U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky attempted to expand the Republican base Wednesday when he spoke to students at historically-black Howard University
, a solidly Democratic constituency.
In trying to explain why blacks have overwhelmingly supported Democrats, despite his party's earlier emancipation and abolition platform, Paul said black Americans became increasingly pro-Democrat as a result of Depression-era government handouts at a time when African-Americans had yet to experience economic growth in their communities.
"I think what happened during the Great Depression was that African Americans understood that Republicans championed citizenship and voting rights but they became impatient for economic emancipation," said Paul.
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"African Americans languished below white Americans in every measure of economic success and the Depression was especially harsh for those at the lowest rung of poverty."
"The Democrats promised equalizing outcomes through unlimited federal assistance while Republicans offered something that seemed less tangible --the promise of equalizing opportunity through free markets."
White Americans, particularly those who were poor and working-class, also supported Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Depression-era policies.
Paul's explanation at Howard was not well-received on tyhe left.
Jack White of The Root, an online news source with a "black perspective," said Paul is suffering from "amnesia" in his characterization of why black Americans left the Republicans and sided with Democrats during the civil rights years of the 1950s and 1960s.
"[Paul] left out the part that Republicans almost always leave out . . . The racial realignment that occurred during the 1960s," wrote White. "When Democratic politicians like President Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy became champions for equal rights, and Republicans reinvented their party as a harbor for segregationists."
Similarly, the Daily Beast's Jamelle Bouie called Paul's speech at Howard University "condescending and intellectually dishonest."
Elspeth Reeve of The Atlantic Wire pointed out Paul's omission during his speech of the now infamous "Southern Strategy," in which the Republican Party appealed to Southern white racism against blacks in the South to gain political support in national elections.
In 2005, Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman apologized for his party's use of the Southern Strategy in previous years.
When asked by a Howard student if he considered himself a member of the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln or "post-1968 Republican Party — Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan," Paul disagreed with the premise that there is a difference.
"The argument that I'm trying to make is that we haven't changed," Paul said. "There are some of us who haven't changed, who are part of that party that you liked, who truly believe that Reagan was still part of that. Who don't see an abrupt difference."
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Paul, who is the son of Rep. Ron Paul, is known for his libertarian brand of conservative politics that has historically appealed to younger voters, a core constituency needed if Republicans hope to reclaim the White House in four years.
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