A lot of the handwringing over Rand Paul's electability in November is overdone. A Rasmussen poll was released today that showed Paul leading Democratic nominee Jack Conway by 25 points, 59 percent to 34 percent. Kentucky Democrats nominated the more liberal candidate who supports Obamacare and will not be able to exploit Paul's "heterodox" social views -- which are also overblown -- in the general election.
That said, Paul's comments about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were an example of what not to do. Throughout the primary campaign, Trey Grayson tried to bait Paul into theoretical discussions of libertarianism and controversial theories with which many libertarians agree. Ron Paul relishes such discussions and sees his professorial role as an important part of why he is in politics. The younger Paul is trying to bring serious constitutionalism back into the mainstream and has wisely avoided etting the focus drift into things that are not live issues -- until now.
Sen. Jon Kyl described the Paul-Maddow kerfuffle well: "I think the two of them were having a bit of good time having a debate like you had at 2 a.m. in the morning when you're going to college, but it doesn't have a lot to do with anything." There is room for a discussion of topics like the role of blowback plays in terrorism, whether Jim Crow could have been dismantled with a less aggressive federal approach, and the conflict between the Constitution and a lot of settled 20th-century legislation. Most conservatives opposed the Civil Rights Act circa 1964. But these discussions are probably best had outside the heat of a political campaign.
For the record, Paul has said in a statement, "Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964." But he would be better off returning to the rigorous message discipline that will keep him from having to make such statements in the future.
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