Until now, Tea Party members have been extremely careful to avoid any mention of social issues, emphasizing instead their desire to limit government and reduce taxes.
Thanks to Dr. Rand Paul, America has a glimpse of the true danger embodied in this movement.
Paul's own comments reveal how disturbing it would be to have Kentuckians represented by someone who would not find it reprehensible to turn back the clock to a time when segregation and discrimination were legally allowed in private businesses.
In a 2002 letter to a Bowling Green newspaper, Paul expressed criticism over fair housing laws, writing that "a free society will abide unofficial private discrimination even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin."
Hate-filled groups? Does Paul actually mean he would not be troubled to return to the ugly past when various forms of intimidation tactics amounted to legally sanctioned terrorism?
Paul said he would have marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, but that comment rings hollow since it appears Paul has no personal connection to the ideals of equality and racial harmony represented by King's life work.
In an April 17 interview with the editorial staff of The Courier-Journal, Paul stated he did not support laws prohibiting private businesses from discriminating against a group of people. This viewpoint is in direct conflict with the federal Civil Rights Act (Title II), which forbids racial and ethnic discrimination in the area of public accommodations.
Can it be true Paul would have no hesitation returning to a time where entrances to restaurants or movie theatres, water fountains and pools were marked "For Whites Only" and "For Colored Only"?
Paul has also expressed reservations about the efficacy of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991, which requires government and businesses to make "reasonable accommodations."
In a May 19 interview with National Public Radio, Paul stated accommodations to disabled persons might be better limited to the first floor rather than having the "government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator."
Paul ignores the possibility that the restrooms, cafeteria or conference rooms might be located on higher floors. Without an elevator, disabled individuals would find themselves isolated and limited in access to basic accommodations needed to survive or thrive in daily life.
With a helping hand from government, millions of citizens with disabilities lead productive lives each and every day. Yet Paul, a physician, is clearly not interested in extending much of a hand.
Paul's views may be representative of a generation gap between those who lived through hate-filled groups using intimidation tactics against people of a different race, religion or ethnicity and those whose only connection is to hear about it in history class. His views may be the result of political naiveté, the carryover of hypotheticals discussed during ideological debates. They could be a response to rapid economic and societal change among groups that have traditionally held power as access to scarce resources becomes more competitive.
Whatever the analysis, the conclusion is fundamentally unacceptable now that Paul is the Kentucky Republican Party standardbearer for the U.S. Senate.
In his victory speech accepting the nomination, Paul announced he was ready "to take back the government." In light of his views, the real question becomes: How far back does he wish to take America?
The irony of Paul's election coming in the same week and the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision is not lost on me, especially since many of us in the era of school desegregation have vivid memories of the simple acts of principled decency among black and white schoolchildren that often helped defuse racial tension as we navigated uncertain times.
At a critical moment when most southern senators threatened to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both Kentucky U.S. senators, Republicans John Sherman Cooper and Thruston B. Morton, opposed this filibuster and voted for passage.
A young aide to Cooper named Mitch McConnell asked why the senator voted for it. Cooper responded, "Son, sometimes you have to be a leader."
We cannot allow Kentucky to be represented by someone whose ideology trumps his personal commitment or who has an alarming disconnect between his principles and his practice.
This is the moment we need to remind Kentucky and the rest of America that all it takes for history to repeat itself is for good people to stay home and not vote.