Friday, May 21, 2010

What to say about Rand Paul?

Rand Paul's self-administered wounds over his answers to questions about whether he would support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reveal the problems that doctrinaire libertarians face. They oppose government action and don't seem willing to recognize that there are actually necessary and good things that government has done. The easy and correct answer to these questions was "Of course," but Paul's ideology made this a much more complicated issue than it needed to be.

Bruce Bartlett has the best analysis of where Paul was wrong in his understanding of the entire history of civil rights in this country. A laissez faire approach to guaranteeing civil rights to African Americans had failed for a century after the Civil War. There was a brief window of opportunity during Reconstruction to enshrine those rights, but that failed as Reconstruction ended and the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which the 1964 law mirrored.
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 essentially replicated the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which was enacted by a Republican Congress over strenuous Democratic opposition. However, in 1883 the Supreme Court, then it its most libertarian phase, knocked down the 1875 act as well as many other Republican measures passed during Reconstruction designed to aid African Americans. The Court's philosophy in these cases led logically to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which essentially gave constitutional protection to legal segregation enforced by state and local governments throughout the U.S.

As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There is no reason to believe that this system wouldn't have perpetuated itself absent outside pressure for change.

In short, the libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s gave us almost 100 years of segregation, white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs, the KKK, and discrimination of African Americans for no other reason except their skin color. The gains made by the former slaves in the years after the Civil War were completely reversed once the Supreme Court effectively prevented the federal government from protecting them. Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn't work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.

Sadly, it took the Supreme Court more than 50 years after Plessy before it began to undo its mistake in Brown. This led to repeated efforts by the Eisenhower administration to enact civil rights legislation, which was opposed and gutted by Senate Democrats led by Lyndon Johnson. But by 1964, it was clear to Johnson that the tide had turned. The federal courts were moving to dismantle segregation to the extent they could, and the 1963 March on Washington, the murder and beating of civil rights demonstrators in the South and growing awareness of such atrocities changed the political climate and made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 possible--despite the filibuster against it by Senator Robert C. Byrd, who still serves in the Senate today.
So for Rand Paul to try to weave some sort of choice between a strong government and civil rights is futile and betrays a basic misunderstanding of American history.
If Rand Paul were saying that he agrees with the Goldwater-Rehnquist-Bork view that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was unconstitutional and that the Supreme Court was wrong to subsequently find it constitutional, that would be an eccentric but defensible position. If he were saying that the Civil Rights Act were no longer necessary because of the great strides we have made as a country in eradicating racism, that would also be defensible. But Rand's position is that it was wrong in principle in 1964. There is no other way of interpreting this except as an endorsement of all the things the Civil Rights Act was designed to prohibit, as favoring the status quo throughout the South that would have led to a continuation of segregation and discrimination against African Americans at least for many more years. Undoubtedly, changing mores would have broken down some of this over time, but there is no reason to believe that it would have been quick or that vestiges wouldn't still remain today. Indeed, vestiges remain despite the Civil Rights Act.

I don't believe Rand is a racist; I think he is a fool who is suffering from the foolish consistency syndrome that affects all libertarians. They believe that freedom consists of one thing and one thing only--freedom from governmental constraint. Therefore, it is illogical to them that any increase in government power could ever expand freedom. Yet it is clear that African Americans were far from free in 1964 and that the Civil Rights Act greatly expanded their freedom while diminishing that of racists. To defend the rights of racists to discriminate is reprehensible and especially so when it is done by a major party nominee for the U.S. Senate. I believe that Rand should admit that he was wrong as quickly as possible.
I do believe that NPR and Rachel Maddow gleefully set Paul up for this entire controversy. Why weren't they demanding answers to these sorts of questions before the primary? They were happy for him to win and now want to wound him for the general election. Unfortunately for Paul, his own doctrinaire libertarianism led him into his convoluted and confused explanations of his beliefs. Perhaps he can thread the needle of explaining his position while upholding support for anti-segregation laws.

Opponents will try to link Paul's positions to the tea party movement as a whole. But there is a big difference between opposing massive government spending of money we do not have and opposing anti-segregation laws. Paul was right in saying that this is not an issue today. No one is talking about repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it is legitimate to explore the boundaries of the man's philosophy of government. If he hasn't thought before about such questions, he better start now.

