Rand Paul’s Dangerous Game

For a while there it looked like Rand Paul’s efforts to make his father’s insurgent “liberty” movement acceptable to GOP elites might take so much edge off his policy positions that there might not be much reason to prefer him to any other Republican pol. For whatever reason, he’s resharpening the edge, most notably in accentuating his original opposition to the Iraq War at a time other proto-candidates are having to make uncomfortable recantations. But then there’s this (as reported by The Hill‘s Alexander Bolton):

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul says he will bash Hillary Clinton over her husband’s record of putting “a generation of black men in prison” if he is the nominee.

Paul, a freshman senator from Kentucky, says he will compete with Clinton in Philadelphia, where Democrats have a 7-to-1 registration advantage, and other impoverished cities by highlighting his support for criminal justice reform….

“I’ll ask Hillary Clinton, what have you done for criminal justice? Your husband passed all the laws that put a generation of black men in prison. Her husband was responsible for that,” he said.

Really? Was Bill Clinton governor of all the states that enacted “three strikes” laws or abolished parole (a big GOP fad in the 1990s) or enacted other types of mandatory minimum sentencing laws?

As for Bill Clinton’s responsibility for the 1994 crime bill, which federalized a lot of drug offenses and set up a federal (not national, but federal) “three strikes” law, the bill was one of those unwieldy compromises that also included an assault weapons ban, the Violence Against Women Act, and funds to promote community policing. Was this somehow Bill Clinton imposing his will on a reluctant Congress? Since the 1994 crime bill originally passed the House on a voice vote and passed the Senate 95-4 (the final conference committee reports hung fire mainly because of GOP opposition to the assault weapons ban and “social spending” for things like midnight basketball), I don’t think so.

More to the point, while there’s evidence for and against Bill Clinton’s partial responsibility for the mass incarceration wave that began in the 1980s and spread in the 1990s, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a few Republicans who were not loud, avid, jumping-up-and-down cheerleaders for the trend. So if Rand Paul wants to play the blame game instead of praising and encouraging a bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform, there are going to be a lot of his fellow Republicans in the dock.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.