Rand Paul and the Third Way on Race in America

You can usually tell who and what the left is afraid of by paying attention to who they attack and on what basis. For the last week the liberal media has been in paroxysms of outrage over [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ]’s supposed insensitivity for suggesting that violence in Baltimore was caused by, among other things, “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society. “ Worse yet, he dared to voice empathy for “the plight of police.” Politico, the New York Times and the Washington Post all piled on to tell us that Paul’s “tone deaf” comments invalidate everything he’s been trying to accomplish with minority voters and unmask him as just another white conservative, which, in the eyes of the liberal media, is pretty much the same thing as a racist.   It should go without saying to any rational person that acknowledging societal problems and the difficult job many police face does not in any way minimize or excuse the problem of racism.  Thus, the left’s pseudo pseudo outrage should be seen for what it is, a mask for a very real fear that [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] is the man who maybe, just maybe, breaks the left’s near monopoly on black voters. He’s gotten to that place by forging a third way on race in America that engages with the cultural problem of race without buying into to the left’s narrative of permanent victimhood.

Regardless of your substantive views on race, it’s hard to argue with the proposition that Republicans have done a comprehensively terrible job of appealing to minority voters in general and black voters in particular. Only 6% of black Americans voted for Mitt Romney, and the GOP hasn’t received more than 11% of the black vote since 1996. The Republican response to this has basically been the flip side of the Democrats’ arrogance towards blue-collar whites. We, like they, lament that some people are too benighted to understand their own interests and righteously wash our hands of folks clinging to things we disapprove of, in this case racial identity and a belief in systemic injustice. And it has led predictably to the same results. If people get the sense you hold them and their lifestyles in contempt it’s hard to convince them to vote for you.

We’re the party of ideas. We’re the party that believes that politics is about principle, not identity, tribalism or inherited grievance. We, far more than the Democrats embody Dr. King’s dream that people should be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. So why have we done such a bad job of communicating that idea to people we want desperately to treat as individuals?

The lazy answer is to blame the left. Liberal schools poison black kids minds, teach them conformity and groupthink. The liberal media stirs up trouble, turning private tragedies into stories about racial oppression. Is it any wonder that with an army of opportunists sticking microphones in peoples’ faces and asking leading questions about racism that some people conclude that, yes, since you asked, it is about racism? Maybe there’s even a cabal of progressive provocateurs going from city to city and orchestrating riots?

So I guess we should just do nothing and hope that blacks will all have a come-to-Jesus moment when they realize the Dems have been duping them. That seems to be the strategy so far. Or we could suck it up and actually engage with the difficult problem of race in America and what we, as conservatives, can do about. If we try to offer conservative solutions to racial problems we might fail. If we don’t try then we will certainly fail.

Does engaging on race and discrimination mean pandering or accepting some sort of inherited blame for things that other people did in the past? No. But it does mean acknowledging that racism is still a problem and offering conservative solutions. The good news is that most of the racism that still exists in our society is propagated by government institutions. Private racism has largely been outlawed and private organizations work hard to promote minority achievement. The problem is that so many black kids receive terrible educations or wind up in jail that there is a pipeline problem preventing employers from finding enough qualified black candidates. In other words, the government and not private entities have failed America’s inner cities. That represents a golden opportunity to articulate conservative remedies to the institutional racism caused by a pernicious combination of welfare cronyism and over-policing that have turned too many neighborhoods into revolving doors of government-enabled poverty and incarceration.

But what can we do? We can’t beat the Democrats at offering free stuff, nor should we try. But we can start by applying the same skepticism of government power that we regard virtually everything else the government does to our criminal justice system. We can talk about reigning in the coercive power of the state and getting government institutions, including the criminal justice system, out of people’s lives. We can talk about adopting a treatment model for drug offenses rather than locking up an entire generation of black kids for non-violent drug crimes. We can also talk about record-expungement so that people who make a mistake in their youth aren’t prevented from finding honest employment after they’ve paid their debts to society. In other words, we can talk about the same things [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] has been talking about for years.

On the intersection of race and economics, it is not enough to point out that liberal welfare programs have utterly failed to turn around impoverished neighborhoods; we must offer our own solutions. How about economic freedom zones to cut out excessive taxes and regulations in impoverished areas? How about vouchers so that parents can send their kids to better schools? Again, this is the message [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] is delivering to black Universities, Churches and organizations.

Teddy Roosevelt once said it is not the critic who counts. Rather, it is the man in the arena “who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Whatever else you think about [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ]’s racial outreach, he has thrust himself in the arena. He, almost alone, is trying to find a third way on race in America, a way that rejects both the grievance demagoguery of the left and the willful non-engagement that all-to-often characterizes the right. He, at least, is trying to find a way to both acknowledges racial problems and offer conservative solutions. Maybe he’ll fail. Maybe it’s hopeless. Maybe the odds and forces arrayed against him are too great. But if he does, he will at least fail while daring greatly.