Merlene Davis: Rand Paul wasn't talking to blacks at Howard University speech

A lot of white people have said to me recently that Republican Sen. Rand Paul should get kudos for visiting Howard University and talking with a majority black audience.

The number of folks telling me that made me think something was wrong with me. I didn't see Paul's visit that way.

Why wouldn't, and shouldn't, a U.S. senator talk to a group of young, intelligent, black college students? Aren't they Americans?

Did Paul simply deserve credit for talking with a group that may not agree with him? President Barack Obama does that frequently. Obama spoke with a group of CEOs who have serious disagreements with his efforts to raise their taxes. He has addressed Congress and received a "You lie!," for his efforts.

I didn't quite understand why I should applaud Paul's visit anymore than I should gush over my husband picking up a broom now and again.

In his talk, Paul said today's Republican Party is essentially the same party Abraham Lincoln belonged to. Today's Republicans are the same as those of the 19th century who helped end slavery.

In essence, he said to those students that they should understand that when today's Republicans reach out to them, black people should joyfully clasp the hand that brought them freedom 150 years ago.

Democrats, Paul said, were the bad guys back then, and that's true. A majority of black voters once were Republicans. My father was a Republican. But black voters began leaving that party when integration fell out of favor with the party of Lincoln.

Paul knows that.

In the 1950s and 1960s, southern Democrats, who were demanding the right to remain segregationists, were rebuffed by northern Democrats for that stance. Those Democrats then fled to the Republican Party, where they found a welcoming home.

They were lured by that party's "Southern strategy," which was in direct opposition to federal policies regarding civil rights. So those segregationists became Republicans, changing how that party was perceived by black people, who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats during the past election.

Paul knows that.

So when Paul decided to give those bright students a history lesson that left decades of issues out of the discussion, I began to wonder why our senator had gone there in the first place.

He said he was there to try to get them to look at Republicans differently. Republicans really need to reach out to minorities, he said. That's true. But I don't think that's why he was there.

And then it came to me.

Yesterday, while speaking at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Paul said he is considering a presidential campaign in 2016. Such a move had been rumored, but now Paul has put it out there for all to see.

"I want to be part of the national debate," Paul said. "Whether I run or not, being considered is something that allows me to have, I think, a larger microphone. We're considering it."

That's why he went to Howard. His talk wasn't to persuade black students to give Republicans a second look. His talk at Howard was to give white students a chance to see him as magnanimous.

He had to have known that black people remember the longstanding racist and homophobic beliefs that his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, used to publish in his newsletters.

He had to have known that those black students would remember his recorded statements that businesses should be allowed to discriminate.

He wasn't there for black people. He was there to win some of the white votes that Obama had snagged from soccer moms disenchanted with the Republican desire to dictate what happens in their vaginas. He was there to convince those white people that he isn't such a bad fellow, really, and that they "should pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

He went to Howard because he is planning to run for president. How better to get the "larger microphone" than to go where other conservatives fear to tread?

That's why I can't give Paul credit for talking to black people. He wasn't really talking to them.