We talked on Tuesday about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) having a curious employee on his Capitol Hill staff. Jack Hunter has a record as a neo-Confederate, pro-secessionist activist -- complete with a Confederate flag wrestling mask -- who has boasted that he "raise[s] a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth's birthday."
Paul defended Hunter and the larger criticisms in comments to the Huffington Post.
"I'm not a fan of secession," Paul said. "I think the things he said about John Wilkes Booth are absolutely stupid. I think Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents. Do I think Lincoln was wrong is taking away the freedom of the press and the right of habeas corpus? Yeah."There were great people who were for emancipation. Lincoln came to his greatness. One Republican congressman described it as 'on borrowed plumage.' I love the description, because there were some great fighters [for emancipation] and Lincoln had to be pushed. But I'm not an enemy of Lincoln, like some who think he was an awful person."
Oh good, in the 21st century, a prominent Republican senator has to defend his mixed feelings on Abraham Lincoln, and note the ever-so-mild language that he's "not a fan" of secession.
"People are calling him a white supremacist," Paul told me in his Senate office. "If I thought he was a white supremacist, he would be fired immediately. If I thought he would treat anybody on the color of their skin different than others, I'd fire him immediately.... Are we at a point where nobody can have had a youth or said anything untoward?" the senator asked rhetorically.
Look, as recently as 2009, Hunter was defending the Confederacy and secession in print. In 2010, he co-wrote Paul's first book.
Is it sensible to cut people some slack on youthful indiscretions? Of course. But Hunter wasn't some random high-school student flirting with radical ideas on the political fringe; he was arguing in support of secession and the Confederacy as a 34-year-old adult professional, and a year later, he was on Rand Paul's payroll.
Dave Weigel has argued, persuasively, that this story won't hurt Paul on the right, and I suspect that's correct. But for the mainstream, there's no reason Rand Paul's "youthful" defense of his Confederate staffer should be taken seriously.