Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says, "I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do." Paul is continuing his outreach to black voters following the resignation of his social media director, Jack Hunter, who was a neo-Confederate secessionist and still blogs under the name Southern Avenger. "As a senator, Paul has made it a priority to speak to black and Hispanic community organizations and political groups," Yahoo News reports. This has been true since April, when Paul gave a speech to Howard University in which he was surprised when students knew the answers to some pretty basic questions about the history of the NAACP.
Paul deserves credit for reaching out to black voters. But he can be a little tone deaf. There are many people in Congress who have a pretty strong record on minority rights, like, say, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who was a freedom rider. And there are many people in Congress who have never said they were on the fence about the part of 1964 Civil Rights Act, which Paul did in 2010.
Paul's analysis of how his party can attract more black voters is also interesting. He said he preferred lower sentences for drug convictions. But he also pointed to social issues:
"There are millions and millions of African Americans who go to church and who are, in many ways, religiously conservative. We need to ask them what would it take to get people in your congregation to consider voting for a Republican? Because one of the ironies is that if you go into any African American church in Chicago or any big city, they’re predominately social conservative... If you were to poll African Americans just on issues without party, you would find that they are actually sympathetic to Republican issues on many fronts, but aren’t voting Republican."
Black voters show lower levels of support for gay marriage. But Paul has pitched himself as a more libertarian kind of Republican less focused on gay issues. As Paul told Wired in May, "the way we’re going to compete is by running people for office who can appreciate some issues that attract young people and independents: civil liberties, as well as a less aggressive foreign policy, not putting people in jail for marijuana, a much more tolerant type of point of view."
It will be fascinating to see how Paul refines his pitch of libertarian Republican politics to black voters. At The Economist, Will Wilkinson argues that "right-wing populism in America has always amounted to white identity politics, which is why the only notable libertarian-leaning politicians to generate real excitement among conservative voters have risen to prominence through alliances with racist and nativist movements." Paul and his father, Ron Paul, may not be racist themselves, but their careers have benefitted from the support of people like the guy Paul just fired.