By David Wolfford
It is unfortunate that Rand Paul cannot draw attention to the federal government's perversion of the Constitution's commerce clause without facing a firestorm of controversy and accused racial insensitivities.
He erred when he analyzed the 1964 Civil Rights Act's prevention of discrimination in public accommodations, perhaps the most politically incorrect illustration. This has drawn fire from the left and has clinched teeth on the right.
Paul's hyper-concern for free speech and property rights over discrimination will serve as his first political lesson as the GOP nominee, but the discussion around what Paul termed settled law won't distract Kentucky voters much longer. The 1964 omnibus bill prevents discrimination in employment, institutions that receive federal funding and in privately owned public accommodations (hotels, restaurants and retail shops). It was the catalyst for meaningful school integration 10 years after the Brown v. Board decision.
Prior to its passage, only 2 percent of black children in the Deep South sat in classrooms or attended school with white students. When southern school administrators faced angry bigots or losing federal funds, they chose the prior and stonewalling began to cease. The Congress also invoked the commerce clause to require segregated business to accept patrons of all colors. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld this provision in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States later that year.
When The Courier-Journal's editorial board asked Paul if he supports the Civil Rights Act, he couldn't resist pointing to the outdated debate of whether the U.S. Congress had the authority to legislate non-discrimination on individuals operating a private business. Avidly declaring his abhorrence for racism or discrimination of any kind, he posed that the federal government might be overstepping its bounds by mandating parts of the law and cutting against free speech while prohibiting private discrimination.
With The Courier-Journal interview readily accessible on the web, it only took the left one news cycle after Paul's primary victory to begin skewering him. Paul's strict interpretation of the Constitution and concern for the historic perversion of the commerce clause — Paul's mantra on the campaign trail — resulted in a parlay with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that required a mayday call. He later issued the statement, "I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
The left — Paul's Democratic opponent Jack Conway and Maddow — see the political usefulness of turning Paul's point of reclaiming the federal government's purpose into the race game. It has worked in the past. Sen. Barry Goldwater voted against the act only to suffer a heavy 1964 defeat against Lyndon Baines Johnson and a dark legacy of having opposed it. Judge Robert Bork questioned Congress's 1964 reach and was denied a Supreme Court seat two decades later. Conway, Maddow and other critics see the opportunity to paint Paul as a potential bigoted lawmaker wanting to repeal a law he wholly agrees with because he questions the government's authority on thought, speech and private property.
Voting Kentuckians were smart enough to see past the sound-bite sniping that Grayson invested in from March to May, and they will be clever enough to spot the red-herring the left is planting now.
This is the very type of exchange that voters despise — a narrow debate about a 45-year old law that Paul did not initiate and that he promises not to touch if elected.
Paul's followers will continue to appreciate his opposition to special interests, an overly regulated economy and a ballooning bureaucracy that has cost Kentuckians jobs and freedom while refusing to engage in politics as usual.