Rand Paul and Rebel Flag Republicans

confederacyThe Confederate flag has flown over the little Kentucky trailer for so long that the flag has frayed and faded nearly to pink.

There was a bright blue “Rand Paul for U.S. Senate” sign in the front yard for the election. One of my union buddies called the flag-sign combo “Rand Paul’s win in a nutshell.”

Paul, who beat moderate Democrat Jack Conway, ran unabashedly as a tea party Republican. In Kentucky and elsewhere, a lot of latter day Johnny Rebs seem to be tea party Republicans.

Paul is a reactionary libertarian whose compromise-is-surrender philosophy is reminiscent of the original Rebel-flag lovers who seceded from the Union, formed the Confederate States of America (border slave state Kentucky remained loyal) and started the Civil War to protect their slave property from President Abraham Lincoln and the anti-slavery “Black Republicans” in Washington .

To be sure, Paul’s platform doesn’t include planks favoring disunion or a return to the South’s – and Kentucky ’s – peculiar institution.

Yet no sooner did Paul win the GOP nomination last May than he questioned the part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlaws racial discrimination by private businesses. Roundly rebuked by Conway and even by some Republicans, he backed off.

Yet from Paducah to Pikeville, Paul kept on promising to “take back our government.” Paul never explained what he meant, an omission which Washington Post pundit Eugene Robinson noted in a post-election column: “At a recent campaign rally in Paducah, Ky. , (where I teach history)…Paul…drew thunderous applause when he said if Republicans win, ‘we get to go to Washington and take back our government.’

“Take it back from whom? Maybe he thinks it goes without saying, because he didn’t say.”

I suspect many white folks who supported Paul figured their candidate meant taking back the government from the black guy in the White House. In any event, Paul didn’t disabuse them of any such notion.

Paul’s “take back our government” message was a common theme among a slew of white tea party Republican candidates across the country.

Many tea partiers hotly deny racism has anything to do with their disdain for President Barack Obama. But Google their signs on the Internet. Routinely, they depict the president as a monkey or an African “witch doctor.” Other signs proclaim “OBAMA’S PLAN WHITE SLAVERY,” “‘Cap’ Congress and ‘Trade’ Obama back to Africa!” and “THE ZOO HAS AN AFRICAN LION AND THE WHITE HOUSE HAS A LYIN’ AFRICAN!”

“These conservative white people hated Bill Clinton, too,” said another one of my union buddies. “But there wasn’t a tea party when he was president.”

Robinson wonders about the timing of the Tea Party movement, too: “The first African-American president takes office, and almost immediately we see the birth of a big, passionate national movement — overwhelmingly white and lavishly funded – that tries its best to delegitimize that president, seeks to thwart his every initiative, and manages to bring the discredited and moribund opposition party roaring back to life. Coincidence?”

I might believe it when hogs fly and kids don’t shoot hoops in Kentucky any more — nah, not even then.

At the same time, Robinson agreed – and so do I – that “….It’s not racist to criticize President Obama, it’s not racist to have conservative views, and it’s not racist to join the tea party.” (I agree – and I am certain Robinson would, too – that not everybody who voted for Paul is a bigot.)

Yet Robinson senses – and so do I – “…there’s something about the nature and tone of the most vitriolic attacks on the President that I believe is distinctive — and difficult to explain without asking whether race is playing a role.”

Robinson aptly observed: “I have to wonder what it is about Obama that provokes and sustains all this tea party ire. I wonder how he can be seen as ‘elitist,’ when he grew up in modest circumstances — his mother was on food stamps for a time — and paid for his fancy-pants education with student loans. I wonder how people who genuinely cherish the American dream can look at a man who lived that dream and feel no connection, no empathy.

“I ask myself what’s so different about Obama, and the answer is pretty obvious: He’s black. For whatever reason, I think this makes some people unsettled, anxious, even suspicious — witness the willingness of so many to believe absurd conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace, his religion, and even his absent father’s supposed Svengali-like influence from the grave.”

Irony, of course, is almost always lost on the conspiratorial minded. But here it is: Obama is president thanks to the Republican Party.

In the 1860s, Lincoln, the first Republican president and the Bluegrass State’s greatest native son, teamed up with a Republican-majority Congress to muster the full military, economic and political might of the federal government to whip the Confederates, preserve the Union and put slavery on the road to extinction.

Afterwards, the party of Lincoln and Liberty pressed for constitutional amendments that finished off slavery, made African American citizens and put the ballot in the hands of African American males.

Berry CraigSaid one Republican: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.”

No doubt Paul and the tea party Republicans would scorn that guy as a liberal and a “RINO,” meaning “Republican In Name Only.”

That RINO was Lincoln.

Republican voters of the Great Emancipator’s day didn’t revere the Rebel flag. They considered it the very symbol of slavery and treason. Of course, that GOP was long gone before election day 2010.

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on November 9, 2010
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.