by Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Rand Paul, the conservative Republican senator from Kentucky, tried last week to pave the way for Blacks to vote for Republicans in the future by extolling the GOP’s accomplishments of the past.
Speaking at Howard University, Paul said: ““The story of emancipation, of voting rights and, of citizenship, in the modern era from Frederick Douglass to the present is really, in fact, the history of the Republican Party.”
But he had to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority African-Americans don’t share that view.
“How did the party that elected the first Black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American congressmen, how did that party become a party that loses 95 percent of the Black vote?” Paul asked. “How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race?”
Paul’s speech was an appeal to Black voters and an effort to set-the-record-straight about his personal beliefs and the actions of his party as a whole.
Most Blacks cast their vote for Republicans until Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Still, as late as 1960, Republicans were receiving about a third of the Black vote. But that changed when Republicans adopted a “Southern strategy,” basically writing off the Black vote in an effort to directly appeal to White segregationists.
In the process, the Republican and Democratic parties switched positions in the South. Democrats were more sympathetic to issues important to Blacks and Republicans appealed directly to Southern Democrats, many of whom had risen to power by suppressing Black voter participation.
Paul said that while Democrats offer African Americans “economic emancipation” and a tangible promise that “puts food on the table,” the Republican promises of opportunity and free market will “lead to growth.”
Paul said, “Big government is not a friend to African Americans. If you’re struggling to get ahead, you’ve got student loans and private debt, you should go with a political party that leaves more money in the private sector.”
The audience reacted as Paul struggled to recall the name of Edward Brooke, the first Black senator from Massachusetts. But Paul continued to press his case. He asked, “Would any of you know that the founders of the NAACP were all Republicans?”
The audience erupted in reactions ranging from laughter to groans
That same NAACP no longer considers Republicans partners in the struggle for equality.
On the NAACP Legislative Report Card covering the 112th Congress, for example, every Republican in the United States Senate and House of Representatives earned an “F.” By contrast, 159 Democrats in the house earned As and only four received Fs. In the Senate, no Democrat earned an F and 47 got As.
Paul did not win over many member of the audience with his support of voter ID laws.
When asked about his stance on voting rights in light of the 2012 voter suppression efforts put in place by mostly Republican-dominated state legislatures across the country, Paul said, “If you liken showing a driver’s license to a literacy test, you demean the whole of what happened in the 1940s and 50s,” he said. “Showing your driver’s license is not unreasonable to have an honest election, that’s the main thing Republicans are trying to get across.”
Voter Identification laws, however, would have been detrimental to the turnout of hundreds of thousands of young and minority voters—as many as 700,000 young voters, according to a joint study between the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis. Twenty five percent of Blacks do not have government issued identification.
Even some moderate Republicans have complained about the party’s sharp shift to the right, becoming captive of Tea Party darlings such as Paul.
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said the party has moved so far to the right that even Ronald Reagan would not be welcome in the Republican Party today.
Paul was asked about his stance on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A member of the Howard University staff asked, “When is it OK legally to discriminate?”
Paul replied that he believed the question was a “mischaracterization” and that he has “never been against the Civil Rights Act, ever.” Instead, he claimed to have been against the “ramifications of certain provisions of the Act.”
However, in a 2010 interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Paul said that because he is a champion for freedom instead of making the actions of “boorish people” illegal, he would rather “civilized people” choose instead to “publicly criticize that, and don’t belong to those groups, or don’t associate with those people.”
He explained, “I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership,” Paul said in the 2012 interview. “But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.”
Gregory Carr, the chair of the African American Studies Department at Howard University, was unimpressed with Paul’s attempt to win over Black voters.
“I think what he did was cover himself with the veneer of history,” Carr said. “He wasn’t dealing with history at all; he completely evaded it and moved very quickly to the ground he’s most comfortable in.”
Carr added, “He not only evaded the Republican Party question, he outright lied about the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act positions he has been on record as having had in the past. He would have been more honest to say I’ve said these things and I’ve rethought them, but to completely deny the fact that he said them really showed us his political character.”
Paul was the first Republican politician to speak on the campus since 2009 when then-Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele spoke at a town hall.
“Republicans often aren’t understanding of kids who make bad choices,” Paul said. “I’m looking to change that. We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake.”
He said he is working on laws to make sure non-violent offenders don’t get put away for lengthy sentences, and that first-time offenders receive counseling.
“Some argue with evidence that our drug laws are biased, they are the new Jim Crow,” Paul said. “But to simply be against them for that reason misses a larger point – they are unfair to everyone—Black, White, and Brown”
When asked which Republican Party he most identified with, the pre-19th century Republican Party or the post-1968 Republican Party, Paul responded that there is no difference between the two.
“People perceive those as being completely different parties,” Paul said. “You don’t object to the party of emancipation, voting rights, citizenship and all of that, but the argument I’m trying to make is that we haven’t changed.
“I don’t mean that to be insulting,” Paul said. “The Republican Party hasn’t talked enough about the great history and interaction between the Republican Party and Black history in our country.”
Stanford Frazier, a senior at Howard University, says although Paul achieved what he sought to do by speaking at Howard, he alone won’t change the perceptions of an entire community.
“African Americans look at the GOP as a party that simply doesn’t represent their community or interests,” Frazier says. “One man can’t change the perception of an entire party.”