Two weeks ago Dr. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist and the Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Kentucky, appeared on the Rachel Maddow show to clarify statements he had made, which seemed to suggest that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For 20 minutes Paul and Maddow engaged in a less-than-graceful pas de deux on the theme of discrimination and private property rights.
Maddow asked Paul whether he believed private business people had the right to discriminate against black people, or any other minority group. Paul responded that once you allow the government to dictate how citizens can use their private property, it ceases to be private. Maddow pressed the issue, asking if the government had the right to force Woolworth’s to serve black customers at its lunch counter. Rather than say, “Yes,” Paul responded with an argument about the second amendment.
In less than an hour, candidate Paul was able to do what the Obama administration, the New York Times, and even the lying members of the Congressional Black Caucus could not do. Within minutes of the end of the interview, the blogosphere was atwitter with claims that the true goal of the Tea Party was to roll back big government in order to undo the gains of the civil rights era and return this nation to the days of “separate but equal.” And now they have the video to prove it!
Of course, believing that free people ought to have the right to do what they please with their private property does not make one a racist, neither is it an “extreme” view. I would argue that the belief that there is some inherent value in one’s race that makes one a better jurist, teacher, or more deserving of admission to college is racist.
It is interesting that those so distraught over Rand Paul’s philosophical ramblings have failed to point out the hypocrisy on the part of Progressives.
The new left is appalled--appalled!--that Paul might suggest that in a free market society that supports private property rights, a business owner has the right to decide with whom he will or will not do business. However, leftists are remarkably silent—even supportive of—community activists urging their black neighbors to “buy black;” Jewish and Islamic merchants who only buy from Jewish and Islamic venders; universities with segregated dormitories and graduation ceremonies; racial preferences in college admissions, or racially gerrymandered electoral districts.
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?