Over a 19-minute interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul of Kentucky – the new hero of tea party activists and many in the GOP — could not answer one specific question:
Does he agree with the portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bars private businesses from discriminating against people because of the color of their skin?
“I don’t believe in any racism. I don’t believe we should have any government racism, any institutional form of racism,” Paul said. He declared the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison the be one of his “favorite historical characters.”
He called the South’s attachment to Jim Crow “a stain on the history of America.” He said that the federal government had a right to go after “institutional racism.”
But Paul could not bring himself to say that the federal government had the power to use the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to force a restaurant to serve black customers. Think Lester Maddox and his Pickrick restaurant in Atlanta, waving his pick handle and handgun.
This is what makes many Republicans nervous.
Paul called the question an “abstract, obscure discussion from 1964,” but eventually drew a comparison with the right to carry a firearm:
“If you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says, ‘Well no, we don’t want to have guns in here,’ the bar says, ‘We don’t want to have guns in here because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each-other.’ Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?”
Democrats immediately jumped on the evasion, and this morning, the Paul campaign posted the following “in response to liberal media attacks” on its Web site:
“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation.
Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.
“As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years.
“My opponent’s statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims.”
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