Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Riding a Tea Party tsunami, Rand Paul won the Republican nomination for Senate in the state of Kentucky, upsetting the establishment Republican. In the wake of his victory there has been some controversy surrounding the libertarian's position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He has made what some have deemed to be 'controversial' statements about Title II of the act which states that private businesses (which Title II calls 'public accommodations') can not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, etc. Paul, though being somewhat evasive for political reasons, has made it clear that he has reservations about that aspect of the act, though he agrees fully with the public portion. Paul has stated that he still would have voted for the act, had he been in the Senate in '64, finding that the positives of the Act outweigh this particular negative. Which is a completely reasonable position to take. The only thing I don't understand is why this view is considered controversial? He is a libertarian, and this opinion is textbook libertarianism.

In addition to this opinion of Mr. Paul's not being particularly controversial, his statements are also actually just correct. Government should not have the authority to tell private business whom they must serve, anymore than it should have the authority to tell private citizens whom they must be friends with. Private business establishments should reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.

When it comes to freedom of speech everyone understands this concept: "I don't agree with what you have to say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." Most people seem to understand and agree with that principle. Yet when it comes to my right to do what I wish on my property, somehow this principle no longer applies in many people's eyes. Despite the fact that the principle is exactly the same. Freedom has costs, and one of the costs is that bigoted, ignorant individuals must be allowed to choose who sets foot on their property. Whether that property is their restaurant or their home. Anything else is a coercive restriction of that business owner's rights.

For all you bleeding-hearts and do-gooders, fear not! We as non-bigots, we the enlightened, are not without recourse. Though our savior isn't the almighty hand of government. It's our own freedom. We have the freedom to boycott such establishments. We have the right to picket them. We have the right to decry racism, bigotry and hatred wherever we see it. Whether it's outside of institutions that have such practices, in letters to the editor, blogs, or public pronouncements on radio and television. With such a relatively enlightened, tolerant populous, and with the amount of instantly available information, due to the internet and such, this alone would squash the vast majority of instances of this type of practice. Racists can't even deny the power of the dollar, and with all of these pressures on them, they would be forced to either abandon their racist practices, or very likely go out of business. Minimally they would be forced to suffer a hard financial hit when we non-bigots refuse to spend money at their establishment.

However, there would likely still be a small number of enclaves of mostly racist rural individuals who could continue to operate by serving their own racist, ignorant customers and not suffer too much, regardless of how much people boycotted or protested. And so what? We already tolerate racist individuals being allowed to hold whatever views they want, we tolerate their right to put those views into books and articles and disseminate them. We acknowledge their right to gather and discuss racist ideas in their homes. How is the right to determine who they will or won't serve in their place of business any different? Freedom to racist speech, but not freedom to actually be, and behave, like a racist? Why should our rights end at speech?

Your rights should only end when they infringe upon another person's rights. In this case the rights of potential patrons are not at stake. The whole idea of business transactions is that you have two willing parties entering into a transaction they both find favorable, neither being forced into the transaction. If the business person does not want your business, whether it's for economic reasons, or ignorant, bigoted ones, he should have no obligation to accept your business. The rights that are at stake are those of the business owner, not the patron, as the patron (or the government on the patron's behalf) does not have the right to force the owner into making transactions he does not want to make, on his own property.

This is what liberty is. This is what freedom is. It isn't always politically correct, but it's the foundation of our society. Thus, Title II of the Civil Rights Act is actually a restriction of rights, those rights of business owners.

With all that said, Mr. Paul is not stupid, and has the ability to weigh this one negative of the act against the rest of the act, which is demonstrably positive and highly necessary. The stupid ones are his critics. People who clearly don't even understand, or care to discuss the relevant issues. Instead appealing to emotions, as Rachel Maddow did when interviewing Paul on this topic, wringing her hands over people who "fought to desegregate lunchroom counters", and dismissing Paul's argument as an "esoteric argument about ownership." Not refuting, or even addressing the argument, mind you, but simply dismissing it out of hand.

The implicit assumption of Maddow's, and others who think like her, is that since government power was the instrument that was used to end private discrimination (at least in those areas where it had the ability to i.e. restaurants, lunch counters etc.), that it is the only instrument that has the ability to achieve the desired results. There are a few problems with this line of reasoning. The first being that, as I have shown, government is not the only instrument that can achieve these results, there are alternatives. The second problem is the assumption that some social results are so desirable that the desired results should supersede certain types of rights, in this case property rights. Which I disagree with philosophically, first of all, but is also a notion that has no Constitutional basis. Although, it admittedly has found subsequent support in the courts. Which doesn't mean a whole lot to me, considering the plethora of unconstitutional, nonsensical things that have found support in the courts since FDR.

Too many politicians these days give pat, standard answers to questions and issues that are often quite complex. Mr. Paul could have easily, simply said that he agrees with the Civil Rights Act of '64 (since, on balance, he does), and not even brought the pain upon himself of having to defend his position to people who have no real interest in hearing what that position is or how he defends it. In so doing he could have avoided entirely the possibility of hurting himself politically with a voting populous which, though not stupid, is often quite tone-deaf to subtlety and nuance. The fact that he chose instead to say what he thinks should be lauded, not condemned. The fact that he chose to say what he thinks and it was levelheaded, consistent and logical, knowing that all of these things will draw the ire of the media and the Washington establishment, should place him in the political hall of fame.


Maddow's show: +

1 comment:

  1. To suggest the state, which was implicated in the unjust accumulation of that property by whites in the first place, now has no right to force compliance with public laws intended to provide equity of opportunity and access is perverse. It suggests that businesses can be subsidized by the state but not regulated by it, that individuals can reap the unearned benefits of state action but not be expected to bear any of the costs.

    Consider, for instance, the ramifications of libertarian thought in the medical profession (of which both Rand and his daddy Ron are a part). Under Paul's conception of justice, and that of John Stossel, doctors working in private practice should be able to discriminate against patients based on race, religion, or for any other reason without limit. Meaning that if a person belongs to a group despised for some reason by the only physician in town--or simply the doctor they unluckily encounter in a life-threatening emergency--their very ability to continue living would take a back seat to the doctor's "right" to dispose of his or her "property" as he or she saw fit. Though the physician would hopefully come down on the side of the hippocratic oath, in libertarian-land they wouldn't have to. And if they decided to indulge their biases, well, too bad. That the patient could always go searching for another doctor who was less bigoted might be nice, and work just fine in the ether of textbook based hypotheticals. But in the real world--a world that libertarians fail utterly to comprehend even as I'm told they live somewhere within its physical boundaries--such a patient might well die, all so that the free market could remain unimpeded. ~Tim Wise