On dabbling in White Supremacy (and other youthful indiscretions)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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You gotta give Rand Paul credit for chutzpah. After the conservative Free Beacon wrote a tough story about one of his aides, Paul went to the liberal-leaning HuffPost to respond. (Perhaps this is consistent with debating the Civil Rights Act with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow?)

Paul was defending Jack Hunter, a Senate aide who (as the Southern Avenger) wore a mask with a Confederate flag on it, was chairman of the secessionist League of the South, likened Nagasaki and Hiroshima to 9-11, and celebrated the assassination of Lincoln.

But if going to the HuffPost was an interesting choice, Paul’s line of defense demonstrated even greater moxie: “Are we at a point where nobody can have had a youth or said anything untoward?,” he asked. (Translation: Who among us didn’t experiment with the neo-Confederate movement in college?)

This reminds me of an old episode of Family Ties. When his parents leave town, Alex P. Keaton (a consummate capitalist) rents out rooms for a big football game, and things get out of control. Upon returning home to witness the debauchery plaguing his home, Mr. Keaton delivers one of my all-time favorite TV lines: “Parents are conditioned to put up with a few minor accidents when they leave their children home alone,” he said. “A broken vase, spilled milk on the rug … There was a kangaroo in my living room!”

Unlike Mr. Keaton, Rand Paul seems happy with the kangaroo in his living room.

When asked specifically about the mask, he responded: “It was a shock radio job. He was doing wet T-shirt contests. But can a guy not have a youth and stuff? People try to say I smoked pot one time, and I wasn’t fit for office.”

This analogy is troubling. Are we to believe that dabbling in White Supremacy is just a rite of passage — a sort of youthful indiscretion? — that this fits in the “boys will be boys” category? (In other words, the “I’m you” defense.)

If Paul really believes that, it’s concerning.

Look, a lot of kids do stupid things. And no, we shouldn’t disqualify them for the rest of their lives because of it. And yes, in a business where loyalty is too often tossed aside, it is noble that Paul is willing to stand by a friend. But, for good reason, race is an especially touchy subject. And politics is, well, political. Nobody is stopping this young man from getting a job as an insurance salesman, but working for a U.S. Senator might require a higher standard.

And if you’re a U.S. Senator with presidential ambitions — and are someone who already has an optics problem here (see Ron Paul’s newsletters and the Maddow debate) — you have to ask yourself: Is it wise to associate with this sort of person?

Paul has made efforts to reach out to minorities. For example, his speech at Howard University deserves our praise. But if he’s willing to do that, why let something like this trip him up? Shouldn’t Paul’s handlers and trusted staffers have found way to keep anyone with even a hint of racism a mile away from their boss? Wouldn’t a serious contender avoid even the appearance of tolerating such attitudes and beliefs? Would Deaver or Nofziger or Baker have allowed someone like this to get so close to Reagan?

Ultimately, this raises the question of whether or not Paul is willing to exorcise the necessary demons to be a mainstream presidential candidate.

Matt K. Lewis