Rand Paul

Rand Paul, Racism, and Prison

Paul has had a busy summer trying to roll back mandatory minimum sentencing, bar federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients, and restrain civil forfeiture laws.


Rand Paul/Flickr

Norm Ornstein is one of those Washington "centrist" lifers whom the commentariat loves to deploy against the hard-line partisans allegedly fouling our national discourse. A liberal at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Ornstein helped craft the speech-squelching Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which the Supreme Court, mercifully, has largely overturned. In April 2012, along with fellow centrist think-tanker Thomas Mann, Ornstein wearily declared in a Washington Post op-ed, "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem." In an October 2013 interview with public broadcaster Diane Rehm, he asserted that racism played a "significant" role in the Republican Party's "ruthlessly pragmatic attempt to delegitimize a Democratic president," and in July of this year, he fretted in National Journal that "extremism" has become "mainstream" in the modern GOP.

"I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won," Ornstein wrote. "Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain's term, 'wacko birds,' and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views."

And which beyond-the-pale beliefs are those? In addition to the usual nonsensical quotes about slavery and science that we've come to expect from wild-eyed GOP state senators you've never heard of, Ornstein also included opposition to Common Core curriculum standards, the desire to abolish the Federal Reserve, and the reluctance to impose government penalties against parents who refuse vaccines (a reticence enshrined in almost every state's legal code, in the form of sanction-free opt-outs).

But even more nonsensical than Ornstein's conflation of perfectly arguable policy positions with "extremism" was his massively reductive yet distressingly familiar attempt to sort all elected Republicans into two bins marked "crazy" and "rational." This has been a staple of political journalism since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, and it has contributed to one of the biggest missed stories of this young century.

When John McCain used the phrase wacko bird in March 2013, he was referring most directly to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the leading member of the 2010 Tea Party class of elected officials. (Paul's 2011 campaign memoir was titled The Tea Party Goes to Washington, and not once during his election night victory speech did he utter the word Republican.) If the Tea Party was commonly portrayed upon its arrival on the national scene as a racist spasm against a black president-in January 2010, then-MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann called it "perhaps the saddest collection of people who don't want to admit why they really hate since the racists of the South in the '60s insisted they were really just concerned about states' rights"-then Paul was a prime candidate to be fitted for a Grand Dragon hat.

First came his infamous post-election interview with Rachel Maddow, in which the senator-elect bumbled through his reservations about-and ultimate support for-the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Then came the July 2013 revelation that a key Paul staffer (who soon resigned) had a past as a pro-Confederate shock jock. For consumers who get their political news from MSNBC or The Huffington Post, or The New York Times, the narrative was simple. "Rand Paul," as Bill Moyers put it this April, "has a race problem."

But classifying the Kentucky senator, and the movement within the GOP he represents, as crazy and possibly racist quickly produces a dissonance too loud for even some career Washington centrists. "Paul is doing something new, and even potentially boundary-breaking, in his outreach to African-Americans," National Journal columnist Ronald Brownstein observed in August. "He has moved beyond the economic arguments that anchored previous outreach efforts to embrace criminal-justice reform with a passion unprecedented in modern Republican politics. Few Democrats, in fact, have matched the fervor of Paul's case against drug laws that have disproportionately incarcerated minority men."

Paul has had a busy summer trying to roll back the excesses of the drug war. In June, he introduced a bill restoring federal voting rights to nonviolent felons who have served out their sentences, an effort he rightly characterized as having far more potential impact for voter re-enfranchisement than the voter ID skirmishes that Democrats and Republicans tend to obsess over. In July, he teamed up with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to co-sponsor the Redeem Act, which would limit the use of solitary confinement, give nonviolent criminals the ability to strike or seal their criminal records (so that they can more easily get a post-prison job), and encourage states to stop trying minors as adults.

The Tea Party senator is trying to roll back mandatory minimum sentencing, bar federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients, and restrain civil forfeiture laws that allow cops to seize property without charging its owner with a crime. "I say enough's enough," Paul told the Urban League in July. "I won't sit idly by and watch our criminal justice system continue to consume, confine and define our young men. I say we take a stand and fight for justice now."

