Sen. Rand Paul at Historically Black College: How Did GOP Lose the Black Vote?

Melanie Arter | April 10, 2013 | 2:35pm EDT
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Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

( – Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday questioned how the Republican Party lost the black vote after a century with the GOP - from the Civil War to the civil rights movement - during a speech at the historically black college of Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“How did the party that elected the first black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African-American congressmen, how did that party become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote?” Paul asked.

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“How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the civil rights movement for a century most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?” he asked.

“I think what happened during the Great Depression is that African-Americans understood that Republicans did champion citizenship and voting rights, but they became impatient, because they wanted economic emancipation,” Paul said.

“African-Americans were languishing, and they languished below white Americans in every measure of economic success, and the Depression was especially harsh for those who were on the lowest wrung of poverty at that time,” he added.

“The Democrats promised equalizing outcome – everybody will get something through unlimited federal assistance, while Republicans offered something that seemed to be less tangible – the promise of equalizing opportunity through free markets,” Paul said in explaining why blacks switched to the Democratic Party during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

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His father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), ran for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination and lost to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost the 2012 presidential election to President Barack Obama, the first black president.

To understand how the GOP lost the African-American vote, “we must first understand how we won the African-American vote,” Paul said.

“After the Civil War, virtually all African-Americans became Republicans,” he said, explaining that Democrats at that time were staunchly opposed to blacks voting.

“Democrats in Louisville were led by the Courier Journal editor Harry Waterson, and they were implacably opposed to blacks voting,” Paul said, describing how Waterson thought blacks were “disqualified” from voting due to “their habits of life and general condition.”

“This was the Democrats,” Paul said.

In contrast, Paul cited the example of Republican Gen. John Palmer, who stood before “tens of thousands of slaves on July 4, 1865, when slavery still existed in Kentucky and declaring ‘my countrymen, you are free, and while I command the military forces of the United States, will defend your right to freedom.’ The crowd erupted in cheers.”

“This is the history of Republican Party,” Paul said.

“Republicans still prize the sense of justice that MLK spoke of when he said that an unjust law is any law that a majority enforces on a minority but does not make binding upon itself,” he said before his speech was interrupted by a protester carrying a banner that read in part: “Howard University doesn't support white supremacy."

University faculty and campus police tossed the protester out to the applause of the audience.

“I wasn’t sure if my speech would be entertaining but now you’ve had some entertainment,” Paul said about the interruption.

“When MLK talked about an unjust law, what always has intrigued me about this is a lot of the things MLK talked about were race, but really what he talked about when he talked about what was a just law goes beyond race, so listen to this again,” he continued.

“He said that an unjust law – and this is a good way to look at any law - an unjust law is any law that a majority, not just a racial majority, any majority enforces on a minority but does not make binding on themselves. That means any law that’s not universally applied,” Paul said.

“Republicans have never stopped believing that minorities – whether they derived from the color of your skin or the shade of your ideology should warrant equal protection,” he said.

“You might say, that’s all well and good, but that was a long time ago. What have you done for me lately?” Paul added.

He said the GOP faces “a daunting task” because “several generations of blacks have never voted Republican and are not very open to considering the option.”

“Democrats still promise unlimited federal assistance, and Republicans still offer free markets, low taxes, less regulation, but because we truly believe it will create millions of jobs for everyone,” he said.

“The Democrat promise is tangible, puts food on table but too often I think doesn’t lead to jobs or meaningful success. The Republican promise is for policies that create economic growth. We believe lower taxes, less regulation, balanced budgets, a solvent Social Security, a solvent Medicare, all stimulate growth. Republicans point to the Reagan era when the economy grew at seven percent,” Paul said.

He cited statistics on the state of blacks in America after four years of the current policy.

“One in six Americans live in poverty, more than at any time in recent history,” Paul said. “In fact, the poor have grown poorer in the last four years. Black unemployment is 14 percent – nearly twice the national average. This is unacceptable. Using taxes to punish the rich in reality punishes everyone, because we’re all interconnected.”

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