A Different World

Rand Paul can attract black voters - if GOP doesn’t stand in his way

The short, salt-and-pepper, curly-haired white dude in the blue jeans and pointy-toe boots who visited the Horry County Republican Party headquarters in Myrtle Beach Tuesday may be the answer to the GOP’s half-century long problems with black voters.

That is, if the party doesn’t stand in his way.

Sen. Rand Paul, during his visit, opened with a joke about God, a little girl, the federal government and taxes, verbally traipsed over into standard hyperbolic conservative deficit talk, then slammed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying even her husband would have fired her for the Benghazi tragedy and that she has forever forfeited the right to be commander-in-chief because she did not protect that consulate.

Paul also said President Obama had usurped too much power, invoking the specter of the lawsuit against the president that our own Tom Rice is so proud of. (Wouldn’t it be better to have the person representing the Seventh Congressional District to instead be most proud of, say, helping an area with one of the nation’s lowest annual wages attract better-paying jobs?)

In other words, Paul said nothing out of the ordinary for a Republican crowd wanting to “take the country back” and who believe the worst thing Obama ever did was “get elected” and that it would be dandy if he left office today.

Except, Paul didn’t stop there, and that’s what makes his presidential candidacy intriguing and was the primary reason I wanted to attend.

I wanted to know if he would talk about civil rights in South Carolina to an audience that wasn’t diverse the way he had in TV interviews and speeches.

I had to see it for myself.

Paul talked about the need for broadening the base of the party in the context of family values that means helping to remove black and brown men from an unequal justice system and back home to their families.

He talked about the discrimination in the system, how young black and brown men had been disproportionately targeted in a war on drugs that led to many broken families.

He didn’t say it passionately, but steadily, a well-rehearsed stump speech.

He didn’t flinch, though.

I don’t know if he realized he was standing in a red county in a red state in which the majority is more likely to blame those in need, or in dire straits, for their own plight than consider the greater structural problems Paul has been eloquently and openly discussing for several months now.

What Paul said wasn’t new and has been well documented, including his work with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker on criminal justice reform.

I’ve noted it myself, detailing why this potentially makes him more credible on civil rights issues than Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. It would be unwise for Clinton to not take Paul seriously.

His stance, and steadfastness on the issue, can attract enough black voters to make the GOP more competitive than many analysts and pundits currently believe. Clinton hasn’t been nearly as vocal on an issue that is a priority for many black voters.

Usually, GOP candidates trot out black pathology to make a case against welfare and to continue pushing the myth that all things are well in the U.S. when it comes to race.

Paul doesn’t do that. And he didn’t do that Tuesday.

That makes him different, despite all the conservative boilerplate he has also perfected spouting in most of his public appearances.

There’s just one thing standing between Paul and black voters: the GOP.

Can the party bring itself to admit to some of the truth Paul speaks? Or will it, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, forever be stuck in racial denial, that there are no longer real racial barriers, that everything is fine except for people refusing to take advantage of abundant opportunity?

Paul came to Myrtle Beach and explained why that view was wrong.

How different would the 2016 race be if the GOP standard bearer spoke on this issue the way Paul has? Demographic shifts mean the Republican Party must embrace minority concerns more seriously or suffer in national races. Paul has seeded the ground.

I couldn’t tell if the crowd understood the importance of what he was saying.

At least they listened.

It’s a start. But it won’t matter if that’s where it ends.