In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt invited one of the first post-Abolitionism, post Civil War, post-Reconstruction African-Americans, Booker T. Washington, to visit him in the White House. To southern whites this was going too far. One editor wrote: “With our long-matured views on the subject of social intercourse between blacks and whites, the least we can say now is that we deplore the President’s taste, and we distrust his wisdom.” By the bye, Mr. Washington, born a slave, had a white father.
By the way, if President Obama is a “socialist” according to Savagely Beckoning Le-vinitating O’RHannibaugh, I wonder how they would have contemporaneously characterized the Republican Theodore Roosevelt. After all he was the first President to reach out to the African-American community. It was more than 30 years before another one did. Woodrow Wilson was a racist from Virginia (it was he who, for example, instituted segregation in the modern American military) and the post-TR Republicans had already forgotten about their roots as the Party of Lincoln. The next President to start trying to deal with discrimination and segregation was TR’s cousin, Franklin.
But further on TR, it was he who termed the then equivalents of the primary beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts and deregulation the “malefactors of great wealth,” got the Federal government into the environmental conservation and regulation business, and as part of his 1912 Bull Moose Party Presidential platform offered a national health insurance program much more comprehensive than anything Obama promoted. Man, this man would have been kicked out of the GOP a long time ago. For by 1964, seeing the growth of the civil rights movement within the Democratic Party, the GOP was starting its turn towards racism as a central strategy and tactic.
In that year, Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for President, had a young staffer in Arizona go to the lines of voters on Election Day to challenge the bona fides of minority voters. In June of that year, that staffer had written a letter to the Arizona Republic stating that the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a mistake. Ten years earlier, as a Supreme Court clerk in 1954, he had written a brief arguing that Plessy v. Ferguson should not be overturned. That staffer’s name was William Rehnquist, the man who gave us the modern activist Far Right Court.
In 1968, running for President, Richard Nixon adopted what was then called the “Southern Strategy.” Designed to woo white voters in the southern states it was very cleverly disguised so that it could not be challenged as openly racist. “Oh what? Who us? Why we are just for ‘states’ rights.’ “Of course, in the South everyone knows that “states’ rights” was and still is a code word for the kinds of openly racist policies of the Jim Crow/lynch-’em era, but it is acknowledged only with “a wink and a nod.” Of course, Ronald Reagan was master of that tactic. At the beginning of his 1980 Presidential campaign he made his first stop at Philadelphia, MI, where the famous murder of the three Northern civil rights workers had taken place in 1964. “Just a coincidence,” the campaign claimed. And so on down the line to today. Why the fact that about half of the Republican minority in the US Senate comes from the Southern or Southern-like (Oklahoma) states must just be a coincidence, no? There are no messages being given, are there?
A major key to the GOP success since Nixon has been that they have been the party of racism, that is discrimination against certain people based simply on who they are, in this case African American. But they have done it very cleverly, always being able to claim, “oh no, not us.” In fact, they even have their shills like Glen Beck claiming that it is the first African-American President, Barack Obama, who is the racist (when he is not a Muslim foreigner, of course). And then all of a sudden comes along Rand Paul. Oh my. Uh oh. Houston, we have a problem.
The public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act states that public accommodations must be available to all persons “without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” The Constitutional rationale for this provision of the Act was found in the Interstate Commerce clause and also in the fact that all public accommodations depend upon public services, pure water supply, sanitary sewage disposal, roads, police protection and so forth. The political rationale was a decision by the political majority in this country that such discrimination was simply to be no longer tolerated, as a matter of public policy. Prominent Republicans, like Barry Goldwater and future New York Senator James Buckley, were against it. And now comes Rand Paul.
“Oh I’m all for the outlawing of discrimination by governments,” he tells us. But that’s the easy part. That part of the Civil Rights Act was simply the putting into legislation the provisions of the 14th Amendment, which had been routinely violated by the Southern states since the end of Reconstruction. (The Voting Rights Act was simply the putting into legislation the provisions of the 15th Amendment, also routinely violated by the same states.) But Paul is against the part that represented a significant step forward in public policy on racial discrimination, even though he says now that he would have, on balance, voted for the overall Act.
But all of a sudden the GOP has a problem. It has a candidate, a “Tea Party Republican” no less, who is taking an openly racist position: that owners of public accommodations should have been allowed to discriminate against persons based on who they are or who they are perceived to be, not anything they are (I think an association of child molesters was the example Paul used) or any threats they might be making (the violence-promoting KKK, another Paul example). He has pulled the mask right off that wholly owned GOP subsidiary called the Tea Party.
First he tried to “walk it back.” Then, with Sara Palin leading the way, he turned to attacking the media, the tried and true GOP trick. Blame the media (except for The Propaganda Channel, otherwise known as the Fox”News”Channel) for everything and anything negative that comes out about you. Strategically this is part of the long-term GOP strategy to do away with the independent media, even such as it is now in the US. Tactically, this is part of their drive to change the subject from the substance of the dispute to the process of “yes, it’s the media’s fault, they’re biased donchaknow.” Hannity and Limbaugh do this endlessly. Just listen to them sometime. After taking Dramamine first, I do, regularly. And then the media, with a few exceptions, fall all over themselves making whatever it is (like the “death panels,” a total fabrication) the subject of the favored “two sides” treatment.
However, whatever Rand Paul says, whatever rationale he uses (such as “1st amendment rights”) he is for having allowed owners of public accommodations to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity. This of course is exactly what the GOP has been for over the years since Goldwater/Nixon, but they have been able to hide it, in plain sight for anyone who looked, but on the surface hidden. Now, along with their beloved “Arizona Law,” it is out in the open. Also out in the open, well beyond the racist posters and the racial slurs, is the racism of the Tea Party and the Tea Partiers. Yes, indeed, in a nation that is becoming ever more multi-cultural, this does create a significant problem for the White Party.
Post-script: Paul claims that his position comes from his philosophy as a Libertarian. Uh-oh. Another problem, as Katha Pollitt tells us in The Nation:
There’s one area, though, in which Paul apparently wants the government to play a much bigger role: your womb. Women can forget about the “privacy” and “liberty” Paul touts on his website; warnings against government encroachment on freedom do not apply to female citizens of Paul’s back-to-basics Republic. As per his website, we get the Human Life Amendment banning all abortion even for rape and incest, “a Sanctity of Life Amendment, establishing the principle that life begins at conception,” a funding ban on Planned Parenthood, and a ban on the Supreme Court taking up abortion-related cases. No wonder he’s been endorsed by Operation Rescue founder and general all-around sleazemeister Randall Terry.
Oh yes, Paul is against legal/civil gay marriage too. Of course these are both public GOP positions, so not worrying about his hypocrisy, the “Libertarian” Paul fits right in with that public stance. It’s just that Paul’s now public support for racial discrimination in public accommodations fits right in with GOP policies that they have been trying, with some success, to make believe are not theirs, all of these years. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Democrats will go on the attack on this one or let it slide, as they have with so many other GOP policies.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.