Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) accused a black Howard University student of demeaning the civil rights movement by bringing up recent GOP efforts to limit voting accessibility.
"The Republican Party has been using their state legislators and their governments to prevent African-Americans from voting, because they didn't want to re-elect President Obama." said the student, Julian Lewis, a former White House intern under President Barack Obama. "So I'm asking you, how can we believe what you're saying in regards to voting rights when we honestly feel, based on our intellectual ability to gauge whether you can connect with us or not, how can you say that, sir?"
Paul countered by revisiting one theme of his speech, pointing out that it was Southern Democrats who were behind the early efforts to stifle African-American voting rights before the civil rights movement took hold.
"I think if you liken using a drivers' license to literacy tests, you demean the horror of what happened in the '40s and '50s, maybe probably from 1910 all the way through the 1960s in the South," Paul said. "It was horrific. Nobody is in favor of that. No Republican is in favor of that. But showing your drivers' license to have an honest election, I think, is not unreasonable. And I think that's the main thing Republicans have been for."
However, voter ID laws and other Republican-backed measures such as the curtailing of early voting hours have in fact been heavily criticized for disproportionately affecting the African-American voting community, among others, prompting Sen. Nina Turner (D-OH) to say in August 2012 that "Jim Crow has been resurrected" in her state.
Also, despite Paul's suggestion that Republicans opposed measures like poll literacy tests, fellow Tea Party member and former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) said at the first Tea Party National Convention in February 2010 that the lack of such tests helped Obama be elected in 2008.
"People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House," Tancredo said at the time.
Paul also attempted to rewrite his position on the 1964 Civil Rights Act during the speech.
"I have never wavered in my support for civil rights or the Civil Rights Act," he said. "The dispute, if there is one, has always been about how much of the remedy should come under federal or state or private purview."
In a May 2010 interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, however, Paul suggested the "dispute" around the Civil Rights Act centered around freedom of speech.
"Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?" Paul said at the time. "I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things that freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it."
When Maddow asked if that also applied to desegregation of lunch counters, he compared that issue to the conflict between restaurant owners' rights to bar guns from their establishments and gun owners' rights to carry their firearms.
"Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?" Paul said. "These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion."
As Think Progress reported in January 2012, Paul's father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), voted against a 2004 resolution praising the Civl Rights Act, saying it "increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty." Seven years later, the younger Paul explained that decision by saying, "The point is that its not all about that. It's not all about race relations, it's about controlling property, ultimately." Such views prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to label Paul an "extremist" that same year.
Paul's full speech can be seen at C-SPAN's video library. A transcript is available at iroots.org. A short excerpt from the conclusion of the speech, posted on YouTube by the National Review on Wednesday, can be seen below.