Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act

Last night I caught an interesting interview with Rand Paul and his views of the Civil Rights Act on the Rachel Maddow show. While Paul said that he agrees with most parts of the act, he does have an issue with the idea that the federal government can control private business.

Title II of the Civil Rights Act says, "All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin." It is essentially the "public accommodation" part that Paul takes issue with. While Paul states time and time again that he thinks all forms of racism and discrimination are wrong, Paul believes ultimately that the government should not be able to tell private business owners how to run their businesses.


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One issue I have with Paul's stance is his lack of alternative solutions to how desegregation could have been enforced. The idea that the market would somehow punish business owners on its own (though the lack of income from whichever group the business is refusing to serve) is strenuous at best. This line of thinking also ignores the fact that the government can place restrictions on businesses. Permits, building codes, and health codes are all examples of this.

I also think Paul's attempt to equate civil rights with the ability to carry a gun into a business as shortsighted. For one, guns don't actually have any rights (unlike people). Two, guns fall into the realm of public safety. No matter what some people may believe, blacks and gays are not as inherently dangerous as a gun and bringing a gun into any establishment is a choice.

I do want to clarify that Paul's argument for individual property rights does not make him a racist. Misguided? Callous? Naive? Yeah. But to make him out as some kind of racist, at least from this conversation, is disingenuous I think. If anything, it just shows an extreme lack of understanding and empathy when it comes to what blacks and other minorities went through, and still often go through. This was a very real reality for a lot of people in this country for a very long time and to theorize about it now seems insensitive to say the least.

As Maddow says:
Maddow:... Howabout desegregating lunch counters?

Paul: Well what it gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says 'well no, we don't want to have guns in here' the bar says 'we don't want to have guns in here because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each-other.' Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion...

Maddow: Well, it was pretty practical to the people who had the life nearly beaten out of them trying to desegregate Walgreen's lunch counters despite these esoteric debates about what it means about ownership. This is not a hypothetical Dr. Paul.
And ultimately that is the problem I have with Paul's argument. I'm all for having a discussion about private ownership and what role the government should have in it, but we can't forget that real people suffered real hardships in order for the Civil Rights Act to pass. To try and have some abstract conversation about it is grossly crass.

From TPM:
To a degree the argument Paul is making is something like saying that I don't like rape or murder, I just don't believe in a police force to prevent it or a judiciary to punish the offenders.
Also, I want to point out that Paul is completely anti-choice (Paul wouldn't even permit exceptions in the case of rape or incest) because "the mother and the unborn zygote have equal rights." So while Paul think the government should not have the power to force private businesses not to discriminate, Paul also believes the government has the power to make medical decisions for women. How utterly unsurprising.


What's on your mind?