Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Paul, Libertarianism and the Civil Rights problem

Rand Paul, son of famous libertarian Rep Ron Paul, is the new anti-establishment Republican nominee for Senate from Kentucky. We will see if Rand can mimic his father who is the rare breed of stalwart ideologue who inexplicably survives in the rough and tumble of machine politics. Rand's campaign is off to a rocky start, however, as the national media has seized upon his stance on civil rights and opponents have tried to create the mental image of a United States without the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Paul says he would have opposed.

Rand has accommodated [critics] by repeatedly saying that he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on libertarian grounds: private businesses should not be forced to serve African Americans if they so choose. Presumably, market pressure will eventually force them to be more accommodating. If it doesn't, then so be it, Rand believes.


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.


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.

Those words were not uttered by Rachel Maddow or some other leftist bleeding heart. No, this critique is from Bruce Bartlett, a supply-side economist who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Intra-party debates are perhaps the most dynamic part of our political discourse since they often refine arguments from the broad to the specific. The problem I see is that instead of searching for new solutions to our complex problems, the Republican party is still re-hashing the cynical arguments that we put to rest 40 years ago. Kudos to Bartlett for being the first-- let's hope not the last-- of Paul's party compatriots to call him out on his cognitive dissonance.

But the larger question is why are we wasting precious time with this defeated libertarian ideology that failed us two generations ago? What's next, debating whether the French Ancien Regime would have better avoided the current European credit crisis? Ah, yes, Rand Paul, a modern Duke of Burgundy, arguing for the "way it used to be."

1 comment:

Eric said...

I wonder if, like his father, he believes Watergate was backed by the Federal Reserve.