By Lee A. Daniels
No wonder Kentucky’s Republican Senator Rand Paul couldn’t get his American and African-American history right when he spoke to students at historically-Black Howard University in April. He’s been tutored by both his father, Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, and his political operative pal, Jack Hunter, in a reeking mishmash of neo-Confederate and neo-Jim Crow propaganda.
Rand Paul’s hiring last August of the 39-year-old Hunter to be on his Washington staff became a mini-controversy when the conservative Washington (D.C.) Free Beacon newspaper published a lengthy article last week describing his past association as an officer of a White-supremacist group and his long record of denigrating, among other things, Blacks, Hispanics, and the Union victory in the Civil War, and celebrating Lincoln’s assassination.
Hunter had met Ron Paul in 2008 during the latter’s presidential nomination campaign. Rand Paul hired him in 2010 to help him write a book on his campaign for the Senate and the Tea Party and the two are said to be close friends.
It’s unclear whether Hunter, or, more importantly, Rand Paul, will suffer any damage. After all, when it comes to the Pauls, both father and son, the controversy conjures up more than a little déjà vu.
In 2008 and 2010, respectively, as Ron Paul sought the GOP presidential nomination and Rand Paul campaigned for the Kentucky senate seat, the opaque cloud of limited-government philosophy they had drawn over their racial views evaporated when interviewers got them to admit they were opposed to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Not that they themselves were prejudiced, they said with a straight face. Nor did they support discrimination against Blacks. It’s just that they believed the rights of owners of private property – a category in which they included privately-owned businesses – are sacrosanct. So, the 1964 Act was wrong in making it illegal for privately-owned businesses – be they grocery stores, boutiques, hotels, restaurants, and so on – to bar Blacks as customers. In the Pauls’ theory of how the free-market should function, Blacks who did suffer discrimination at one business could surely find another that would accommodate them.
Critics quickly shredded the illogical, pseudo-naïve reasoning. More pointedly, several articles discussed at length Ron Paul’s long, close business relationships with known racists and neo-Confederate advocates.
Over the last year, and especially since November, the younger Paul, in his first term in the Senate, has made a concerted effort to obscure those unsavory family associations and racial views and appear a thoughtful, tolerant and moderate Republican with wide-ranging domestic and international interests. His visit to Howard University and a separate speaking engagement before a largely Hispanic audience were part of this re-invention campaign.
The purpose? Can anyone say Republican presidential nomination in 2016?
After the Free Beacon story broke, Rand Paul’s office issued a bloodless statement: “Sen. Paul holds his staff to a standard that includes treating every individual with equal protection and respect, without exception.”
But Jack Hunter’s entire career shows no evidence of appreciating those standards. An April 1 column he wrote in the American Conservative that, effectively, categorizes many of his past assertions as the product of an overabundance of youthful energy seems entirely too convenient for a former Confederate-mask-wearing “Southern Avenger” who for years railed that in today’s America, Whites “are always denied fair treatment.”
And that’s the point. For some, as it’s become more and more apparent that overt racist expression can exact a severe cost, their words become inoffensive.
But have the sentiments behind the mask really changed? Or is it that, for just a moment, the mask slipped.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.