It didn't take long for Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate Rand Paul to learn his first lesson in the big-league political spotlight: Never trust a liberal. The libertarian eye surgeon drew fire from the left for his impolitic attempt to hold a rational debate on the nuances of the Civil Rights Act with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.
In the past, Dr. Paul established a rapport with the left-leaning cable TV hostess on whose show he launched his long-shot campaign against the establishment candidate for the Republican nomination. Back then, it was no surprise that Ms. Maddow would treat the sower of discord within the Grand Old Party with courtesy and respect.
That all changed Tuesday when, by an overwhelming margin, Dr. Paul showed himself as having a credible shot at being the Bluegrass State's next junior senator. In fact, a Rasmussen poll now gives him a commanding 25-point edge over Democratic rival Jack Conway. Unlike his famous father, Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Rand Paul represents a serious threat to the left's agenda. When Rep. Paul votes against legislation that spends money we don't have or that lacks any basis in the Constitution, House leadership has no problem finding a majority among the 434 other members willing to spend with reckless abandon.
The possibility that fiscal stalwarts like Dr. Paul the Younger and former Club For Growth President Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania might have the senatorial power to filibuster wasteful proposals must keep Ms. Maddow up at night. So it should not have come as a surprise that instead of a pleasant interview following his primary victory, the ascendant Dr. Paul was subjected to interrogation about how he would have voted on legislation pushed through Congress 46 years ago.
For all of its faults, the country is a better place in the wake of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The problem with Dr. Paul is that his intellectual honesty - a malady we wish would infect other politicians - would not let him overlook the faults. He rightly pointed out that if one accepts the ability of the federal government to decide that all customers must be accommodated, Congress could use the same power to force liberal restaurant owners to serve people carrying guns.
Ms. Maddow wasn't interested in logical consequences, she was interested in tarring Dr. Paul and the Tea Party movement in general as racist. Dr. Paul has never expressed an interest in revisiting any part of the Civil Rights Act. As he said in a later interview, the left should save its questions for Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who actually filibustered the bill in question and was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the old days. It's questionable why Dr. Paul expected fair treatment from the network that talked about the "racism" of a Tea Party activist who carried a gun to a rally, but took care not to show his face in the video - because that Tea Party activist was a black man.
Rand Paul has clarified that he would have voted "yes" on the 1964 bill, hopefully putting this tired and phony racism attack to rest. The vehemence of the other side's rhetoric emphasizes the importance of putting this constitutional conservative in the Senate.