14 comments:

UrbanBard said...

The problem with Maddow's position is that she rushes to the most extreme example. Extreme examples make for bad law.

There are many social and legal remedies short of Federal intervention even to civil rights. That intervention may have been necessary to break a long term societal problem many years ago, but conditions have changed. The issue should be open for debate now. Maddow seeks to confirm the status quo anti which locks into place a liberal political position. She closes off debate. Anyone who would quibble is automatically branded a racist.

Where does the owner's rights end and the customer's rights begin? When did the owner become the slave of the customer? Or the slave of the government? Do right thinking people want anyone to become a slave? Even when one person's actions gets another person's feelings hurt?

Maddow's position ultimately comes down to violence; she would use the force of government to punishing anyone who disagrees with her politics. Thus, she comes across as being against business, freedom or rational discussion.

mark said...

There is no "problem" with Maddow's position. She has the same position most Americans have regarding the Civil Rights act. And she never once called him a racist. The "problem" is that Rand was asked for the third time in a month and still hadn't figured out how to respond. It makes sense for a pure libertarian to be opposed to govt. telling businesses that they can't discriminate. Paul had the option to stay true to his principles (and commit political suicide) or cave. He caved, and joined a long list of politicians (from both parties) who have done the same.
What's more absurd is Paul's questioning of Obama's criticism of BP. Perhaps someone can explain why criticizing a foreign company for destroying our coast is "un-American." I had thought Paul might bring a bit of respectability to the tea***gers. I guess not. They are more driven by hatred for Obama than any ideals they might pretend to have.

tfhr said...

Urban Bard,

Well said. I would also suggest that an answer to some, if not all of the questions you posed, can be traced back to the last Inauguration Day.

foxmarks said...

“the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law”

Logically, a non-sequitur. That which is enforced by law is not free.

I am not blind to the more general point about social norms. Nor do I wish to pretend there is no value to government and some of its laws.

But it has become a common foolishness to equate some controlling legal regime with principled liberty. They are forever in conflict. We are often disappointed with the slow rate at which minds and mores change. Legal prescriptions merely swap one evil for another.

UrbanBard said...

I would suggest that people look into who sponsored and passed the 1964 civil rights act: it was the Republicans who did that over the objections of the Democrats. LBJ reluctantly signed the bill into law because he knew this would get him into trouble with his political base.

Rand Paul flubbed the question: he could have turned the tables on Maddow. He could have said that the Republicans have nothing to be shamed of; they have always been on the side of the Blacks since the Civil War.

He could have said that if he had been a senator at the time he would have voted for the bill even though he knew it was unconstitutional and delivered a massive increase in power to the federal government. The bill was necessary in order to break the stranglehold that Southern Democrats had placed on the Black's civil rights. It was President Eisenhower, a Republican after all, who desegregated the schools and universities in the South. Bull Connors was a Democrat.

Rand could then say that times have changed. America is no longer an objectively racist country; that the country no longer needs such stringent action, so these rights can be returned to the states and to the people.

Pat Patterson said...

To be honest I'm not that interested in who or why the gotcha question was asked but rather in why Mr Paul has such as simplistic notion of property rights (not spelled out in the Constitution) and how he didn't notice that he had firmly placed his foot in his mouth months ago and expected no one to notice?

Tacitus Voltaire said...

I would suggest that people look into who sponsored and passed the 1964 civil rights act: it was the Republicans who did that over the objections of the Democrats. LBJ reluctantly signed the bill into law because he knew this would get him into trouble with his political base

your ignorance is appalling

The bill was introduced by President John F. Kennedy in his civil rights speech of June 11, 1963, in which he asked for legislation "giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments," as well as "greater protection for the right to vote."
...
The new president, Lyndon Johnson, utilized his experience in legislative politics and the bully pulpit he wielded as president in support of the bill. In his first address to Congress on November 27, 1963, Johnson told the legislators, "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long."


there is a famous story that LBJ warned democrats that if he signed the bill the racists in the southern, conservative, wing of the democratic party would leave the democratic party for the republican party, because the republican party would now be seen as more friendly to them: "We have lost the south for a generation"

and it is beyond denial that this is exactly what happened

Pat Patterson said...

