Examining Rand Paul's Civil Rights Record
ALLISON KEYES, host:
I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, a touching and emotional essay from TELL ME MORE's regular host, Michel Martin, on her late brother.
MICHEL MARTIN: I want to talk about something really hard for me. Two weeks ago today, he took his own life. I'd be lying if I tried to pretend I'm not angry.
KEYES: You'll hear Michel later in the program.
But first, we'll look at the reasoning behind the controversial comments of Tea Party candidate Rand Paul. The Republican nominee for Senate in Kentucky was called racist by some after he spoke about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Rand Paul has reiterated several times what he first told the Louisville Courier Journal when reporters asked him about his views on civil rights.
Mr. RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky; Senatorial Candidate): I liked the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains and I'm all in favor or that.
Unidentified Man: But...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PAUL: You had to ask me the but. I don't like the idea of telling private business owners. I abhor racism. I think it's a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I think there should be absolutely no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding. And that's most of what the Civil Rights Act was about, to my mind.
KEYES: But then Rand Paul issued a statement saying he supports the Civil Rights Act and he agrees with the intent of the legislation. With me to provide some insight on Rand Paul and the Tea Party as well, Shelby Blakely, the executive director of the New Patriot Journal and host of the Internet radio show "Steaming Tea with the Brazen 3," billed as the official radio program of the Tea Party patriot movement. Also joining us is Betty Baye, an editorial writer and columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal in Rand Paul's home state of Kentucky. Welcome, both, to the program.
Ms. SHELBY BLAKELY (Executive Director, New Patriot Journal; Host, "Steaming Tea with the Brazen 3"): Thank you.
KEYES: Shelby, let me start with you. We heard Rand Paul's comments that sparked this whole controversy. Can you explain the reasoning behind his position that supports private business owners who might be discriminatory to some customers?
Ms. BLAKELY: I can - I'm not going to try to explain what Rand Paul thinks.
Ms. BLAKELY: But I can explain the Tea Party perspective on that particular ideal. The Tea Party believes in three things. The most relevant here is constitutionally limited government. Now, he says that it's a bad business decision. Well, we believe in free markets. Our position is that it's okay - we like the Civil Rights Act, what we don't like is the idea that the federal government is the one enforcing it. This could very easily be done better, cheaper and more effectively on the state level.
KEYES: Well, since some of the states weren't doing that at the time that the Civil Rights Act happened, do you see any reason for the federal government? Should the federal government have the power to get involved in such a thing if the states aren't doing what the Tea Party believes they should be?
Ms. BLAKELY: If the federal government, if they pass that law, I'm not saying that the federal government shouldn't have passed the law. I'm saying the states should have enforced it.
Now, you are right, there were some states that were not doing that at the time. And I think that it would have been a better use of resources and it would have accomplished it faster, the goal of the law, if you had saved the resources that you were going to - that you had to use to make sure all states were in compliance. Save those resources for the states that were stepping out of line that weren't enforcing the '64 Civil Rights Act.
KEYES: What does the Tea Party think should happen if you have states that aren't enforcing a particular law? Should the federal government have the power to step in?
Ms. BLAKELY: I believe that's what the FBI is for. When the state level mechanisms of government - the legislative and the enforcement branches -aren't doing their job or are acting counter to federal law, then, yes, they should step in. Now, notice that none of the states that were not complying with this federal law, they did not pass their own laws to countermand this, which is a lot of what's happened in Alaska and Arizona lately. Well, actually, Arizona's law dovetails the federal law.
But had they passed their own law, it would have been challenged and gone to the Supreme Court and they would have lost. The actual mechanism of our federal government would have been allowed to work, as opposed to the federal government coming in, treating every state as guilty until proven innocent and saying, you will do this.
KEYES: Shelby, let me jump in here for a second so I can bring Betty into the conversation. Betty, you're an editor at the Louisville Courier. What was your reaction when you heard Rand Paul's initial comments about the Civil Rights Act?
Ms. BETTY BAYE (Editorial Writer and Columnist, Louisville Courier-Journal): Well, Rand Paul is a libertarian. And so, you know, you don't expect any better. I'm always interested in how - what Rand Paul has said has tied people in knots about trying to explain this. You see, it's easy to be esoteric and clinical and theoretical when it's not your family, when it's not your people.
And I, you know, I'm thinking about a road trip that my family took south where we couldn't get milk for the baby, where we slept in the car because there was no place for us to stay. We were not allowed. Where a police officer pulled us over and took all of our money just because he could.
I remember my cousins - I grew up in New York - but going and sitting in the crow's nest - what they called the crow's nest in the theater. So I'm interested in hearing from people who are just theoretical about it because it's not their people and they don't expect that it's ever going to happen to them. And this business about, well, you know, we abhor racism, but we defend people's right to be racist.
