The furor over Rand Paul

Horror of horrors! It turns out that Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning son of the equally libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) really does believe in…LIBERTY.

Wednesday night, just 24 hours after he handily defeated the establishment Republican candidate in Kentucky’s U. S. Senate primary, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC confronted Paul with something he said last month in an interview with the editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The editors were interested in finding out how far his libertarianism went, so they asked him if he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which, among other things, outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations — i.e., restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, etc. To which he replied: “In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people who have abhorrent behavior.”

Dr. Paul’s response to Ms. Maddow was not his finest hour. He went on for 20 minutes trying to convince her and her audience that he abhors racism and would have supported those parts of the bill that outlawed institutional racism, but seemed very reluctant to repeat what he said to the Courier-Journal editors.

No doubt Dr. Paul feared being labeled a racist — and for good reason. To a generation of liberals raised to believe that every act ought to be either compulsory or forbidden, the only possible reason for someone not wanting to use the police power of the state to prohibit private businesses from discriminating is that he doesn’t want to sit next to a black person at a lunch counter.

Instead of rambling on about how he abhors racism — and, except for a few nuts on the fringes, who doesn’t? — he should have expanded on the answer he gave to the Courier-Journal editors. He should have explained how such laws not only blur the distinction between the private and public spheres (which he did say), but restrict the scope of private behavior, ultimately to the detriment of those the laws are designed to protect. He should have pointed out how the kind of thinking behind those laws has led to attacks on freedom of speech in the guise of outlawing “hate speech”.

Had he done this, perhaps he could have doused the firestorm that erupted Thursday over his views. Then again, maybe not.

Some of the punditry, starting with Joe Scarborough on MSNBC, brought up the specter of Barry Goldwater, who was trounced in the 1964 Presidential election following his vote against the Civil Rights Act, and pronounced Paul’s candidacy DOA. Memo to Scarborough and other pundits: Goldwater didn’t lose because of his vote on the Civil Rights Act. He lost because the Democrats successfully convinced voters that he would blow up the world. (And also because Kennedy had been dead less than a year, and Lyndon Johnson was still enjoying his honeymoon with the voters.)

To their credit, much of the punditry did not fall back on the “racism” argument. But they seemed incredulous that anybody, in this day and age, could oppose using government force to promote such an obviously worthwhile goal as racial equality. Most would probably subscribe to the argument made by The Washington Post‘s Charles Lane that, since the right to private property depends on the expenditure of tax dollars for enforcement, government may decide what people may or may not do with their property.

Lane does not see the slippery slope he is on here. The ability to exercise any of our natural rights is, to one degree or another, dependent on government enforcement. Lane’s argument, if carried to it’s logical conclusion, can be used to effectively nullify any of our rights. In fact, that very argument has been made to justify state laws restricting smoking and requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Since the taxpayers may end up having to pay for the consequences of smoking or helmetless motorcycle riding, the government has claimed an interest in regulating these activities.

True, the situation anti-discrimination laws are called on to address is a little more complicated than those addressed by mandatory helmet laws and smoking bans. Racial discrimination directly involves others besides the property owner. However, so do a lot of other things people do. In a free society, people have the right to be unfair, mean and obnoxious — as long as they don’t violate the natural rights of others.