There can be no doubt that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants to be seen as an inclusive, color-blind kind of politician. A few weeks ago, the senator insisted, “I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do.” Soon later, Paul added, “There is no greater defender, truly, of minority rights … than myself.”
The boasts of an easily confused, crass egomaniac? Perhaps, but there’s more to it than that.
Paul is absolutely convinced he’s the guy who’ll expand the Republican Party’s reach to racial and ethnic minorities. Sure, he’s on record opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sure, he’s long opposed the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. Sure, he found a neo-Confederate who celebrates the birthday of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, wrote a book with the guy, and then hired him to work on his Senate staff.
But never mind all of that, Paul says. When it comes to “minority rights,” the Kentucky Republican expects you to believe he’s every bit as bold a champion as John Lewis.
As is too often the case, the senator doesn’t understand what he doesn’t understand.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says there’s no “objective evidence” of racial discrimination in elections.
“The interesting thing about voting patterns now is in this last election African-Americans voted at a higher percentage than whites in almost every one of the states that were under the special provisions of the federal government,” Paul said Wednesday according to WFPL’s Phillip Bailey. “So really, I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.”
So says the man who describes himself as one of the world’s greatest defenders of minority rights.
As Ian Millhiser explained, “If Paul is not aware of the evidence indicating widespread efforts to prevent African Americans from voting, then he must not be looking very hard.”
During the 2012 election, black and Hispanic voters waited nearly twice as long to cast a ballot as white voters. In Florida, lines of up to six hours led an estimated 201,000 people to become frustrated and leave the polls. These lines existed largely because of a voter suppression bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) which reduced early voting hours in the state. After the election, top Republicans admitted that the purpose of cutting early voting was to reduce Democratic turnout. One Republican operative conceded that early voting was cut on the Sunday proceeding Election Day because “that’s a big day when the black churches organize themselves.”
Meanwhile, voter ID laws are rampant in states led by conservatives, despite the fact that these laws cannot be justified by any legitimate purpose…. [E]ven conservative estimates suggest that 2 to 3 percent of legitimate voters will turn turned away by a voter ID law – and these voters are disproportionately African American.
For Paul, one gets the sense that he looks at the surface and comes away satisfied – people of color turned out to vote in healthy numbers 2012, and the percentages did not decline after new voting restrictions were imposed, so it stands to reason that no one is interfering with African-American voting participation. Indeed, as far as the senator is concerned, there must not be any “objective evidence” at all.
But the absence of poll taxes and literacy tests does not mean the systematic Republican campaign to undermine the voting rights of the poor, minorities, students, and anyone else the GOP suspects of leaning Democratic doesn’t exist. The sooner Rand Paul tries to understand this, the easier it will be to hear his chest-thumping about his heroism on minority rights without laughing out loud.