The media continue to repeat the flawed headline that a deep wave of resentment against incumbents exists. I have argued (as have others), that incumbents who are in jeopardy are vulnerable due to ideological reasons -- rather than mere incumbency. Likewise, many of the upstart candidates who have been successful represent an ideological alternative to the incumbent or opposing candidate. Rand Paul's success in Kentucky is a great example of this theory in action.
Paul won the Republican senate primary by catering to the political demands of the Tea Party movement. He captured the Tea Party and other conservative voters by embracing socially and fiscally conservative opinions. Although he portrayed himself as an "outsider," his main substantive message was conservatism.
Paul and Civil Rights
Now that primary has ended, Paul faces broader scrutiny. Some commentators have argued that Democrats actually prefer Paul as the Republican nominee because they believe his ideas will not appeal to a majority of Kentucky voters.
Several political commentators have started to examine some of Paul's policy positions (see here, here, here, here, and here). As the general campaign begins, Paul is particularly vulnerable on civil rights issues. His views on this subject could place him outside of the mainstream in Kentucky.
During an April 2010 interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Paul said that Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military's anti-gay policy, "worked relatively well." Paul also repeatedly described DADT as a "nonfraternization policy," which is patently false. Paul likened DADT to other military policies, such as rules banning adultery or campaigning in uniform. Paul, however, said that he liked recent "modifications" to the enforcement of DADT, such as the decision not to pursue individuals who are outed by third parties.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
During the same April 2010 interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, an interviewer asked Paul whether he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In response, Paul said "I like the civil rights act" because it ended discrimination in "public domains." Paul, however, said that he does not agree with telling "private" businesses what they can or cannot do. Paul said that the government should only concern itself with discrimination in settings that are "publicly funded."
Paul's logic would wipe out a substantial portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The statute certainly addresses discrimination by publicly funded entities, but it also prohibits discrimination in private employment and privately owned places of public accommodation (e.g., hotels and restaurants).
One interviewer asked Paul a loaded question -- whether in his view, private businesses could deny service to Dr. Martin Luther King. Paul said that standing up for freedom means accepting people's "abhorrent" views and "behaviors" (translation: yes).
Paul also made the tired assertion (which began in slavery) that racial justice and individual liberty are opposing concepts. Congress, the Supreme Court, the President, and a majority of the American public generally reject this argument.
The Louisville Courier-Journal had harsh words for Paul. The newspaper published an editorial that refused to endorse either Paul or his Republican challenger Trey Grayson on the grounds that both candidates are too extreme. With respect to Paul and civil rights, the editors made the following observation:
The trouble with Dr. Paul is that despite his independent thinking, much of what he stands for is repulsive to people in the mainstream. For instance, he holds an unacceptable view of civil rights, saying that while the federal government can enforce integration of government jobs and facilities, private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people, or gays, or any other minority group. He quickly emphasizes that he personally would not agree with any form of discrimination, but he just doesn't think it should be legislated.NPR Interview: More Civil Wrongs
Yesterday (the day after his primary victory), Paul spoke on NPR. During the interview, Paul said he opposed "institutional racism." Paul also said that he believes he would have marched with Dr. King, which led the interviewer to ask in disbelief: "You would have marched with Martin Luther King but voted with Barry Goldwater?"
Paul also said that many problems with discrimination could be handled locally. Of course, local and federal laws prohibit discrimination. The most despicable aspect of this comment, however, is that it shows either deep ignorance or callousness regarding the historical context in which Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At that time, many local governments, particularly in the South, were not enforcing civil rights, and many of them were actively facilitating, mandating, and engaging in racial discrimination. Paul's "local" solution argument is extremely dangerous from an historical perspective.
Paul's local argument also contradicts his stance that discrimination is an individual right. "Infringing" this "right" does not become permissble when states do it rather than Congress.
As November approaches, Paul will receive more scrutiny. His ability to handle topics beyond the rhetoric of fiscal conservatism will face additional testing. So far, Paul has performed miserably.
For more analysis of this issue, see: A Conservative Defense of Rand Paul: He Is Telling the Truth; He's Not a Racist and Rand Paul on Gay Rights and Persons With Disabilities.
UPDATE: For an interesting argument that explores in greater detail how Paul's position contradicts libertarianism, see: More on Rand Paul, Civil Rights and Balancing Choices over Liberty.