Rand Paul, A Man of Principle

There’s been quite a firestorm over freshly-minted Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul’s comments about the Civil Rights Act. Fresh from his victory in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary in Kentucky, Paul said he supported most of the CRA but would have opposed the provisions prohibiting discrimination by private businesses.

On the merits of the issue, I agree with Julian: there’s an intellectually defensible and non-racist argument against non-discrimination rules. However, I think that argument is persuasive only if considered in a cultural and historical vacuum. In the world as it actually existed in the 1960s, centuries of state-sponsored discrimination had created a system of institutionalized racism that could have lingered for decades even after the formal legal rules requiring segregation had been abolished. The Civil Rights Act’s non-discrimination provisions were a modest effort to make restitution

Of course, the contemporary debate isn’t really about the Civil Rights Act, which is in no danger of being repealed. The debate is about the character of Paul and the Tea Party movement that thrust him into national prominence. Critics point to Paul’s comments as evidence that he’s a racist—or at least that he’s pandering to the prejudices of bigots within his party. Paul insists that his comments are a matter of principle—that he’s simply an uncompromising defender of individual liberty and private property rights.

The problem with this is that Paul is far from uncompromising. For example, on his immigration page he stakes out the standard Lou Dobbs position: more money for enforcement, no “amnesty” for immigrants who are already here without government permission. On his national defense page, he proposes a moratorium on issuing visas to residents of “rogue nations” and defends holding suspects indefinitely without trial at GITMO.

It’s also telling which issues aren’t mentioned on his website. There’s no mention of equality for gays and lesbians on his websites and he’s reportedly opposed to gay marriage, which is probably the great civil rights issue of our time. There’s no mention of reforming our nation’s draconian drug laws, which disproportionately harm African Americans. There’s no mention of restoring free trade and freedom of travel to Cuba, a cause his father has championed. There’s no statement opposing torture.

In short, Paul’s defense of libertarian principle is curiously one-sided. Paul is an uncompromising defender of the rights of business owners to decide who will sit at their lunch counters. But Paul apparently sees no problem with deploying the power of the state to stop private business owners from hiring undocumented workers. Nor does he seem to care very much about business owners’ freedom to do business with the millions of non-terrorists who live in “rogue nations.” Or, for that matter, the freedom of a gay business owner to marry the person he loves. There’s a principle at work here, all right, but I don’t think it has very much to do with limited government.

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14 Responses to Rand Paul, A Man of Principle

  1. john says:

    Great piece. Although I disagree with them, I admire *truly* libertarian positions. But Rand Paul made me feel queasy, and I think you spelled out why.

  2. Jamelle says:

    This reminds me of what Brink Lindsey had to say about the elder Paul:

    “Ron Paul, by contrast, is no liberal. Just look at his xenophobia, his sovereignty-obsessed nationalism, his fondness for conspiracy theories, his religious fundamentalism — here is someone with a crudely authoritarian worldview. The snarling bigotry of his newsletters is just the underside of this rotten log.

    In the twentieth century, alas, American liberalism was heavily influenced by the socialist dream of supplanting markets with central planning and top-down control. That confusion begat confusion in response — namely, an antistatist movement heavily influenced by authoritarian resentment of liberal cultural values. Paul’s illiberal libertarianism is a particularly unattractive variant of this kind of “fusionism.””

    Rand Paul’s “libertarianism” seems far more like the above; a crude fusion of conservative resentment and illiberal anti-statism. Which is to say, not really libertarian at all.

  3. Jamie says:

    What I find most curious is that Rand has seemed to inherit a peculiar disease from his father – despite not being racist (everyone says so), racists seem to undermine them both at every turn – becoming campaign managers, writing for newsletters, sitting on Rand’s shoulder and telling him what to say. I forget who said it first, but it is just like that reporting from the Onion in which an everyman asks, “Why Do All These Homosexuals Keep Sucking My ****?”

  4. Luis says:

    He’s not even that anti-statist, Jamelle- he’s avowedly against cuts in medicare, which happens to provide part of his income as a doctor.

  5. metapundit says:

    Whatever… I’m not a big Paul fan (Ron or Rand) and I agree that they sort of exemplify Libertarianism plus isolationism. But I think you’re trying to draw a tent around the liberaltarian wing of libertarian politics – and that excludes lots of folks who self identify as libertarian.

