May 20, 2010

Chris Matthews talked to The New York Daily News' and talk show host Errol Louis and The Washington Post's Dave Weigel about Rand Paul's rough entry into the Kentucky Senatorial race and his interview with Rachel Maddow and they all had some harsh words for Rand, especially Errol Louis.

MATTHEWS: Errol, let me ask you about this problem. I grew up during this. I know the debate over the Civil Rights Act in `64. It was in some sense a constitutional fight. Did the federal government have the right to use the interstate commerce clause to force businesses that were racist, owned by racists, to serve black folk?

Gas stations -- I drove through Georgia -- you were obviously more firsthand on this -- drive through Georgia, you saw the "white only" signs on the men`s rooms, the ladies` rooms. It was a fact of life. I saw laundromats with "white only" when I was in the Peace Corps training still there in `68. It`s a fact of life that some people want to discriminate. The federal government said you can`t do it in this country. Rand Paul seems to sympathize with the goal of desegregation, but not with the law itself. What`s your view of this?

ERROL LOUIS: Well, that`s right, and he doesn`t seem to understand the law or its evolution. I mean, the reality is, there are cases filed every year under the Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. You see big public ones pop up every now and then. There was one involving Denny`s restaurant chain a few years ago.


LOUIS: You know, it`s not like it`s a dead issue. I`m the same age as Rand Paul, and you know, seeing what has happened since the passage of that law as we grew up, as we saw this nation mature, you know, it reflects such a fundamental misunderstanding.

And it`s important to note also that this isn`t the only case. I mean, has talked about actually repealing the Americans with Disabilities Act. You know, he`s got to answer a lot more questions.


LOUIS: When asked if you support the basic work for which Martin Luther King fought and died, one way to answer it would just be to say yes. And he can`t seem to make himself do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to David. It seems to me he`s got a constitutional position here. He believes in Libertarianism. He believes in the right of property, the right of the individual against the rights of the federal government to enforce what we all think is good law. We might all think it.

There`s a real problem here for this guy because it doesn`t look like he wants to back down and say uncle, and say, OK, we had to have the Civil Rights Act, it was the only way to get there, we couldn`t do a constitutional amendment to outlaw this discrimination, we had to use the interstate commerce clause, I guess the end justifies the means. But he`s not will to say that yet.

DAVID WEIGEL: Well, no. He`s taking the rhetoric and the beliefs of the tea parties and just taking them to an extreme where they don`t usually go. I mean, it`s one thing -- as he tried to change the conversation -- it`s one thing to talk about gun rights. It`s one thing to talk about health care being forced on states. But the ultimate, you know, state -- federal imposition on the states was Civil Rights, and most Libertarians in public won`t really talk about this. Most candidates won`t go near it.

He`s decided to stick by it, and he`s been fighting. I mean, he was scrapping today with Jack Conway. You pointed that out. Conway, I just talked to, said, you know, it`s safe to -- it`s fair to say that he`s -- he would repeal it because he functionally doesn`t agree with parts of it. And it`s an open question...


MATTHEWS: No, no, no! David, you and I disagree.


MATTHEWS: He has never called for repeal. Jack Conway was wrong last night in saying he had. That`s a fact.

WEIGEL: (INAUDIBLE) that`s right.

MATTHEWS: That`s a reportable fact. He has never said he wants to repeal it. In fact, he`s never categorically said he would have voted against it had he been in the position to do so.

Let`s take a look at another interview. This is another useful way to get at this. He here he was asked by a skilled reporter, like Rachel Maddow, Robert Siegel on NPR, on "All Things Considered," a great show - - here he is, asked again, Where are you on Civil Rights? Should we have passed the law? Here he is. Let`s listen.


PAUL: I`m in favor of everything with regards to ending institutional racism, so I think there`s a lot to be desired in the Civil Rights. And to tell you the truth, I haven`t really read all through it because it was passed 40 years ago and hasn`t been a real pressing issue in the campaign on...


PAUL: ... for the Civil Rights Act.

ROBERT SIEGEL, "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED": But it`s been one of the major developments in American history in the course of your life. I mean, do you think the `64 Civil Rights Act, or the ADA, for that matter, were just overreaches and that business shouldn`t be bothered by people with a basis in law to sue them for redress?

PAUL: I think a lot of things could be handled locally.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was good leading the witness there, Errol. I mean, he was saying, Do you think it was overreach? He said, It could have been handled locally, again going back to that -- that provision in the Constitution, the 10th Amendment. The tea party people love the 10th Amendment. They love the 2nd Amendment. They always talk about guns. You could be talking about Santa Claus, they bring up guns.


MATTHEWS: They bring it up in every regard. It`s got nothing to do with this issue.

