Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

Rand Paul’s Twisted Race Lies: His New Views on Civil Rights Are as Phony as the Old Ones

He claims his views have evolved. Not so, if you dig into what he actually says.

Photo Credit: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Rand Paul Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


If you Google “Rand Paul Civil Rights Act,” the first prompt that comes up is “unconstitutional,” so it was definitely heartening to see his apparent about-face on the act’s 50th anniversary, when he attended a local commemoration at the Shelbyville, Kentucky, home of Dr. Maurice F. Rabb, a prominent civil rights activist in the 1940s and ’50s. “Every major civil rights activist that came to the South stayed with my parents,” Chris Rabb said. “They were not allowed to stay in hotels.”

Paul has previously voiced his objection to the Civil Rights Act precisely because it put an end to such private-sector discrimination. But on this occasion, he released a statement saying, “’It is simply unimaginable to think what modern America would be like if it were not for the brave men and women who stood up for the rights of all Americans. The legislation changed the future of our nation by enforcing the belief that all men and women are created equal.”

The next day, Rachel Maddow  duly noted Paul’s change of heart. “Rand Paul went to Shelbyville yesterday, and he sang the praises of the civil rights movement and the civil rights activists and specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” she said, going on to repeat Paul’s statement, even displaying it on screen. “Rand Paul coming out in full support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” she said afterward, “which is nice, and I don’t mean to be raining on the parade, but I have to point out that this marks something of a shift in Rand Paul’s position on this legislation.” She then replayed a clip of her famous May 19, 2010 interview with Paul, in which he repeatedly refused to say he would have supported the bill. Specifically, she played a segment in which Paul said, “There’s 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 deal with public institutions, and I’m absolutely in favor of. One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.” He went on to indicate that he might or might not have finally agreed to support the bill, with just one title that he objected to.

I can’t help but join with Maddow in applauding Paul’s change of heart — but I do still harbor some deeper doubts, not least because Paul has dissembled, disinformed and confused so frequently and so much on the subject over the years — he’s even gotten the number of titles in the Civil Rights Act wrong; there are 11 of them, not 10. More significantly, as Ian Millhiser noted back on  April 10, 2013, there are numerous examples of Paul going on the record — both in print and on videotape — expressing his opposition to the Civil Rights Act:

Here’s video of him saying it to a Kentucky paper’s editorial board. Here’s a lengthy interview where he tries to  defend his opposition to the Civil Rights Act to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Here’s  video from just last year of him defending his father’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act (according to Rand Paul, “it’s not all about race relations, it’s about controlling property, ultimately.”)

Yet on that date, Millhiser noted,  Paul insisted otherwise to an audience at the historically black Howard University. “I’ve never been against the Civil Rights Act. Ever,” he said, “I have been concerned about the ramifications of the Civil Rights Act beyond race… but I’ve never come out in opposition.”

It’s good that Paul’s views have apparently evolved over time, but it’s disturbingly less good that he still can’t admit the change in his thinking, because there’s still a great deal of confusion, contradiction and outright falsehood that he’s perpetuating. In the passage I quoted above, for example, he substantially misrepresented the balance of the Civil Rights Act, and dramatically downplayed the extent of his “principled” opposition. A true change of heart would mean coming to terms with those inconvenient truths, admitting his past mistakes, and coming to terms with them, rather than stubbornly refusing to square with the facts.