    I mean – come on – you’re not really libertarian if you’re not pro-gay marriage? If you’re not opposed to enforcement of immigration laws? I guess that counts me out – maybe somebody should update the party platform…

  6. Tim Lee says:

    Metapundit, I’d be interested to see the argument that restaurant owners are entitled to refuse to serve black customers, but that they aren’t entitled to hire Mexican-born workers without the government’s permission. I’m sure there is such an argument, but I doubt there’s anything libertarian about it.

    Likewise, there’s a libertarian argument for getting the state out of the marriage business altogether. But given that the state is in the business of recognizing marriages and doling out a variety of benefits on the basis of marital status, I have trouble seeing a libertarian argument for limiting those benefits to opposite-sex couples.

  7. Matthew S. says:

    Hey Tim, good to see you surface. 🙂

    Check your syntax: “….centuries of state-sponsored discrimination had created a system of institutionalized racism that could have lingered for decades…”

    I’m pretty sympathetic to arguments that institutionalized racism HAS lingered for decades.

  8. Francis says:

    It’s politics. Imagine giving a shout out to gay marriage in Kentucky while running for senate? That would kill your campaign. Conway’s opponent had over 200,000 votes and he was very homophobic. He’s running in Kentucky, not this libertarian utopia that doesn’t exist. (will never exist)

  9. metapundit says:

    >Metapundit, I’d be interested to see the argument that restaurant owners are entitled to refuse to serve black customers, but that they aren’t entitled to hire Mexican-born workers

    I can hardly disagree when you put it in such a disingenuous manner. However I don’t see how it contravenes libertarian principles to say that the Federal Government can regulate immigration and is entitled to say by what process non-citizens can enter the country. Not all libertarians are, or or must be, of the open-borders-sovereignty-is-an-imaginary-construct variety.

    >given that the state is in the business of recognizing marriages and doling out a variety of benefits on the basis of marital status, I have trouble seeing a libertarian argument for limiting those benefits to opposite-sex couples.

    I’m more sympathetic here and agree that the primary libertarian response is to move government out of the marriage recognition business. As a libertarian*, however, I generally think that the less intrusive Government is into private institutions, the better. Marriage is a longstanding private institution that is embedded in culture and has had definable meanings and connotations wrapped up in other private institutions like religions and family structure.

    Given that gay marriage is a recent fad (the Netherlands in 2001 were the first to offer actual same-sex marriage and Denmark back in 1989 was the first to offer a legal semi-equivalent) I’m not particularly impressed with the urgent demand to have the state mandate legal changes to the institution of marriage.

    *I think it’s apropos to read the wikipedia pages for Libertarianism and for “Classical Liberalism”. Just to give you a flavor:

    >Libertarianism is a political theory that advocates the maximization of individual liberty in thought and action and the minimization or even abolition of the state.


    >Classical liberalism is a political ideology that developed in the 19th century in England, Western Europe, and the Americas. It is committed to the ideal of limited government and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets.

    Currently in the political culture of the US self identified libertarians may be coming from either of these definitions. And ibviously there would be a lot of overlap between these two camps – but I think this discussion illuminates the differences as well. I would identify the Pauls as more classically liberal – more “throwback” libertarians who basically think the founding fathers and original interpretations of the constitutions got it about right. If you embrace libertarianism from this angle I do think you have to wrestle with the implications of the widespread racism/sexism, etc of the society which produced the founders and founding documents.

    However! I think the libertarian movement should not be dismissive of either of these wings – I don’t want to kick the liberaltarian wing out; I want to make common cause where we agree. And conversely I read your comments/column as asserting that “classical liberals” aren’t real libertarians (or at least not real bright or consistent ones).

  10. JR says:

    You assert that segregation would have persisted for decades with Title II. I cite historical fact that Jim Crow laws forced segregation on business owners who did not want to segregate. Many were only too happy to desegregate, and those who did not could eventually desegregate by choice. Goldwater was against racism but believed that people must make up their own minds about these issues, that was why he opposed the CRA.

  11. Brian Moore says:

    “The problem with this is that Paul is far from uncompromising.”

