In a letter fulsomely endorsing Republican Daniel Cameron for governor, GOP Sen. Rand Paul — a high priest in the MAGA cult of selfishness — praised the attorney general for using his office to thwart “virtually every authoritarian edict Beshear unleashed on Kentucky.”
By “every authoritarian edict,” Paul meant Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency executive orders that were aimed at keeping Kentuckians out of the hospital and the cemetery during the worst months of the COVID pandemic.
Beshear issued executive orders because the MAGA Republican-majority legislature refused to help him battle the virus which has killed more than 18,100 Kentuckians. Untold numbers more would have died had the governor not acted.
Naturally the petulant Paul — who notoriously ranted against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top COVID fighter — also lauded “our heroic Republican State Legislature” for resisting the governor's COVID regulations. Paul’s loopy libertarianism “falls right in line with the second-rate political philosophy he ripped off from second-rate author Ayn Rand – a philosophy that puts one’s own personal desires and individual wants above all else," Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Joseph Gerth wrote of Kentucky’s junior senator while the pandemic raged.
Paul bragged that Cameron took Beshear “to court to defend our liberties – and he won.”
According to the senator’s letter, Beshear’s executive orders were unprecedented authoritarianism. “Never before in the history of our Commonwealth have our freedoms been under such an assault,” he bloviated.
Sen. Paul, either you’re woefully ignorant of — or deliberately ignoring — Kentucky history. Here's a quick lesson, starting with slavery.
Slavery was by far the most egregious assault on freedom in Bluegrass State history.
Kentucky law sanctioned the enslavement of Black Kentuckians from statehood in 1792 to 1865, when the requisite number of states (Kentucky not among them) ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery.
Under state law, enslaved persons were chattel, or moveable property, the same as livestock or farm equipment. Slaves had no rights; they could be bought and sold at the whim of slaveholders. The few free Blacks who lived in the state were unwelcome and denied citizenship rights.
“Slavery was a brutal system,” wrote James C. Klotter and Craig Thompson Friend in A New History of Kentucky. “Slave owners had total control over their lives. Laws like the 1798 slave code empowered all white Kentuckians over [free] black Kentuckians as well.
“Slaves often faced cruel punishments like brandings and ear croppings. Some had metal collars or weights attached to their arms or legs. Whippings were most common. Every town had a whipping post as well as stocks and gallows.”
The Civil War
Though a slave state, Kentucky stood by the Stars and Stripes during the Civil War. The majority of Kentuckians spurned secession; far more Kentuckians fought in Yankee blue than in rebel gray.
But throughout the war, the enemy regularly assaulted the freedoms of loyal Kentuckians. Here are some examples:
- In 1861, while the state was officially neutral, heavily armed pro-Confederate vigilantes from nearby communities terrorized Milburn, a pro-Union enclave in the rabidly rebel Jackson Purchase. (The Purchase was the state’s only Confederate-majority region.) The vigilantes regularly raided the little town. Gangs lynched a Union man, got into a gunfight with Unionists trying to defend their town, and forced families to leave their homes and farms.
- In 1862, Confederate forces captured Frankfort and tried to foist a bogus Confederate government on the state. The coup failed when U.S. troops arrived and chased the rebels away.
- In 1863, Confederate cavalry rode into Mayfield, kidnapped Unionist congressman-elect Lucian Anderson, derailed and shot up a train, and robbed the passengers. They sent bloodhounds after a pair of escapees. The dogs mangled both men, killing at least one.
- In 1864, Confederate cavalry attacked Union-held Paducah. Had the rebels succeeded in capturing the town fort, they almost certainly would have massacred Black troops, many of them ex-slaves from the Purchase, who helped defend the bastion. Later, Confederate guerrillas burned the Graves County courthouse and Congressman Anderson’s law office in Mayfield.
- To the end of the war in 1865, Confederate guerrillas preyed on loyal Kentuckians who lived away from Union army bases and outposts. The outlaws killed, robbed, and murdered almost at will. Among their victims was J.B. Happy of Mayfield, an outspoken local Unionist. The leader of a local guerrilla band shot the unarmed Happy dead, apparently as his family watched in horror.
White Kentuckians continued to attack the freedoms of Black Kentuckians for a century after the Civil War ended. Because Kentucky was a loyal state, it was not subject to post-Civil War congressional Reconstruction. As a result, the majority white supremacist Democrats — who supported the Union and slavery during the war — dominated state and local governments afterwards.
Kentucky became deeply sympathetic to the defeated Confederacy. The state legislature refused to ratify the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. (The 14th made Blacks citizens; the 15th extended the vote to Black men.)
“White Kentuckians ruled the state, for only one of every six people in the commonwealth was black in 1870,” Klotter and Friend wrote. “The former slaves did not compose close to a majority and could not threaten white dominance except in a very few locales.” Because Blacks were so few in number, the Kentucky legislature didn’t bother to pass a law denying Blacks the vote, though every ex-rebel state did. Even so, Black voters were intimidated in places where their numbers were sufficient to threaten the white power structure.
But like the Confederate states post-Reconstruction, Kentucky enacted Jim Crow segregation laws separating Blacks from whites on an unequal basis.
Added Klotter and Friend: “... Slavery had been not only an economic institution but also one of social and racial controls, in which one group ruled another. For many generations, it had been emphasized that slaves were not at the same level as the white people around them. Few white Kentuckians — or white Americans for that matter — could conceive of accepting the idea that blacks were their equals.”
