Rand Paul: You “Demean the Horror” of Jim Crow When You Compare it to Modern GOP Voter ID Bills

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) talks with reporters as Senate Republicans and Democrats head to their weekly policy luncheon on March 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

I’m writing a bit more today about Sen. Rand Paul’s riveting hourlong speech/town hall at Howard University. He happened to hold this on a busy news day, so not much of what he said will go “viral,” as the kids put it. But his weakest moments—in the room, if not for the Republican viewer who’ll catch this on C-SPAN—came when he tried to tell black students that they were all wrong about policy. The second audience question came from a student who worked for a Super PAC that registered voters in 2012.

“You said that the Republican Party is a big proponent of voting rights,” said the student. “I have been traveling … all over the country, across 30 states, registering African-Americans to vote, in a higher rate in 2012 than in 2008, because the Republican Party has been using their state legislators and their governments to prevent African-Americans from voting.”

Paul tried to explain the larger context—something a Howard student, who has to take an African-American studies course in order to graduate, might have known already. “It’s important to know the history of what happened,” said Paul. “Democrats in the South were very, very harsh. They did have tests at the polls.” But “I think if you liken using a driver’s license to a literacy test, you demean the horror of what happened in the ‘40s and the ‘50s—maybe from 1910 to 1960s in the South. It was horrific. No American is favor of that. No Republican is in favor of that. But showing your driver’s license to have an honest election? I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

That wasn’t quite what the crowd wanted to hear. President Obama put voting rights in his inaugural address and State of the Union; Paul was sort of blowing off the issue.