This is not some case of a lone politician going rogue. Plenty of Tea Party types within the GOP, often working hand in hand with backbench Democrats across the aisle, have contributed to this happy if overdue moment in which politicians are finally showing a willingness to reform a criminal justice system swollen beyond recognition after four decades of "tough on crime" policies.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a staunch Paul ally, is at the forefront of legalizing hemp. (He once ate a hemp bar on the TV show I co-host.) Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) has voted against his party's attempts to limit President Barack Obama's authority to grant clemency to nonviolent drug offenders. Why, it's almost as if the same people who want to reduce the government's power to spend your money also want to limit its ability to lock you in prison for life!

As Rand Paul continues to top the GOP 2016 presidential field, the heightened scrutiny will make it increasingly difficult to cling to the fiction of his allegedly atavistic views on race. Politico this summer noted that Paul's African-American support in Kentucky was polling at 29 percent, more than double what he received at the ballot box in 2010. Even such vein-popping liberals as MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, who in the wake of Paul's March 2013 drone filibuster slammed the senator as "ridiculous, sick, paranoid," has been singing the senator's praises: "It's fascinating to see Rand Paul doing this, and doing it, by the way, more eloquently than most Democrats, who stay away from this subject."

Criminal justice reform wasn't the issue that motivated the center-right grassroots to oppose the Troubled Assets Relief Program in 2008, the stimulus in 2009, or Obamacare during those 2009 town hall meetings. The Tea Party wave election was not about mandatory minimums or the right to eat hemp bars.

But some of the impulses toward these disparate issues proceed from the same basic insight about the proper and improper roles of government. That insight cuts across party lines, in ways that aren't always predictable, and which almost never conform to Manichean ideas about how to sort political blocs.

Put another way, the same Tea Party wave that was tarred as racist is now contributing toward a criminal justice reform movement that stands on the precipice of rolling back the biggest civil rights violations of the last four decades. When those days of liberation come, it will be the libertarian right and the progressive left-as well as the mass of American public opinion, particularly among the young-who will deserve the most credit.

Centrists are great for establishing boundaries around acceptable discourse. But when it comes to actually freeing people who shouldn't be trapped in a broken criminal justice system, I'll take a wacko bird any day of the week.

NEXT: Brickbat: Uh Oh, SpaghettiOs

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  1. Put another way, the same Tea Party wave that was tarred as racist is now contributing toward a criminal justice reform movement that stands on the precipice of rolling back the biggest civil rights violations of the last four decades.

    Obviously that can’t wash away the very real and overt racism that exists in your heart when you work to scale back government in any other area.

    1. We don’t want to go down the slippery slope of judging whether policies are racist by their results, not their intentions. That could lead to some truly horrifying conclusions.

    2. I’d like some of Fist of Etiquette’s psychic powers to read what’s in Congressmember’s hearts.

      1. I’ll give you a hint. One side of the aisle, it’s best intentions. Other side, racism.

  2. Eh, I still trace it’s origins to the Santelli rant, that as far as I can recall, wasn’t that racist…

    1. Less Gov = Overt Racism.

    2. Ron Paul Tea Party Moneybomb in Dec 2007.

  3. Even if a president were a racist nut job, if he were as scrupulous about the limits of executive power as the Pauls say they are (and I believe), what’s the worst they could do?


      1. Is “CHAINZ” a slang term for “Detroit”?

    2. Paul was labelled a racist because he wasn’t able to dumb down (to Maddow’s level of understanding) how the civil rights act disenfranchised some in favor of others. Being against a badly written law is not racist, even if that law was written to lessen discrimination.

      You’re right though. Even if he was a racist nut job, it sure beats an overt racist who does not hold back on using executive power and standing in his community to play racial favorites and use it to his advantage.

  4. “Rand Paul,” as Bill Moyers put it this April, “has a race problem.”

    Again, as I’ve said before, Bill Moyers is the personal embodiment of all that’s wrong w/ liberalism and the baby jeebus.

