Rand Paul's outreach; Blind spots in senator's view of black history

April 17, 2013 

Sen. Rand Paul should keep visiting traditionally black colleges and universities — not because he'll win many converts with his Republicans-freed-the-slaves spiel but because he might learn something.

He might start to understand, for example, that new voter ID laws, voter purges and other obstacles erected by Republican legislatures and secretaries of state are updated versions of the literacy tests and poll taxes that southern Democrats once used to suppress the black vote.

They are attempts to intimidate and disenfranchise by disproportionately burdening the poor, elderly and young; people who have no cars and therefore no driver's license or who never had a copy of their birth certificates; college students living away from home, renters who move a lot.

Paul recently told an audience at Howard University in Washington that comparisons of new voter ID requirements to literacy tests "demean the horror of what happened in the '40s and '50s."

What's really being demeaned, though, is our democracy when deliberate voter suppression becomes a political party's tactic, which it has for the GOP.

Restrictions on early voting and ridiculously long lines on Election Day have a similar effect. Workers in low-wage jobs lack the flexibility of, say, a CEO to break away from the office for a few hours to wait to vote.

We should also note that Kentucky's limited voting hours were set for the convenience of white male farmers traveling to the polls on horseback

Paul's remarks at Howard and later at Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville revealed stunning blind spots in his world view, including his assertion that capitalism's opportunities somehow dispel broad and deep race-based injustices.

But give him credit for reaching out. He backed away from his earlier criticisms of the Civil Rights Act. And he was on target when he decried the discriminatory effects of harsh mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes.

If Paul really wants blacks to trust the GOP, however, he should work to make voting easier, not harder. He also should chide fellow Republicans whose voter-suppression tactics channel the ugliness of the segregated South.

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