Paul remains pundit-fodder on Meet the Press

05/23/2010 11:06 AM

Even though Rand Paul became only the third invited guest to cancel on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kentucky’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate still was a major topic of conversation on the Sunday morning political program.

A Rand Paul bumper sticker

Host David Gregory led off the media panel segment of the program with Paul, who canceled his scheduled appearance Friday after stirring controversy for several days over his comments questioning whether the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act goes too far by requiring private businesses not to discriminate.

“He’s wrong about the Civil Rights Act, and he shouldn’t get into 46-year-old settled law where there’s a consensus of support in this country,” said Paul Gigot, editorial page editor for the Wall Street Journal.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent and host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” said Republicans who have blamed the flap on a trap Rachel Maddow are wrong because Paul is a candidate who speaks his mind. And, Mitchell added, Maddow’s show was one of several Paul chose to go on when announcing his candidacy a year ago.

It was Maddow who pressed Paul on his views about the Civil Rights Act, following up on comments Paul made to the Courier-Journal editorial board on April 17. Paul, the Bowling Green ophthalmologist and son of libertarian-leaning Texas Congressman Ron Paul, didn’t say he wanted the law repealed but did question whether it allowed government to go too far in telling private businesses to be run.

Gregory described Paul as “a political force this week, a force for the Tea Party” but that Paul had the Republicans “quite nervous” by the end of the week. He asked the panel, starting with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, whether Paul was a weakened candidate.

“Well, sure,” Friedman said.  “To me, when you come out against the 1964 Civil Rights Act that’s not a growth position. Maybe in his state. Or maybe in the Tea Party. But I don’t think that’s something that you’re going to be build a national campaign about.”

Friedman said Paul’s overarching view of cutting back government must be sketched out in more detail. “Tell me which service do you want to take away? Is it police, fire, army? That’s a serious discussion to have: smaller government.”

Paul, on the campaign trail this spring, answered in details specific questions about that. For instance, police and firefighters, he said, should be paid for on the local level. National defense should remain the largest chunk of the federal budget, but the federal budget as a whole needs to shrink, he told a group of students at the University of Kentucky in early April.

Gigot said Paul has been a rare candidate to talk about his detailed views about topics candidates tend to avoid, such as raising the age for Americans to receive Social Security benefits to 70.

“The mistake he made was to take the focus, the political focus, away from all that and say, ‘Let’s have a libertarian seminar about a 46-year-old law,” Gigot said.

(The New York Times’ Sam Tanenhaus wrote an interesting piece on that subject for Sunday: “Rand Paul and the perils of texbook libertarianism.”)

Friedman then suggested that what is needed is to cut some taxes and raise others and “cut some services and invest in others now.”

“If you’re just for one or the other, I don’t think you have the answer at this moment,” he said.

Paul became the third guest to stand up Meet the Press, joining Louis Farrakhan in 1996 and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan in 2003.

For more, the Herald-Leader’s John Stamper also has a round-up of Paul-related discussion Sunday morning, as does Joe Sonka at Barefoot and Progressive.

- Ryan Alessi

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