    I think this hits the nail on the head — “crazy libertarian” is at least an honest position. But I think Scott Sumner said it best:

    “But if you are going to take that sort of extreme position on an issue very dear to African-Americans, and then toss away your principles on an issue dear to white conservatives who favor locking up lots of African-Americans for drug violations, then people may begin to question your motives.”

    When both your principled and un-principled stances seem to go one way, people start to wonder. I don’t think Paul is racist in any meaningful way, no more than I think that the average defender of the drug war is racist in any meaningful way.

    I think our politicians do themselves (and us) a disservice when they try to have an opinion on everything, especially closed 35 year old policy issues. When asked about something like it, they should just say “I favor leaving it the way people voted on it, like every other member of the senate/house — I feel like the people who elected me wanted me to do X,Y and Z, and so I’ll focus on those.”

  12. Rhayader says:

    Good to see you back at it Tim, good piece.

    The most relevant criticism of Rand Paul has nothing to do with the Civil Rights Act. Like Tim said, he’s as rigid as a wet noodle on all sorts of other positions that libertarians consider clear-cut. Any person who supports the War on Drugs has absolutely no grounds on which to object to government overreach.

  13. Wilson says:

    I think that we cannot forget the realism of politics here. Just how far to the right do you have to tack from the positions you ‘really’ hold to win a primary in Kentucky? So yes, Rand, like his father, holds a crushingly illberal position on immigration. He’s emphasized that. Unlike his father, he’s also more generous with executive power when it comes to detention. Also, like his father, he wants the government ‘out of marriage’, whatever the hell that means. On every other issue, he’s simply been silent. His website is almost hilariously empty of meaningful positions. Until now, when he said something (strategically) stupid about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    I’m going to choose not to read too much into that statement. It shows a lack of political poise and sensativity, without a doubt. But I think everyone is going too far.

    We should be careful not to paint him with the brush of his supporters. The tea party is full of crazy people, just like any extreme political organization. (Both) RPs, like most politicians, have a bunch of positions which are not very libertarian. We ought to suck it up and expand our tent a little bit.

    I will say that given more evidence about the actual positions he holds on the drug war and foreign wars I’ll change my mind; I don’t see it on his website or his youtube channel (I do see videos of him talking about Hayek and the danger of the military industrial complex, however). I’ll also change my mind if I get some more convincing evidence that he’s a huge racist, or a John Birch Society member, or something. But right now I’m going down the list of US Senators and I’m thinking that he’d probably be better for liberty than most of them.

  14. JT says:

    Jamelle quotes Brink Lindsay as saying: “Ron Paul, by contrast, is no liberal. Just look at his xenophobia, his sovereignty-obsessed nationalism, his fondness for conspiracy theories, his religious fundamentalism — here is someone with a crudely authoritarian worldview.”

    Wow. A crudely authoritarian worldview?

    First, it’s a blatant smear to say that anyone who wants to secure the American border is “xenophobic.” I don’t agree with the idea, but many good libertarians do.

    Second, if by “sovereignty-obsessed nationalism” Lindsay means ceding any decision-making power to foreign politicians and bureaucrats, then I fail to understand how that’s not libertarian.

    Third, regarding Paul’s “fondness for conspiracy theories,” what is Lindsay even talking about? Paul isn’t a 9/11 truther or birthist. Does he mean Paul’s view of the Fed as the creation of big bankers and secretive institution? That’s not a conspiracy theory; it’s well-documented.

    Fourth, what’s the evidence of Paul’s “religious fundamentalism”? His opposition to gay marriage and legal abortion? I know people who are largely non-religious (even a couple of atheists) who oppose gay marriage and legal abortion.

    It would be nice if Lindsay provided examples of his crude assertions so readers could better understand his specific references . Let me provide some: Paul is the only member of Congress who honors the U.S. Constitution and it’s limitations, the only member of Congress who introduces legislation to dramatically reduce the U.S. government, the only member of Congress to consistently speak out publicly on behalf of peace and economic liberty (as well as for ending the drug war and spying on U.S. citizens).

    Is Ron Paul a perfect libertarian? No. Are you way out of touch if you denounce him as a “crude authoritarian,” especially in the context of today’s society? Absolutely. It’s an unjust and frankly embarrassing accusation for Lindsay to make.

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