Rand Paul’s Newbie Mistake On The Civil Rights Act

Rand Paul has gotten in a little trouble because he made a rookie mistake for a politician: he tried to have a nuanced philosophical debate on an issue that’s easy to demagogue: the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The position he was ambiguously defending was that people should have a right to do as they wish on their own property without government interference. So in other words, if someone wanted to discriminate, they should be able to do it and then the public could decide how they felt about it and react accordingly. In Rand Paul’s case, he made it crystal clear all along that he personally opposed discrimination and wouldn’t patronize establishments that did it. That’s a very respectable Libertarian position. In fact, it’s the same position Barry Goldwater took when he ran for President in 1964.

Unfortunately for Rand Paul, it’s also an issue that has been settled for nearly 40 years and there’s nothing to be gained by redebating it. Most conservatives, including myself, do believe it should be illegal to discriminate — and that includes my belief that Affirmative Action and racial set asides for minorities are illegal, as immoral as Jim Crow laws, and have no place in the 21st century.

Getting back to the Civil Rights Act, I’d also add that while I understand the Libertarian position on it, I think it’s impractical. In a perfect world, if a business chose to discriminate, say by not hiring black workers, black Americans and people who disagreed with that sort of racism, which would be the overwhelming majority of the American people today, would refuse to patronize the business. Would that have worked forty years ago when the culture was very different? Well, it pretty clearly wasn’t working given all the open discrimination that was occurring. Would that have changed over time? It’s easy to say, “Yes, in a decade or two.” That could be correct, too. Of course, it could also still be the case that open and unapologetic discrimination was still occurring on a widespread scale as well. After all, the reason our culture has changed so dramatically since then is because the law FORCED it to change.

In any case, this is most expressly not the sort of topic a politician running for the Senate needs to be involved in. It’s already settled, it’s so intellectual it goes over the heads of most of the public, the Democrats have no interest in discussing it beyond screaming “racist,” which they do by reflex in any situation involving race…there’s just very little to be gained by it.

That being said, I do like the fact that Rand Paul is so committed to liberty and keeping the government out of our business that he would even open this can of worms. It doesn’t improve his chances of getting elected and helps his opponent paint him as an extremist, but it shows a refreshing opposition to big government that is far too uncommon in Congress.

PS #1: Proving my point, Rand Paul clearly and unambiguously clarified his position on the Civil Rights Act,

“Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.”

PS #2: Here’s some free advice for Rand Paul. You are a politician now in what will be a competitive Senate race. When you step in it, you don’t let yourself get drawn into a long debate about this subject. When you’re asked about it, just say something like, “I have always supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Next question.”

PS #3: Incidentally, Rand Paul is way ahead in the Kentucky race right now, although you can expect those numbers to tighten significantly over time:

Rand Paul, riding the momentum of his big Republican Primary win on Tuesday, now posts a 25-point lead over Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race, but there’s a lot of campaigning to go.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Kentucky, taken Wednesday night, shows Paul earning 59% of the vote, while Conway picks up 34% support. Four percent (4%) percent prefer some other candidate, and three percent (3%) are undecided.

Paul consistently led Conway prior to winning the Republican primary, but had never earned more than 50% support. Conway has been stuck in the 30s since the first of the year. Last month, Paul posted a 47% to 38% lead over the Democrat.

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