You see, power conceives nothing without a demand. And most of these people would have never stepped up on behalf of the civil rights of the people and there was in fact the states and the counties and the sheriffs who were carrying out these laws and treating black people like animals and cattles long after slavery.
So this sort of esoteric tying in knots and what we believe and what we think is only because people feel disconnected from that. That is not a part of their experience in America. But they would tell us to forget, you know, just get over it, just move on, get past it. And, yet, America never has gotten past it. Never have gotten past it. So I just love to hear these descendants, these children and grandchildren of immigrants.
But all of these issues, all of a sudden, because we have new census data, I think it's a part of the general hysteria that Barack Obama's election has prompted. Because if we're concerned about the finances, it certainly didn't start with Obama. And I think this whole thing is an extension of the election. And Obama's very much central to this.
KEYES: Betty, I've got to jump in here. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking to Shelby Blakely and Betty Baye about Rand Paul's recent comments regarding the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Shelby - curious - the Tea Partiers and Rand Paul have been criticizing the federal government's hand in state affairs, but what about in Alabama, which decided to disregard, still, desegregation. Should the federal government have jumped in there or...
Ms. BLAKELY: Yes.
Ms. BLAKELY: The Tea Party perspective is that it's not that the civil rights should not have been passed, it should have. We liked it. Most people in America wanted it. There were some deep-seated prejudices in the South that were counterproductive. We're against that.
Ms. BAYE: It was beyond prejudice. It was beyond prejudice, an individual bias, which we always want to - I mean, people always want to make it as if it's prejudice. Your prejudice does not matter, what matters is that it was a matter of rule. It was a matter of tradition that black people could not go in certain places, could not go in department stores and try on clothes. That is bigger than your or anyone's individual prejudice or bias. We all have them. The question is is whether you have the power to enforce your prejudices on other people as what's done to black people in this country for so many years.
KEYES: Let me jump in here again. I have another question for you, Shelby, the head of the Republican National Committee was on the Sunday shows yesterday saying that Rand Paul's views are out of step with the country and with the Republican Party. Shelby, do you believe that's true. And, Betty, I'll ask you the same question in a second.
Ms. BLAKELY: I think it's a matter of perspective.
KEYES: What do you mean?
Ms. BLAKELY: This is - well, A, I'm not big fan of the Republican National Committee. I'm always suspect of what they say as they blow with the current wind, so...
KEYES: So the Tea Party's views are not the same as the Republican Party stands.
Ms. BLAKELY: No, they are not.
Ms. BLAKELY: They are based on ideology and not political convenience. And the Republicans have spent us into debt just as much as the Democrats have. We hold them blameless in no regard.
KEYES: But, Shelby, do you think that Rand Paul's views are out of step with the country? Briefly.
Ms. BLAKELY: Not necessarily. I think that we believe that if we can save our resources to go after the states and people who are actually practicing racist things like not letting people on try on clothes in department stores and not letting them get milk for the baby, we will be much better and much more efficient at stamping this out, as opposed to treating every state as if they are guilty until proven innocent.
Save our resources for where the problem actually exists, instead of ruling over all states equally or punishing them all equally, and we will fix this problem much better.
KEYES: Betty, let me come in here. Betty, what do you think about the thought that people ought to have the right to invite whomever they want into their private domains, into their private businesses and to keep out those they don't want? Briefly.
Ms. BAYE: Well, I think that they have the right to not invite me to their house. I don't think that they have the right to not invite to sit down and have a cup of a coffee at a lunch counter where supposedly the public is being served. If they're just serving their family members like Thanksgiving dinner, that's fine. But when you are serving supposedly the general public and I cannot eat simply because of the color of my skin, that's a problem.
And let me just say, when we talk about that, you know, this is not representative, the Tea Party doesn't represent or the Republican Party, 77 percent of the members of the Tea Party voted for John McCain. Seventy-four percent of them are Republicans. Eighty-two percent of them are unfavorable to the Democratic Party. Eighty percent of them are white.
So the point is is that this is not just not about Barack Obama, not about the Democrats and about state's rights. State's rights is what almost killed black people in this country and did kill many of them.
KEYES: I've got to come in here, Betty, I'm so sorry. But we - Betty, I've got to come in here, I'm so sorry, we're out of time.
Shelby Blakely is the executive director of the New Patriot Journal and host of the Internet radio show "Steaming Tea with Brazen 3," regarded as the official radio program of the Tea Party patriot movement. Betty Baye is an editorial writer and columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal in Kentucky. Thank you, ladies, so much for a very spirited discussion.
Ms. BLAKELY: Thank you.
Ms. BAYE: Thank you.
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