    1. Bill Moyers has a gay problem.

    2. Bill Moyers is the embodiment of political expedience and a partisan fuckwit.

    3. 20-30 years ago I used to love his PBS news show as it tried to show both sides of issues and have real discussions. Have not seen it much lately and they are all real old.

  5. The left thrives on grievances. Anyone who disagrees with them gets tagged as racist. For them to claim the TEA party is racist was as predictable as the sun rising, and there is nothing the TEA party can do to redeem itself.

    All ‘racist’ means is ‘not proggie’.

    1. At a very fundamental level, I doubt most progs would disagree with you. It’s a cornerstone of their belief system that they and they alone know not only what is best for blacks, but how blacks should behave in order to be the people that the progs want them to be. If you disagree with that, then to a prog you want something worse for blacks than the progs do, which makes you inherently racist. Stop trying to deny blacks the petty benefits that the progs have decided they should receive.

      1. Further, progs don’t understand trade offs. They can’t fathom black people opting for freedom over their condescending paternalism, because progs view blacks as charity cases in need of their benevolence. Essentially children. We view black people as just people, who have just as much a right to freedom as anybody else, while progs view them as an underclass needing to be controlled.

        1. Further, progs don’t understand trade offs.

          That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the liberals on Facebook when discussing women’s pay ? they don’t see flexible working hours, less stress, more vacation, etc., as forms of pay? they don’t understand that someone would choose those forms of pay over purely monetary compensation.

          I thought it was a fluke but when I was looking into Jonathon Haidt’s book, I was struck by how one reviewer said:

          One last thought: Conservatives clearly have a more expansive view of what constitutes “fruits.” We do not measure success and fairness solely by money. In the example above, I recognize the worth of time off and less pressure ? two intangibles. For all that liberals like to talk about conservative greed, it’s interesting that conservatives can content themselves with less money in exchange for other benefits whereas liberals seem blind to those benefits and just want the money.

          1. Liberals tend to project a lot.

  6. the libertarian right


    1. I don’t think he’s meaning libertarians are on the right (though reading many comments here regularly could give someone that impression) but rather that there is left and right within libertarianism, and Paul, Amash and Massie are best located there.

      1. Or the people in the GOP who identify as libertarians.

    2. If you’re not a committed leftist then you’re on the right. Everyone knows this. Just ask Bo. He’ll tell you.

    3. Libertarians are not progressive, and thus by definition ON THE RIGHT!

  7. I’m as happy about Paul, Massie and Amash as the next guy, but three does not plenty make

    1. But three men do make a tiger.

  8. the libertarian right and the progressive left who will deserve the most credit

    Deserve’s got nuthin’ to do with it.

    Oh, and as true as that may be, since the MSM controls the narrative and is utterly dominated by leftist thinking, rest assured the libertarian right will get no credit whatsoever. In fact, it will be portrayed as an elaborate ruse to deflect from the racist tendencies of the right (i.e.- no free shit = racist)

    1. I think you’re being too charitable. The legacy media and progressives will gladly say that up is down, day is night, and the sun rises in the west whenever the narrative requires them to do so. Progressives are already spinning drug prohibition as the fault of the private sector and libertarians.

      1. Progressives are already spinning drug prohibition as the fault of the private sector and libertarians.


        1. I see comments on many sites where Dems are taking credit for geef legalization.

          They’ve also started claiming credit for starting open discussion on police militarization and abuse!

          1. I don’t doubt you, but it’s hilarious they’ve just woken up to police militarization. The subject has been a big beef on many predominantly right leaning fora for a while now.

            1. See also: “Militia Movement”.

  9. Keith Olbermann has to be in the Top Five in any list of quasi-evil liberal-proggy-leftists.

    1. AS far as Olbermann and Maddow go: What do you call journalists who don’t report the actual news?

      1. Trick question. The answer is journalists.

      2. I dunno…what did Joseph Goebbels call them?

      3. “Not on the no-fly list?”

