Rand Paul's Aide: A Dunce on the Confederacy

The most myopic libertarians and the damage they do to the movement

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This week, Alana Goodman, a reporter at the Washington Free Beacon, broke a story about Senator Rand Paul's 39-year-old social-media director, Jack Hunter, who "spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist" under the name "Southern Avenger." "He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln," Goodman reported. "During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag."

In a follow-up article, Goodman reported that "controversial radio-pundit-turned-Senate-aide Jack Hunter's work caught the eye of the Paul family years before he was hired as Sen. Rand Paul's (R., Ky.) social media director," and that "it remains unclear whether Rand Paul was familiar with Hunter's inflammatory radio punditry when he hired him." Interviewed by the Free Beacon, "Hunter renounced most of his comments," and his article archive at The American Conservative, which dates back to July 2008, suggests that his thinking changed prior to this controversy. I wish every neo-Confederate would read these lines in his April 1, 2013 column:

The 20-something me would consider the 30-something me a bleeding-heart liberal. Though I still hate political correctness, I no longer find it valuable to attack PC by charging off in the opposite direction, making insensitive remarks that even if right in fact were so wrong in form. I'm not the first political pundit to use excessive hyperbole. I might be one of the few to admit being embarrassed about it. This embarrassment is particularly true concerning my own region, the South, where slavery, segregation, and institutional racism left a heavy mark.

I still detest those on the left and right who exploit racial tension for their own purposes. But I detest even more the inhumanity suffered by African-Americans in our early and later history. T.S. Eliot said, "humankind cannot bear too much reality," and it is impossible for those of us living in the new millennium to comprehend that absolute horror of being treated like chattel by your fellow man, or being terrorized by your neighbors, because of the color of your skin. Books, memorials, and museums will never be able to adequately convey such tragedy, at least not in any manner remotely comparable to the pain of those who lived it.

A bit farther back in his archive at The American Conservative, however, he displays all the cluelessness of nostalgists for the Confederacy, writing, "My entire adult life I have defended the Old South and the Southern cause in America's bloodiest war. Not because I support slavery or racism, but despite it. The positive parallels between what the Confederacy was fighting for in 1861 and what the American colonists fought for in 1776 are many and obvious -- republican democracy, political and economic freedom, national independence, defense of one's homeland."

He has yet to renounce his secessionism.

In an effort to understand his views as fully as possible, I read all his columns from The American Conservative, bearing in mind Daniel McCarthy's claim that "anyone who reads them, while finding plenty to disagree with -- he's an independent thinker -- will not find hate. Naïveté, yes, and a certain obtuseness about minorities that's long been characteristic of the right."

That characterization is accurate. An April 14, 2011, column best captures the maddening way he thinks about secession:

If a liberal like Maddow's primary reason for denouncing nullification or secession is these concepts' popular association with the Old South and slavery, would Maddow have respected the Fugitive Slave Act -- or nullified it? Would the liberal host have agreed with Lincoln that runaway slaves should be returned to their masters? Would Maddow have opposed abolitionists' Northern secession? If she is opposed to nullification and secession in each and every instance -- as her rhetoric heavily implies -- would liberals like Maddow have occasionally found themselves in the strange position of supporting slavery?

What about today, where a de facto nullification remains in effect in California which continues to openly flout federal drug laws? Does Maddow believe residents in that state who are stricken with cancer or glaucoma deserve to be arrested for alleviating their pain with medicinal marijuana? Or does Maddow support nullification? Liberals do not want to be confronted with these uncomfortable philosophical contradictions concerning centralization vs. decentralization -- the debate that raged in 1776, 1861 and still rages today -- because any such intellectual exploration toward this end threatens the very heart of the Left's collectivist historical narrative. For progressives, the ever-increasing power of the federal government represents human liberation and political liberalization--period.

This has been the Left's clarion call from FDR to Barack Obama, and any talk of devolving centralized power -- even in the name of what would typically be considered liberal causes -- is heresy.

Hunter gets one thing right: Secession and nullification aren't inherently wrong. The judges who tried to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act were doing God's work. If the federal government started rounding up all Muslim Americans, and liberal California tried to secede and offer them safe harbor, I'd proudly fly the banner of the Bear Flag Republic. And I believe that state governments are the rightful deciders when it comes to issues like gay marriage, marijuana legalization, and assisted suicide. Want to nullify the War on Drugs by refusing to cooperate with federal efforts to prosecute marijuana? Go for it, Colorado! Cite the Tenth Amendment. I'll back you.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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