Rand Paul puts foot in mouth again with MLK comparison

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When I read about Kentucky GOP candidate Rand Paul comparing himself to legendary abolitionists and even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a recent op-ed in which he defended himself against criticism regarding his beliefs about civil rights— I saw it as part of a trend.

In the Bowling Green Daily News he wrote: “I am unlike many folks who run for office. I am an idealist. When I read history I side with abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas who fought for 30 years to end slavery and to integrate public transportation in the free North in the 1840s. I see our failure to end slavery for decade after decade as a failure of weak-kneed politicians.”

Later on he draws a parallel with himself and King by writing, “Segregation ended only after a great and momentous uprising by idealists like Martin Luther King Jr., who provoked weak-kneed politicians to action. In 2010, there are battles that need to be fought, and they have nothing to do with race or discrimination, but rather the rights of people to be free from a nanny state.”

Paul’s peculiar and fundamentally false conclusions reminded me of a conversation I’d had one morning with Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton told me that Glenn Beck and the Tea Partiers were going to hijack the Washington Monument on the anniversary of King’s 1963 march on Washington (August 28) while claiming that they are continuing the legacy of Dr. King. In response, Sharpton will be organizing his own counter march, since Beck and the Tea Partiers couldn’t be less like King and his followers.

Rand Paul doesn’t, in almost any meaningful way, represent the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Nor does he honor to the memory of the abolitionists he cites in his article. Will all due respect to Paul, I acknowledge that he believes in liberty, albeit liberty that excuses individuals or more specifically privately owned businesses to engage in racist or discriminatory behavior. If Rand Paul’s philosophy when it comes to government had controlled our nation since its inception, slavery might still be legal in some form, since he would arguably believe that it is every American’s right to own slaves if he or she chooses to do so.

Paul’s legacy on civil rights is perhaps permanently tainted by his connection to the beliefs of his father, Ron Paul. Ron Paul’s infamous 1990s newsletter (named after himself) in which he described African-Americans as welfare-toting menaces to society was undeniably catering to an audience who believed firmly that whites are superior to blacks. To attribute the foundations of such ideals to the work of Martin Luther King is both misleading and ridiculous.

I am not sure why Rand Paul keeps working to convince black people that he loves us. His early campaign mistakes regarding statements he made about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have had him backpedaling at a rate that’s alarming even for a shifty, flip-flopping politician. He is closely affiliated with the Tea Party Movement, which has used the occasion of the first black president to spew a degree of hatred that threatens to rip our nation apart.

Paul would be better off aligning himself with constructive Republicans and by doing what’s best for his party. His alleged idealism should be applauded, but it could ultimately lead to a weakening of the Republicans altogether.

I don’t think that Rand Paul is necessarily a racist. But he needs to stop trying to distort history. He would also do well to educate himself on exactly what legacy he truly represents. Comparing himself to Dr. King is not only offensive, it is highly unethical.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. For more information, please visit BoyceWatkins.com>