The truth is that Paul’s argument has more merit than the mushy multi-culturalism preached on the left. In a free market, private business owners should have the right to do business with whomever they want. Freedom requires that we tolerate boorish, unpleasant, or even racist attitudes and speech. But a free market also means that consumers have the freedom to discriminate. Business owners will pay an economic price if they incorporate boorish, unpleasant, and racist attitudes into their business models. Most business owners want to be winners in the market place, so their decisions will more than likely lead them away from discriminatory policies and towards serving as many paying customers as possible.
But what if there is no free market?
What Rand Paul fails to process into his argument is that at the time the Civil Rights Act was drafted, laws not only prevented black citizens from patronizing certain businesses, those same laws also prevented white business owners from doing business with customers of their choosing. Moreover, black businessmen were not allowed access to the kind of financial capital needed to build the separate but equivalent establishments on the order of Woolworth’s and other large companies.
Paul makes the same argument that conservatives made in 1964 and thus, makes the same theoretical mistake.
In 1964 conservatives sought to protect the Constitution even as it was being torn to shreds. Conservatives cautioned against a dangerous expanse of governmental power even as those with abhorrent and anti-constitutional views used the power of government to usurp the freedoms of a portion of the citizenry. Conservatives reasoned that lasting transformation could only be had through changing hearts; pubic pressure could be brought to bear and in time white folks would remit and blacks would finally enjoy equality and freedom. Ultimately, Rand Paul’s argument fails exactly where conservatism failed. It is not up to some men to dictate to other men when they shall enjoy their God-given rights. To believe that boycotts and other forms of public pressure were by themselves going to break down the racial barriers in American society is to ignore the deafening clash of the cleanliness of theory meeting head-on with the filth of reality. Theory says that government must be limited to certain specific duties and must be vigorous in fulfilling those duties. The reality is that even a limited government must be powerful enough to perform its charge. Moreover, those within the government must have the political will to act quickly and decisively when the freedoms of any citizen are threatened.
Modern-day conservatives have recognized this error. Has Rand Paul?