By Nov. 8, thousands of words will have been written about the Senate race between incumbent Republican Rand Paul and his challenger, Democrat Charles Booker.
The election can be boiled down to just three words: Demagoguery versus decency.
Paul panders to the worst in the body politic: racism, sexism, nativism, xenophobia, and homophobia. He preaches and practices the politics of division and hate. He believes that the government has no responsibility to help those who need help, or to help eliminate inequality and discrimination based on gender, race, or disability.
Paul is an old-time, red-in-tooth-and-claw social Darwinist. He essentially thinks that if you are poor, it’s nobody's fault but your own.
Booker, like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, believes that Uncle Sam is morally obligated to live up to the constitution’s preamble to “promote the general Welfare” and must help make real the “self-evident” “truths” in the Declaration of Independence about equality.
Booker is undaunted by polls and by conventional wisdom which have Paul cruising to a third term. “When you build, when you actually talk about the issues, have the audacity to push back against the cynicism, when you meet people where they are, and when you have the power of love and put it into action, you can win anywhere,” he said in a recent campaign speech in Murray, deep in Republican, hard-right western Kentucky.
Ten days before, Paul released a blatantly racist ad that claimed Booker, who is Black, “doesn’t believe in civil discourse. Only violence” and implied the Democrat embraces the violent “radical left.”
The ad is a lie.
But at least Paul is a consistent bigot. Last year, even before Booker officially tossed his hat in the ring for his party’s nomination, the senator played the race card. “I don’t think most Kentuckians think that somehow infrastructure is reparations for slavery, or somehow Kentuckians think they need to pay reparations for slavery, I just don’t think that’s going to be very popular,” WFPL's Ryland Barton quoted the senator.
Booker declined comment.
After Booker declared his candidacy, Paul — who gets an “F” on the current NAACP Civil Rights Federal Legislative Report Card — turned up the racist wick. In an email to his fans, he slammed Booker as his “racial left opponent.”
That time, Booker replied in an email to his supporters which included a copy of the Paul email. "Rand Paul is saying the quiet part out loud about how he feels seeing an opponent like me enter the race,” Booker said.
Last August, the senator didn’t show up for the Fancy Farm picnic. But his wife, subbing for the senator, proved that gutter politics is a Paul family affair. Kelley Paul demagogued that “the Democrats went from promising a chicken in every pot to a drag queen in every school.” Republicans roared in approval at the trans slam.
The MAGA faithful booed Booker, who refused to join Paul in the gutter.
“Feel free to boo all throughout – even if you boo, I’m going to fight for you to get quality health care,” he smiled and told the Republicans in the crowd, adding, “Just to be here at this historic event – it reminds me of what it means to come together as family. So Democrats, Republicans, independents just as a Kentuckian I love you, and I’m proud to be here with you.”
These days, Paul is proud to be with Trump. Never mind that when he ran for president against Trump in 2015 and 2016, Paul trashed him as a “fake conservative” who’s “all blather, non sequitur, and self-aggrandizing bombast,” a “bully” and a “delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag.”
Also like Trump, Paul has long been averse to federal civil rights activism. A decade ago, Paul criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. He insisted his problems with the landmark civil rights legislation stemmed from his libertarianism, not racism. (Paul’s “libertarianism” does not include a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion.)
By invoking libertarianism, Paul hearkened to Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater who ran for president in 1964 by calling for “states’ rights,” which was “ostensibly a position on federal-state relations, though at the time all understood the target was federal efforts to push school integration,” Ian Haney Lopez wrote in a 2014 BillMoyers.com posting headlined “Rand Paul Has a Race Problem.”
Like Paul, Goldwater endorsed “‘freedom of association,’ which purported to preserve the rights of property owners to exclude whom they wished, though in practice this meant the right of white establishments to bar minorities,” Lopez wrote. “Today’s libertarian politics descends directly from this tradition.”
Even so, Paul and Trump hotly deny they are bigots as they court and hobnob with bigots.
“While some observers have explained Trump’s success as a result of economic anxiety, the data demonstrate that anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, and sexism are much more strongly related to support for Trump,” Vanessa Williamson and Isabella Gelfand wrote in a 2019 Brookings online posting headlined “Trump and racism: What do the data say?”
Paul, according to Lopez, had racists on his payroll: “Back in 2009, Paul’s senate campaign spokesperson had a Myspace webpage that included a comment tied to the Martin Luther King holiday that read: “HAPPY N***ER DAY!!!” above a photo of a lynching. While someone else might have posted the comment, it remained on the staffer’s page for nearly two years.”
Four years later, “Jack Hunter, Paul’s social media director — and the co-author of Paul’s 2011 book on the tea party — was uncovered as the ‘Southern Avenger,’ a radio shock jock who regularly donned a mask emblazoned with the Confederate flag and had a long history of making racially inflammatory statements, including praising Abraham Lincoln’s assassin for having his heart ‘in the right place.’”
Pressured, Paul sacked them both, reluctantly, but insisted neither were racists, according to Lopez.
In his Murray speech, Booker cited a famous quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“Essentially what that means is that if we can hang in there and keep fighting the good fight together that love will win; the truth will win, and we’ll get the healing that we need because there is something in us that hate can’t block out,” he said. “Hate is only successful if we allow it to be.”
If the polls are right, hate will win at the polls on Nov. 8. Demagoguery will triumph over decency. If that happens, Charles Booker won't be the biggest loser. Kentucky will.