Since TV is quoting liberaly from Wikipedia it might be useful to go further into the text and read that the version that was finally passed, introduced by Dirksen-R, Celler-D and Mansfield-D, attracted a higher percentage of Republican votes than Democratic. The main opposition, and leaders of the filibuster, were Southern Democrats and they never wavered
in their opposition. The few Southern Republican that had initially voted against now overwhelmingly voted for the compromise measure.

I can't really figure out which is worse. Relying on Wikipedia or quoting from it without identifying the source. One indicates gullibility and the other indicates some lack of confidence in the accuracy of the source.

Tacitus Voltaire said...

Pat Patterson said...

nothing in that article contradicts what i said, pat. if your reading comprehension was better you would have seen that i specifically mention the conservative southern pro-segregationist democrats in my first comment, above.

your effort to find reasons to critise me shows a lot of "creativity", pat, but yields few results. better luck next time!

:-)

obviously, conservative, pro-segregation democrats voted against the bill. by 1980, as LBJ predicted, 90% of those seats were held by conservative republicans, as they have been since. UrbanBard manages to realize that democratic sponsorship of the 1964 civil rights act alienated pro-segregationist democrats in the south and turned them into republicans ("LBJ reluctantly signed the bill into law because he knew this would get him into trouble with his political base.") without realizing that he admitted it

Pat Patterson said...

What consevative Democratic members of Congress changed parties? 90%, did you just make that up or trust somebody else? Taking Georgia as an example, currently the split between Democrats and Republicans is one seat in Congress, 6 to 7. While both chambers of the legislature are indeed Republican the Democrats still comprise 2/3rd of the votes not the 10% you posit.

Pat Patterson said...

Democrats make up 1/3rd of the two chambers not 2/3rd.

Tacitus Voltaire said...

don't work so hard to miss the point and ignore the obvious, pat - it's very clear that the "solid south" that was almost universally represented by conservative, pro-segregation "dixiecrats" before the 70s has become the solid republican south of the present day. as for individual dixiecrat members of congress who became republicans, try on for size the presidential candidate, in 1948, of the pro-segregationist dixiecrat party, strom thurmond, who became a republican right on schedule in 1964

wasn't texas solidly democratic before the 70s and solidly republican now? how about alabama and missisipi, the strongholds of segregationism?

you can strain at gnats all you like, pat, but some things are too obvious to argue away

UrbanBard said...

You know, TV, If Rand Paul had said what I suggested, it would promote, nationally, the same discussion as is going on between you and Pat Paterson.

We could have an examination of the facts (going back to source materials rather than Wikipedia) and have a real public debate about the subject and whether the law is needed, any longer. We could bypass the implication that if a person disagreed with the law, in minor ways, then he was a racist.

Rand Paul is being accused of being a racist now and he is clearly not one. He is a Libertarian and Libertarians disagree on principal with any action which increases the power of the government.

The '64 Civil Rights Act usurped the legitimate rights of the states and the people under the Tenth amendment. There is nothing in the Constitution which allows this usurpation, not even the 14th amendment or the commerce clause. It is leftist judicial activism which reinforces it.

I believe it would be useful for America to revisit this issue. Too bad, that Rand Paul flubbed this opportunity.

He was handed a loaded question, there was no way he could be true to himself or to the facts without being tarred as a racist. This put him on the defensive rather than going on the offensive and telling the truth.

BTW, JFK, if he lived now, would be a Republican. Hey! I was a democrat back in the JFK era, but I grew out of it. JFK cut taxes during a recession, how more conservative can you get?

Rand Paul certainly wasn't going to say that the Federal government has a legitimate right to control the minutia of a US citizen's life. That would make America no different from living in a Fascist, Communist or Social Democratic country.

We are close to that situation, but not yet there. Nor is it inevitable that we Americans lose all our freedoms.

tfhr said...

"BTW, JFK, if he lived now, would be a Republican...JFK cut taxes during a recession, how more conservative can you get?" ~ UrbanBard

I have to agree with that - how about you TV?

BTW, which party was Robert Byrd in during the Civil Rights era and which is he in today, TV? (HINT: Look up Klu Klux Klan the next time you're plagiarizing Wikipedia)