MILBANK: Paul has rough day at Howard

Paul's rough day at Howard

Tea party titan Rand Paul, visiting Howard University on Wednesday, told students that he had been called "either brave or crazy to be here" at the historically black college.

Probably some of each: brave, because he's trying to sell himself and fellow Republicans to African-Americans, a singularly resistant demographic; and crazy, because he based his pitch on revised history and airbrushed facts -- and the Howard kids weren't fooled.

"No Republican questions or disputes civil rights," the senator from Kentucky proclaimed. "I've never wavered in my support for civil rights or the Civil Rights Act."


As a candidate in 2010, Paul questioned the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act's Title II, which prohibits private discrimination. "I don't want to be associated with those people," he said when MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked him about private businesses that refuse to serve black customers, "but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things freedom requires."

Asked by the moderator at Howard to explain his claim that he never spoke out against the Civil Rights Act, Paul provided the creative rationale that he was talking "about the ramifications of certain portions of the Civil Rights Act beyond race, as are now being applied to smoking, menus, listing calories and things on menus and guns."

Paul acknowledged that his wooing of African-Americans "is an uphill battle," and his hour with the students confirmed this. Talking about the Republicans' historical support for civil rights, he said: "I'll give you one example. The first, one of the African-American U.S. senators was a guy named, uh, I'm blanking on his name, from Massachusetts -- "

"Edward Brooke!" several in the audience called out.

"Edwin Brookes," Paul repeated.

The students broke out in hysterics. The laughter had barely subsided when Paul posed a question. "If I were to have said, 'Who do you think the founders of the NAACP are?' ... would everybody in here know they were all Republicans?"

"Yes," several could be heard grumbling. "Of course they would," one woman informed him.

Paul dug himself in deeper. "I don't know what you know," he said.

They knew enough to be suspicious of his central argument: that Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party is the same Republican Party that now dominates the South. This analysis glossed over the civil rights era, when Democrats and Republicans essentially switched sides as Southern Dixiecrats left for the GOP.

"Democrats in Louisville were led by Courier-Journal Editor Henry Watterson and were implacably opposed to blacks voting," Paul argued. Watterson died in 1921. "Meanwhile," he continued, "Kentucky's Democrat-controlled legislature voted against the 13th, the 14th and the 15th amendments." In the 1860s.

A student questioner sought clarification. "Are we discussing the Republican Party of the 19th century?" he asked, to applause. "Or are we discussing the post-1968 Republican Party?"

"The argument I'm trying to make is we haven't changed," Paul proposed.

The Howard students weren't hostile to the senator as much as indifferent. Campus police swarmed outside the hall and erected barricades, although they proved unnecessary. Doors opened an hour early, but seats didn't fill up until the last minute, and many spent their time texting and fanning themselves in the overheated hall.

"My hope is that you will hear me out," Paul asked, and all appeared to -- except for senior Brian Menifee, who raised a hand-lettered banner announcing that "Howard University Doesn't Support White Supremacy." Police threw him out roughly, and other students cheered.

But Paul got no cheers for most of his ideas: criticizing Democrats' "unlimited federal assistance," calling private-school choice "the civil rights issue of our day" and saying that "there are Republicans who don't clamor for war." He did better with his proposal to repeal mandatory minimum sentences but he drew boos when he defended voter-ID laws.

"I come to Howard," Paul said, "to say I want a government that leaves you alone." He argued that "objective evidence shows that big government is not a friend to African-Americans."

Freshman Keenan Glover disagreed. "I want a government that's going to help me," he said. "I want a government that's going to help me pay for my college education."

"We can disagree," the senator said, then upgraded his pessimism. "Probably, we're going to end up disagreeing."

Eugene Robinson is on vacation. His column will resume later in April.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter,@Milbank.


notblind 2 years, 5 months ago

Complete waste of time. College is just the final session of liberal brainwashing.


Why_not 2 years, 5 months ago

Typical response :roll eyes: Haha


notblind 2 years, 5 months ago

Did you get tired of your Jan persona ?


Why_not 2 years, 5 months ago

Once again....you make no sense at all.


notblind 2 years, 5 months ago

The last thing I expect is YOUR understanding anything that requires independent thought.


JV 2 years, 5 months ago

"Howard University Doesn't Support White Supremacy."

"I want a government that's going to help me," he said. "I want a government that's going to help me pay for my college education."

Yep. Pretty much sums it up.


notblind 2 years, 5 months ago

What went unsaid was "I want somebody else to pay for it".


notblind 2 years, 5 months ago

Reading the local papers, the gooberment needs to supply bling also. Expensive basketball shoes and gold chains.


notblind 2 years, 5 months ago

The students' ideas about mandatory sentencing and voter ID laws perfectly illustrates their brainwashed state.


FordGalaxy 2 years, 5 months ago

I still don't understand how requiring a photo ID to vote is racist. You have to have a photo ID to cash a check, buy a house, buy booze, or a number of other things. Yet to cast your vote, you should be able to walk in without any questions asked? What, are we Venezuela now?

Mandatory minimum sentences are stupid. Same thing with Zero tolerance. They're nothing more than hold-overs of knee-jerk reactions. Almost every other nation has provided us the example that legalization and treatment are far more effective than simple imprisonment.

The GOP of today is not the same as the GOP of Lincoln. Likewise, the Democrats today are not the same as the Democrats of 1865. In honest truth, both parties are wasteful, both party establishments have turned their back on the common man, and both parties are frankly nothing more than opposing sides of the same coin.

I really don't understand these people who think it is the duty of the federal government to provide for them. This is not a black only issue. There are free-loaders of all ethnicities. personal responsibility was sold off for a simple "D" Vote.


LilburnsFuture 2 years, 5 months ago

The fact that he went to Howard and addressed questions from the audience shows courage. Something some in the Republican party have been lacking. Kudos to the Howard students who were respectful throughout.


Sign in to comment