
“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.
“As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years
“My opponent’s statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims.”
“The issue of civil rights is one with a tortured history in this country. We have made great strides, but there is still work to be done to ensure the great promise of Liberty is granted to all Americans.
“This much is clear: The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs. Just look at the recent national healthcare schemes, which my opponent supports. The federal government, for the first time ever, is mandating that individuals purchase a product. The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and state’s rights must stand up to it.
“These attacks prove one thing for certain: the liberal establishment is desperate to keep leaders like me out of office, and we are sure to hear more wild, dishonest smears during this campaign.”
Note how he once again avoids addressing the concrete historical and president reasons for why we need Civil Rights Law in all spaces in this nation and how he once again claims “the liberal media” is trying to tear him down because he represents “real Americans.” The spin game is on and Liberals are not the ones doing the spin. Much like what is going on with co-opting feminist imagery, I for one think there is much more at stake than whether or not Rand Paul is a private racist and a public race apologist. If we give bogged down in him as an individual we will lose sight of what he and his win represent.
There is a growing tide of racial antagonism in this country. The Southern Poverty Law Center had been tracking a marked uptick in racism, supremacy, and racial and homophobic incidences since the start of the Bush administration. They warned that the neo-conservative rhetoric put in place in those years was making this country less safe and less cohesive while no one really paid attention. Now we have an entire movement that is predicated on various “state’s rights” and “real Americans’ rights” that are simply rhetorical strategies for expressing fears about difference and a changing political landscape. While some people firmly believe their actions are non-violent, Tea Party rallies have been accompanied by violence and/or rising animosity in the areas in which they have been held. Worse, existing elected officials have courted the Tea Party, engaged and encouraged them, and have ultimately passed or considered passing legislation that reflects the most segregationist tendencies among them. When it became ok to say to the Federal Government “we will secede rather than take financial aid from you” or to pass laws that directly violated civil rights law and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, people like Rand Paul became an inevitability we should have been working against all along. He is a symptom of a sickness in this nation that has been allowed to spread unchecked for too long, he is not the disease.
It should also be noted that the discussion of Rand Paul’s comments today have focused exclusively on race but Paul aslo made similar comments about disability rights and his views would make it possible to discriminate in public spaces on the basis of any identity including: gender, sexuality, language, etc. as well as race and ability. While his example of placing workers on the first floor of a building rather than building an expensive elevator may seem reasonable to some, the reality is that workers relegated to a single floor of a business are not integral participants in the business because they cannot move freely, access material or conversations throughout the business, and subsequently can be excluded fairly easily.