Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul, Civil Rights and the Limits of Libertarianism

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US Senate Candidate Rand Paul is getting into a lot of trouble with his comments on civil rights during an interview yesterday on NPR. Above, is an interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on the Civil Rights, where Paul tries to explain himself. The gist of it is that he thinks governments should not discriminate, but he doesn't want laws that tell private businesses that they can't discriminate.

Now, I need to say straight up, that I don't think that this is proof positive that Paul is a racist. I also don't think that the late Barry Goldwater is a racist. That said, I also think they are both very wrong.

Libertarians tend to be very wary of having the government get involved in telling private businesses what they can and can't do. I can understand that. But I also think that there are times when it might make sense for the government to tell a private entity that they can't do something that impinges on the liberty of another person. For example, people have to eat, or get a job or live in home. If someone says to a person of another race that they can't eat at this restaurant, or have this job or live in this neighborhood, then that person is being denied their freedom to live as they see fit. The whole problem with racism is that it limited the liberty of a whole people simply because of the color of their skin. The problem with Mr. Paul's answer is that at some level, it isn't very libertarian. Libertarianism is about, well, liberty, and if someone is totally free to live here and there and have this job or that one while someone else is not, that isn't liberty to me.

Mr. Paul may have done himself harm. He will be percieved, wrongly in my view, to be a racist. I don't think he is, but he is rather clueless when it comes to the issue of race. Sometimes, the government does have to step in ensure liberty and justice for all.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse has some really good comments on this issue.

1 comment:

Joshua W said...

I also agree that Dr. Rand shouldn't be branded a racist for these statements—but I don't think he thought them out too well.

What I kept wanting Rachel to ask him last night in their discussion was, If you believe discrimination are wrong, and support the government's role in eliminating "institutional racism," why would those same abhorrent things be suddenly allowed simply because it took place in a private-ownership setting, such as at a restaurant?

The other thing that struck me in the NPR/All Things Considered interview, as well as with the Courier-Journal editorial board and Rachel, was that when they asked him a clarifying question (such as: "Was the Courier-Journal right? Do you believe that private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people, or gays, or other minority groups?"), he would never answer directly. Instead, he would go off on a tangent about trying to give context (which never materialized), or would instead say that he supported nine out of the ten tenants of the Civil Rights Act.

So if he's upset that people are misunderstanding him, or have been led down a "gotcha" path by the liberal media, then he wouldn't appear to possess the sensibility necessary to even be a politician in the first place.