  10. The word “racism” (and all of its variants) has been so overused and misused, it has no meaning anymore.

    One can say they hate Obama, but dearly love Thomas Sowell? despise Maxine Waters but idolize Mia Love? and you’re still slapped with this meaningless moniker.

  11. I will not use the word racist.

    But in general, The Black President freaked out many many people.

    When it 1st came out, I didn’t think of the Tea Party as Racist. I thought it was a libertarian movement.
    It looks like it was hijacked by the people that
    – want their country back
    – want the government out of their medicare

    In my opinion, libertarians should separate from these people. What I see on TV is not the intelligent Libertarians. It’s a bunch of pretty much angry white Americans that said nothing about the spending the GOP did for wars and tax cuts and are now concerned with the spending Obama is doing.

    1. But in general, The Black President freaked out many many people.

      Ah, the refreshingly sweet, tried and true generalization. Do you have an actual link with actual evidence to support this overly broad brush stroke? Huffington Post and Daily Kos don’t count.

      – want the government out of their medicare
      This part is 100% true – but it cuts both ways. Everyone who has been paying into the system for the past 40 years thinks they are owed something. It’ll be fun to watch the spasms of apoplexy overtake all of them, on both sides of the aisle.

    2. “But in general, The Black President freaked out many many people.”

      I don’t think it was his skin-color that “freaked out many many people”, I think it was the fact that a wholly unqualified individual could be elected to the most powerful position on earth only because of his skin color.

      1. I believe that White America elected Obama out of Anger after that highly qualified GWB practically destroyed this country.

        1. Partly. Unfortunately, The Black President (to use your words) has done nothing to make things better, and has in fact just continued most if not all of GWB’s policies.

          1. I see it like this.

            A drunk driver runs over person A.
            Person A requires extensive surgery and stuff.
            The surgeon is unable to save Person A’s legs.

            Person A doesn’t blame the drunk driver, he blames the Doctor.

            GWB= Drunk Driver
            American People= Person A

            1. I am sure you do see it like that, since you likely voted for Obumbler (twice!) and wish to remain true to your Team Preference.

              However, in your example, at least the patient lived.

              1. i voted for Gary Johnson in 2012.
                Obama i n 2008.

                I really can’t stand Obama. But not for the same reason as you. I don’t find Obama Liberal enough.

                In fact, I found Gary Johnson to be on the left of Obama on many thngs.

            2. Obama=Doctor

              You imply that Obama did things to make the situation better. I’m afraid I don’t agree with that at all.

              1. Well,maybe the Obama-Doctor was unable to save the patient’s legs because the Obama-Doctor is incompetent. And should be blamed for that much, at least.

                Not to mention, the Obama-Doctor showed at the bar where person A was getting hammered and bought a few rounds for the house.

      2. As if John McCain and Palin would have been better? Don’t make my chuckle. Obama is a hard worker who has intelligence and listens to others.

        Mac is a washed up loser and Palin is perhaps in the IQ range of about 90.

        That’s really a joke, right? Of course Obama was the better choice BY FAR. Compared to GWB, he’ll go down in history as a “great”. GW’s already at the back of the pack and Obama will make it into the “good” top 30-40%.

        In fact, I can’t think of many better folks who ran – maybe Hunt was up there and Hillary was capable, but that’s about it. The GOP puts on clown shows instead of putting forth candidates.

        There is a reason for that. It’s simple – no reasonable, logical or compassionate person would volunteer to front the US GOP these days. It’s just too far right….of course, so-called “libertarians” seem even further right on many issues, bordering on anarchists.

    3. It looks like it was hijacked by the people that
      – want their country back

      If that is racist (and Eric Holder told us so just two months ago) somebody forgot to tell Biden

      1. I was amused by that? the Democrats want to take the country back from the Democrats. 😀

    4. What I see on TV is not the intelligent Libertarians.

      And why is that? Could it be those who choose what to show on TV have an agenda that includes painting anyone who disagrees with their ideology in a poor light? You take any significant group of people, you have extremists and this is was journologues show when that group threatens their worldview.

  12. But not for the same reason as you
    And what reason is that? Impressive you can tell from…two replies.

    I don’t find Obama Liberal enough.
    At least you are an honest Prog, I’ll give you credit for that.

