Rand Paul's crazy dream of a libertarian-Democratic alliance on civil rights is actually happening

“Martin Luther King talked about there being two Americas, where one America was treated in a just fashion and one wasn’t,” Paul said. “At one point it was based on color, and it was awful. Now it’s not so much based on color on purpose, but there is an inadvertent sense to the war on drugs that has allowed people of color to be caught up in this.”

This was Rand Paul, national figure and likely presidential candidate, and Democrats needed him. And this was still somewhat new to them. Paul had begun his Senate career in 2011 by slicing up red meat, introducing a doomed bill to ban abortions and a budget proposal that zeroed out foreign aid. He’d started the second Obama administration with a campaign of outreach to black students and black leaders, and a vocal campaign to restore the voting rights of felons. Democrats could say this and the media shrugged; Rand Paul said it, and the notebooks came out.

As 2014 dragged on, the violent news cycles gave Paul new chances to find a libertarian-liberal consensus. He took those chances. After the shootings of black teens by police officers, Paul wrote that it was “impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” He’d introduced some bills to rectify that. The Democratic Senate had slept on them. So here he was, in 2015, starting what most people see as a nascent presidential campaign with an effort to erase harsh laws—to the joy of Democrats who have no power to pass any bills on their own.