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Senate candidate Rand Paul’s rigid ideology would allow segregation to survive

June 8, 2010

On June 5th an opinion by Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul was published in The Bowling Green Daily News. In that opinion, Dr. Paul who is Ron Paul’s son, wrote that “If you watch any of my interviews, you’ll see I never stated that I did not support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and I certainly never called for its repeal.”

Technically, Paul is telling the truth. He never expressed opposition to the Civil Rights Act in its entirety. Nor did he ever call for its repeal. I might even give him the benefit of the doubt when he says that if he had the opportunity in 1964, he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act. But what he has made clear is that even if he would have voted for the act, he would have done so with serious reservations about certain provisions, provisions he wished were not included in the law.

In his infamous interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, Paul stated about Martin Luther King Jr. that “Most of the things that he was fighting were laws. He was fighting Jim Crow laws. He was fighting legalized and institutional racism. And I'd be right there with him.” He went on to make explicit what is here implied, that he disagreed with King that the government should also step in to prevent discrimination by private businesses and institutions.

“There's 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 deal with public institutions and I'm absolutely in favor of. One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that,” he said.

The provision of the bill Paul says he does not like is Title II, which bans discrimination by businesses such as inns, hotels, restaurants, lunch counters, movie theaters, etc.

Paul might not be a racist, but his rigid ideology would have made it impossible to end segregation. In a previous interview, when asked about Woolworth lunch counters that banned black people, he said “I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part—and this is the hard part about believing in freedom—is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example—you have too, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things. . . . It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior.

This statement is appalling for two reasons. First, Paul suggests that moral suasion and market choices would have forced private businesses to desegregate, making government action unnecessary. Quite frankly, this is pure unadulterated idiocy. Abolitionists tried to end slavery this way. Their efforts succeeded so far as they caused the South to secede in panic over slavery’s future in the Union but ultimately it took coercive government action to end human slavery in the United States, as it did in every other New World society. Moral suasion and consumer choice did not work against Jim Crow style segregation either. It had been around for almost a century when the federal government stepped in and banned it. it was a ban the government had to actually enforce because Paul’s methods don’t work.

How long would Paul have been willing to wait for his methods to work? Should African Americans have been forced to wait with him? Of course not.

The second reason why Paul’s statement is appalling is the comparison between speech and segregation. Calling someone a racial slur is morally repugnant and anyone who does so should be shunned in polite society. Yet Paul is write that in a free society the government should not be able to tell someone what the can and cannot say. The government should be able to tell someone not to act in a way that materially harms another person however. Segregation is the denial of goods and services to people based on race. It materially harms the people who are denied those goods or services. It is categorically different than speech, it is action. Rand Paul’s libertarianism is so extreme that he thinks a government that bans harmful actions such as segregation is overstepping its bounds.

Rand Paul might not be a racist and he might not want the entire Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be repealed, but his views on Civil Rights are nonetheless deeply troubling. His rigid libertarian ideology, if put into practice, would ensure that aspects of the Jim Crow system survived into the twenty first century. Perhaps if Dr. Paul learned a bit more about history he would understand this.

—Peter Sicher, Magazine Editor

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