Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul told Chris Mathews on MSNBC Friday that he would not have voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if he were a member of congress at the time. Though Paul said that while he thought Jim Crow laws were illegal, he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act "because of the property rights element, not because they got rid of the Jim Crow laws." Video of the interview is below.
When Matthews appeared surprised, Paul accused him of being a demagogue on the issue. "He said that talk of the segregated South that the Civil Rights Act aimed to reform is too old to be relevant, because "Whites Only" signs are "ancient history." Like many who opposed the civil rights reforms at their time, Paul said, in true libertarian form, that Jim Crow laws would have ended anyways, because of the free market.
Can Paul get away with saying such comments? The last time a politician made this high-profile, quotable comment was his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was criticized in his Senate race last fall because of similar remarks he made on MSNBC. But under political pressure, he issued an apologetic statement:
Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.
And he went on to win the election. Nonetheless, the situation seems different for the father than for the son. Talking Points Memo writes:
Ron Paul is not likely to earn the same media scrutiny for his statement on Hardball... Whereas Rand was new on the scene, Republicans are accustomed to Ron's special brand of Republican libertarianism, which draws ardent support in the party as well as strong opposition.
So it's just Ron Paul being Ron Paul? But perhaps that's exactly his problem, suggests Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice.
The problem for Paul is that he has a chance to make his brand of libertarianism more accessible to people in this Tea Party year in particular. This comment means he won’t have a chance of getting the Republican nomination and even if he did Barack Obama or any Democrat [would] decimate him at the polls... There are certain “givens” in American politics... and the country’s often shifting political center would not support a candidate that a) says he wouldn’t have vote for the landmark Civil Rights Act and b) left himself so open to being easily destroyed by his opponents.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.