  13. As someone strongly in favor of criminal justice reform, I’ll take the support where I get it. However, the realization that prison is really expensive does not mean that people advocating change care about racial justice.

    As noted, there were reasons why Rand Paul got off to a bad start on racial issues. But he deserves great credit for addressing re-enfranchising in addition to just the cost-saving measures. (I believe the left-wing media has given him lots of credit for this and other issues, like the drone filibuster.)

    The Tea Party is not really a party, and seems to include some libertarians who may be principled about spending and freedoms, but also many hard core Republicans who are not at all libertarian.

    The Democrats should be getting out in front of this issue, but they are long cowed by a history of being hammered as being “soft on crime” and having to face opponents with police union endorsements. You also need to consider the sound-bite politics of this — numerous people could be released early, but if one commits a horrible crime, there’s the easiest 30-second spot you can imagine. Consider the criticism of Mike Huckabee who was considered to have a weak spot for pardoning.

    For these reasons, I belie e meaningful criminal justice reform will be difficult, although at least in the cost-savings areas, there is potential for a coalition or consensus.

    1. Rand Paul made the mistake of giving Maddow (and others) a principled and honest answer on why he wouldn’t support the civil rights act as written.

      Her little progtard brain couldn’t wrap itself around the concept that the act disenfranchised some people in favor of other people, and that legislating for or against groups of people will never achieve true fairness.

      Thus he was labelled a racist.

      1. I’m sure she understood. It’s just that she’s dishonest enough to deliberately distort what he said because he has an R after his name.

      2. How about his campaign manager who posted pictures of dead hung negroes on MLK day? Was that racist? Or do we just not understand the “KY way”?

    2. “The Democrats should be getting out in front of this issue,”

      Please note:

      Examples: MA, the “liberal state” has an incarceration rate about 1/3 that of Rand’s state, SC and many other red States.

      Start there and keep reading.

      We libs have been at this for generations…..we believe criminals are people too.

  14. Wasn’t the “wacko birds” comment more directed at Ted Cruz than Rand Paul?

  15. “particularly among the young-who will deserve the most credit.”


  16. The Democrats should be getting out in front of this issue, but they are long cowed by a history of being hammered as being “soft on crime” and having to face opponents with police union endorsements.

    I think nowadays its more like the Dems are cowed by the prospect of having to go against their single biggest group of supporters – (unionized) pubsec employees.

  17. Can we say liberal left, not progressive left? At least, as I understand progressivism based on its modern proponents, government intervention and a huge criminal justice system is perfectly acceptable.

    1. Then why do “liberal and progressive” states, in general, have vastly smaller prison populations?


      Oh, I know! You forget to read and listen while you were copy and pasting all your anti-lib talking points!

      Repeat after me. Reagan and his War on Drugs – which actually followed up on Nixon’s start to it – was the ultimate big government “law and order” movement which is still ongoing – especially in “Conservative” states, where they still lock folks up for weed and make them pee in jars.

      We libs live in la-la land like MA where it’s decrim. Harder drugs tend to get you treatment…not jail.

      Liberal, Progressive, Social Democrats..use the words you like. Basically, it means being inclusive and caring about your fellow citizens…as opposed to the “I am great and made my money, so fuck you” style of “conservative” politics.

      In general you will also find more gated (read: racist) communities in conservative states as it’s the best way they can legally be racist and make sure they don’t blend with the actual population.

  18. Libertarians and those with libertarian leanings need to give up trying to argue about the CRA, even on intellectual or ideological grounds. It didn’t work for Barry Goldwater and it’s not going to work for Rand Paul (which I think he fully realizes now). It basically clouds the entire libertarian project and prevents those (especially in black America) from finding common issue with a host of other libertarian issues that some blacks might be in agreement with.

  19. Rand recently made it clear he supports States Rights to execute their own criminals…or at least those who get convicted (some, of course, are not guilty).

    My guess is that most executions are “racist” and “done in prison”. So how does that square up with old softie Rand?

