So following up on his visit to Howard University to explain the political history of civil rights, Rand Paul took himself to another historically-black school (Simmons College) back in Kentucky, and apparently did the same number, offering listeners a little whine on the side:
Paul acknowledged criticism for the speech he gave at Howard University Wednesday, saying, “I think some think a white person is not allowed to talk about black history … which I think is unfair.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ responds:
I guess I should point out here that white persons have been allowed to talk about black history for as long as there has been black history. Over the centuries much of that talk has been regrettable.
More immediately, those of us who wondered whether Paul in going to Howard was engaged in legitimate “minority outreach” or just playing to the white galleries, have a lot more reason to suspect the latter motive now that he’s openly posing as a victim of racism against white folks. Plus his protestations of innocence don’t much ring true:
At Simmons, he talked about how blacks once registered in large numbers as Republicans, how Democrats in Kentucky opposed constitutional amendments that gave African Americans expanded rights and how Henry Watterson, editor of The Courier-Journal from its creation in 1868 until 1919, opposed letting black people vote.
“Much of the public doesn’t know that anymore, and part of my reason for bringing it out was that so people know Republicans aren’t hostile to civil rights or somehow to African Americans,” he said.
So what if I ran around the Deep South speaking to conservative white audiences and explaining to them that their great-grandparents all used to be Democrats, and that those Republicans they love so much now were the perpetrators of Reconstruction, that outrage to southern white dignity they may have learned about in school from Daughters-of-the-Confederacy approved textbooks? Half the audiences would say, “We know all about that,” and the other half would say, “So what?” Those particularly in touch with history or with their own family memories might say, “Yeah, the two parties switched sides, and so did my great-grandparents.”
Paul seems to be peddling the highly revisionist take on civil rights history laid out last year in National Review by Kevin Williamson, which holds that Republicans always were and always will be the party of civil rights while Democrats have consciously switched their white supremacist tactics from Jim Crow to “plantation” socialism. It’s a hallucinatory approach to developments too recent and too well known to fool people about, and for that reason, it’s a line of argument that tends to offend people, particularly those being told they are fools for voting Democratic.
Maybe Rand Paul will give it a rest, but if he continues this Magical History Tour of African-American campuses, he needs to lay off the misplaced self-pity or students who don’t want to be part of his passion play will probably just not show up.