As in the South, Kentucky’s white powers-that-be used violence or the threat of violence to keep slaves in check before the Civil War and to prevent Black equality afterwards. “Between 1867 and 1871 more than one hundred blacks were lynched in Kentucky, and dozens more were killed by other violent means,” Klotter and Friend also wrote, adding that “a historian recently noted that the commonwealth was the only one of the non-seceding states that had any significant [Ku Klux Klan] ... violence.
“In July, 1869, a newspaper reported that the Klan had hanged twenty-five people within a central Kentucky area that was twenty-five miles in diameter and had beaten a hundred more during the previous two years.”
The historians noted that “while some leading citizens and newspapers attacked such extralegal violence and towns like Henderson outlawed the wearing of masks, others in the media praised ‘Judge Lynch.’” In newspaper stories, people frequently claimed that “many of the best citizens of the city” belonged to the Klan.
“In Central Kentucky,” according to Harrison and Klotter, “state militia forces operated as a political paramilitary to intimidate blacks, especially when African Americans got the ballot.”
Blacks were lynched in Kentucky past the turn of the 19th century. Victims included a returning Fulton County World War I veteran who was jailed, then hanged in his uniform, according to Klotter and Friend.
Not until the 1950s did the Jim Crow era of institutionalized racism and racial violence against Blacks start to end. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954) the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation. Jim Crow’s death blow came a decade later when a Democratic-majority Congress, cheered on by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, passed landmark civil rights legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which, in 2011, Paul first said he would have opposed, then tried to backtrack under heavy criticism.
In 1966, Kentucky’s Democratic-majority legislature, encouraged by Democratic Gov. Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt, approved a civil rights act. Kentucky was hailed as the first Southern state to pass meaningful civil rights legislation. In some aspects, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act was said to be stronger than the federal legislation.
A footnote: Northern and Western Republican senators and representatives joined Northern and Western Democratic lawmakers in passing the federal civil rights bills, which were stubbornly opposed by Southern Democrats who hated Johnson, a Texan, for backing the legislation. In the decades afterwards, Democrats largely became what the early Republicans had been: the party of federal civil rights activism. As a result, most Blacks became Democrats, and the GOP largely became what the old Southern Democrats had been: the white folks’ party.
The ‘cult of selfishness’
Sadly, Sen. Paul, you, your candidate for governor, Donald Trump, and nearly your whole party has become what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman aptly labeled a “cult of selfishness.”
While the pandemic raged in 2020, Krugman wrote, “You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest.”
This pursuit, he added, is tinged with rage that “is sometimes portrayed as love of freedom.” What the far right labels ‘freedom’ “is actually absence of responsibility,” according to Krugman.
“Rational policy in a pandemic, however, is all about taking responsibility,” he argued. “The main reason you shouldn’t go to a bar and should wear a mask isn’t self-protection, although that’s part of it; the point is that congregating in noisy, crowded spaces or exhaling droplets into shared air puts others at risk. And that’s the kind of thing America’s right just hates, hates to hear.”
He called out Kentucky’s junior senator: “... It sometimes seems as if right-wingers actually make a point of behaving irresponsibly. Remember how Senator Rand Paul, who was worried that he might have Covid-19 (he did), wandered around the Senate and even used the gym while waiting for his test results?”
Krugman concluded: “Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Republicans are selfish. We’d be doing much better if that were all there were to it. The point, instead, is that they’ve sacralized selfishness, hurting their own political prospects by insisting on the right to act selfishly even when it hurts others.
“What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us.”
Bottom line: Apparently, most Kentucky voters aren't buying what Paul and Cameron are peddling.
It looks like most Kentuckians don’t think that Beshear's COVID rules were “unprecedented authoritarianism.” Recently, Inside Elections said the governor’s race is leaning Beshear-ward. A new poll has Beshear up 51-42 percent.
According to Morning Consult pollsters, “A strong 64% majority of Kentucky voters approve of Beshear’s job performance, while 32% disapprove, according to our second quarter surveys conducted April 1-June 30. This marks Beshear’s highest approval rating since Biden took office in January 2021.”
Union card-carrying Daviess countians Andy Meserve, Shena Link, and Donna Haynes are among Kentuckians who plan to vote for Beshear. They think the governor’s response to COVID saved lives. Meserve’s a Steelworker; Link’s in the Laborers’ union; Haynes is an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers retiree.
Said Meserve: “He was outstanding during [the] COVID [pandemic], making sure people stayed safe. He made a lot of hard decisions that some people didn’t like, but his intentions were nothing but the best. His intentions were not to trample on anybody’s rights. He just wanted to keep people safe, and he did that.”
Said Link: “He kept us safe during COVID. He made the tough decisions, and our state numbers reflected that. They showed that Kentucky was one of the safer states, and we owe all that to Andy Beshear.”
Said Haynes: “In the pandemic he got zero help [from Republican legislators]. I don’t mean to be hateful, but dad blame it, they’re idiots. Just because he’s got a ‘D’ by his name, that makes him a bad person? What is wrong with people today? I vote for whoever is going to protect my best interests, and that’s Andy. The other guy is too busy going to Washington and New York to be on TV. I want somebody who goes around the state, sees what’s happening and takes care of us.”