LOUIS: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And here`s what -- Errol, I`m trying to get you to agree that this is a constitutional issue, not an issue of prejudice on the part of the candidate. Now, here`s the question. He keeps drawing the parallel -- you and I and David would probably agree we support the 1st Amendment in its purity, that a person can say terrible things in this country, but he has a right or she has a right to do it because we believe that`s the only way to protect everyone`s right. OK.

Paul takes that parallel position and says when it comes to private property, like owning a lunch counter, we may not like the bigot who doesn`t let the black guy get a cup of coffee, but if he doesn`t have that right to say no, we`re not free. See what he`s doing?

LOUIS: Yes, but the...

MATTHEWS: He`s paralleling the 1st Amendment with the right to not serve people...

LOUIS: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... property with free speech.

LOUIS: But the guy`s got to crack a history book. I mean, it`s not like this is the first time these issues came up. This was the argument all throughout the Civil Rights movement. People were saying, It`s my restaurant, it`s my bus station, you can`t tell me what to do, you can`t tell me what to do at our local university, on and on and on and on.

And again, it`s not a dead issue. There`s still litigation around this on a regular basis...


LOUIS: ... and people need access to the courts to relitigate this because there are a lot of Rand Pauls out there who think that because they own a lunch counter, they can just decide to rewrite Supreme Court rulings. That`s another part of the Constitution that the tea party folks don`t like to acknowledge, that there have been rulings on this, that the Constitution, you know, is determined by the Supreme Court, the interpretations of it.

You know, there are a lot of folks out there who are doing all kinds of stuff based on their personal interpretation of the Constitution that`s at odds with the Supreme Court, at odds with American history, at odds with the wishes of most of the voters, including in Kentucky. He`s got to get himself a little bit closer to the mainstream if he wants to be taken seriously.

MATTHEWS: David, it seems like every religion that we know of in the mainstream, and other ones, as well, and every political party and every ideology has its weird little pockets they don`t like to talk about. It`s there. Every -- certainly, every religion has it, the little things you believe that nobody outside your religion is ever going to believe. It seems like we`ve found one. And you get to the interstices of the tea party people at a private meeting somewhere, white people probably, they can all agree, You know, it`s better we didn`t have all these laws back in the `60s.

But you come out and run statewide in a state even like Kentucky, which is a bit to right, and you try to explain that you don`t think the Civil Rights Act, which is probably the best thing that Congress has done in 100 years, and say they shouldn`t have done it or that you`ve got a problem with it -- you are a problem, it seems to me.

WEIGEL: Well, where Paul`s coming from or a lot of Libertarians come from is the fact that most Americans are basically good. They`re not racist and they wouldn`t put up with it nowadays if an organization wanted to block African-Americans, block Hispanics, block (INAUDIBLE) from an institution. So I mean, this is -- this is a comfortable thing to say now, now that we`ve had the act in place and now that racism is totally unacceptable, people are good enough to behave this way without being forced by the government. That`s what he`s saying.

I don`t think it comes from place of racism. I think it comes from a place of assuming that we can go back and talk about this because it doesn`t hurt anyone anymore.

And that`s the political mistake he made. He kind of got sucked into a freshman dorm conversation, when he was actually a candidate for the U.S. Senate. And he`s not -- you know, they were not happy about this interview with Rachel Maddow. Rachel really nailed him. He is used to talking about these in really abstract terms, and even, you know, talking about extreme things that -- that most Americans think it`s OK the government does. But he`s not used to this.

LOUIS: If he`s going to serve in the Senate, he`s got to go from the abstract to the particular. There are about 25,000 discrimination suits filed every year -- Republican years, Democratic years, in recession, out of recession. It`s pretty consistent. So unless 500 people a week are making up stuff, there are issues out there that require the support of the law. If he wants to be a lawmaker, he ought to find out a little bit about it.

MATTHEWS: You know, he also get in touch with the life in the country over the last hundred years. You know, a guy I once knew who was Bobby Kennedy`s aide said Bobby Kennedy didn`t even get this issue of Civil Rights until a guy said, Imagine being an American guy with your wife, driving along a highway, and she had to go to the bathroom. And you had to stop at a gas station, and the gas station owner said, I`m sorry, she can`t go in here, to this ladies` room or this men`s room -- restroom. And you had to go and say, I`m sorry, dear, we can`t go in there because we`re black. Imagine the humiliation and the anger you would feel.

I think somebody should have that little sermon perhaps with Dr. Paul and say, Imagine being like that in your own country! You can`t go to the bathroom. Got it? It`s not theoretical, and that`s the way it was before `64.

Errol, it`s great to have you on, David Weigel. Thank you, gentlemen for coming on.

Transcript via Lexis Nexis.

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