Rand Paul and racial echoes

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010; 11:52 AM

On one point, at least, I have to give Rand Paul credit.

When I saw him on O'Reilly Wednesday night, I figured, okay, here's another conservative who's only going to do Fox and narrowcast to the base.

But the Senate candidate from Kentucky, who had already talked to National Public Radio, popped up an hour later with Rachel Maddow. And he endured a 20-minute grilling on his view of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, with the MSNBC host being both aggressive and unfailingly civil.

Unfortunately for the "tea party" champion, he opposed the guts of a 46-year-old statute that has been settled law in this country for a long time. Paul dug himself a hole and kept digging.

The issue was front and center because Paul had earlier told the Louisville Courier-Journal that "I don't like the idea of telling private business owners" what to do.

He kept telling Maddow he was not in favor of discrimination. He would have marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He supported the law's ban on bias in public institutions. "Am I a bad person? Do I believe in awful things? No," Paul said.

But he would not, despite repeated prodding, say the government should legally bar private institutions from discrimination.

"I'm all in favor of and that was desegregating the schools, desegregating public transportation, use public roads and public monopolies, desegregating public water fountains," he said.

"How about desegregating lunch counters?" Maddow said.

"Well, what it gets into is, is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, well, no, we don't want to have guns in here."

He just would not say it, even with the '60s-era reference to lunch counters. And now the Republican nominee, who beat Mitch McConnell's candidate in a landslide, is going to have to spend a long time defending that position. I don't think it's fair to suggest this is the tea party position, but I do think it's fair to ask whether Ron Paul's son, in 2010, has problems with the landmark civil rights law of our generation. I'm sure that's a debate the Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, would love to have.

The thing about protest candidates is that you can rip Washington and the political establishment all you want, but eventually you have to say what you're for.

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