    1. Ok. I almost never comment on these boards. However, I feel the need to address a tendency with you. It seems from my lurking that you have the annoying habit of piggybacking comments hours, sometimes days after a thread has died.

      So I ask you: Who the fuck are you arguing with? Do you just pound out an emoting, non-sequitur on the keyboard while foaming at the mouth, then declare victory when nobody response?

      Grow a pair and jump in while the threads alive and take your lumps like the rest, or admitt your too afraid to be called out on your weak sauce and shut up.

      1. Uh, wait….
        Firstly, these issues have absolutely nothing to do with stuff that lasts a day or two. Unlike others, I don’t spend my days look at Reason comment boards so I can comment instantly. It’s not Facebook!

        Secondly – as I am sure you understand – Reason has turned into the singular campaign site for Sen. Paul….paid for by the Kochs. Look how many articles reference him.

        It’s very relevant that most of these articles and headlines are complete falsehoods. How can he claim compassion and prison reform when HIS STATE is one of the worst? What is the status of legal dope in KY? How is the standard of living and education in HIS state?

        He has waffled or turned over on virtually every issue – before he had to! That is, he’s very rarely in the position to have to make the real decisions.

        How anyone can even consider such a populist is evidence of the Koch funded politics we have enterered into.

        Oh, thanks for your comments!

        1. I readily admit that the Paul love fest has gotten a bit ridiculous. However, like yourself, I have more important things to do during the day(work for example)than comment on Reason. That’s why I hardly ever post.

          My question to you wasn’t an attempt to defend ol’ Rand, it was what exactly do you expect to achieve by commenting on people’s posts when you know damn well they will never see them? The whole exercise seems a touch masturbatory.

          1. Well, ain’t nothing wrong with playing with oneself, but if I had to offer a piece of advice to you, it would be not to assume that others read and react exactly as you do. Many of these articles will be referred to and passed around LONG after they are published. The comments will also be read and even added to.

            Since the article was published on 9/2 (see the URL) and I commented on 9/2, you seem to have a very high standard for what is time relevant.

            But, hey, you are entitled to your opinion. I happen to think my posts reflect close to the REAL issue of Who is Rand Paul than those other timely ones which say stuff like “fuck you you liberal cunt socialist”. Maybe you should spend more time pointing your fingers there?

            1. My standards for time relevancy are not high, just based on observation. I haven’t exactly worked out an algorithm for it, but generally speaking, responding to a post five hours after the fact will not be seen by the initial poster and responders.

              As far others quietly reading and passing around your links goes, you’re being wildly optimistic. The echo chamber around here has become increasingly loud over the last few months. A direct result of your last point.

              The whole “stupid socialist cunt” routine has grown tiresome. It’s counter productive and does nothing to change the minds of the people you argue with. I admit I was initially snarky with you, for that I apologize. I’d hate to be lumped in with the resident attack dogs(Sevo comes to mind), but my advice to you is this: If you genuinely want the people here to consider your case, tone down on the gottcha shtick. It comes across as shrill. Just my personal opinion.

              I suspect we will always be disgusted by each other’s political philosophy, and that’s fine. Just remember to keep calm, refrain from cursing(you know, the opposite of my first post) and you may make a few people think. Otherwise, you’re just pissing in the wind.

              The next time we talk I’ll address the issue at hand. Good evening.

              1. Apology accepted. Old dad told me that folks who curse have nothing better to say…very true!

                I’ve been on this darn interweb since 1994 and online since I could first hook up a modem to compuserve….so my time frames tend to extend a bit longer.

                Maybe I’m wrong and “Reason” is just the cursing right wing version of Facebook – although even my friends and family on Facebook react to posts in time frames much longer than 5 hours.

                Sorry to see that despite all the Koch money, Reason is nothing but a shout fest…I’ll stop wasting my time if you are correct.

                As to philosophies, I find Buddhism to be the closest match to mine – and, if that disgusts you, you can certainly pray to this:
                http://faireconomy.org/sites/d…..phics/SELF MADE MYTH KOCH-01.jpg

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