The beef between Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has been going on for four years now. It was famously kicked off during Paul’s Senate campaign when Maddow began grilling him about his position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul’s strict devotion to the free-market had led him to the conclusion that, maybe, some of its business regulations were unjust. “Libertarians are like that,” wrote, the late, Alexander Cockburn, at the time. “On some big and important things they’re admirable and staunch. Many of them, on some big and important things, are rancid.” Later, in the same piece, Cockburn explained the allure of Maddow’s takedown, “It’s the easiest thing in the world for a grandstanding liberal to push a libertarian into a corner…Liberals love grandstanding about what are, in practice, distractions. You think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is going to come up for review in the US Senate?”
MSNBC remains intrigued by the story, as evidenced by Paul’s recent appearance on The Cycle, where co-host Ari Melber recently asked if his views on the Act had evolved. “What I would say to be fair to myself, because I like to be fair to myself, is that I’ve always been in favor of the Civil Rights Act,” claimed Paul. “People need to get over themselves writing all this stuff that I’ve changed my mind on the Civil Rights Act. Have I ever had a philosophical discussion about all aspects of it? Yeah, and I learned my lesson: To come on MSNBC and have a philosophical discussion, the liberals will come out of the woodwork and go crazy and say you’re against the Civil Rights Act, and you’re some terrible racist. And I take great objection to that, because, in Congress, I think there is nobody else trying harder to get people back their voting rights, to get people back and make the criminal justice system fair. So I take great offense to people who want to portray me as something that I’m not.”
Paul makes some valid points here, although there’s a wider issue: do the policies he advocates address the systemic issues of economic racism? This question is, probably, worth debating on a show like Maddow’s, but she fired back in a different vein.
“You cannot base a presidential campaign on something that is not true about [himself] or try to cover up something that you have said now that you don’t like the way that sounds,” Maddow explained in a rant about Paul’s MSNBC comments. “Nobody expects you to be perfect, but nobody expects you to be a petulant person who lies and is constantly threatening imagined adversaries about it,” she concluded.
This is pretty blatant for Maddow criticism, as she generally likes to attack GOP politicians in a much more jovial manner. It’s clear that she has a real problem with Paul and, perhaps, believes he supports racist policies. This is actually true, but Maddow doesn’t have to travel back fifty years to find them. She need look no further than a recent National Review op-ed in which Paul criticized the Obama administration for not being sufficiently pro-Israel. “I think it is clear by now: Israel has shown remarkable restraint. It possesses a military with clear superiority over that of its Palestinian neighbors, yet it does not respond to threat after threat, provocation after provocation, with the type of force that would decisively end their conflict.”
This “remarkable restraint” has shocked the world, for the past few weeks, as over 1,900 Palestinians have been killed; most of them civilians and many of them children. The backdrop of this brutal attack is an illegal occupation and a system of segregation that many, throughout the world, view as apartheid. Maddow’s producer, Steve Benen, criticized Paul, via MSNBC blog post, for flip-flopping on the subject of Israel. In 2011, Paul actually made a number of comments suggesting that the US cut aid to Israel. “The senator could take this opportunity to explain how and why his position has changed,” wrote Benen. “Maybe he could say he’s learned more about foreign policy over the last few years and this knowledge has caused him to reevaluate some of his previous positions.”
To Benen’s mind, Paul’s flip-flop is the crucial issue, not his indefensible position. This, naturally, begs the question: does Rachel Maddow refuse to criticize Paul’s stance on Israel because she agrees with him?
Michael Arria is the author of the new CounterPunch book, Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC.