Libertarian Rand Paul, Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, shocked many conservatives when he refused to give full-throated support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act criminalized public sector racial discrimination, and struck down laws that required discrimination and segregation. But it went much further. It outlawed racial discrimination by private actors such as restaurant and hotel owners who refused to serve blacks.
National Review's Rich Lowry, for example, wrote: "[T]he Civil Rights Act was the last spasm of the Civil War. The South had frustrated the imposition of black civil rights during Reconstruction in a low-grade insurgency that successfully rumbled on into the 1960s. Black civil rights weren't going to be vindicated any time soon, absent the application of federal power again ... I'm sympathetic to libertarianism, but it sometimes has a weakness for theoretical exercises removed from reality."
This sounds like a white, guilt-ridden rationalization to justify an abandonment of principle. And it has real world, not merely "theoretical," consequences. For one thing, it encourages grievance-driven race-based identity politics -- and invites special-interest legislation to protect all manner of niche groups perceived as having been "held down by The Man." It is in these waters that professional victim seekers and exploiters like the Rev. Al Sharpton, race and gender "advocacy groups," and the Democratic Party do their fishing.
Rand's critics also unintentionally expose the condescending way "compassionate conservatives" deem that blacks -- still standing after slavery and Jim Crow -- are in need of protection by rare "noble" whites from the bigot-infested world through which blacks are obviously incapable of navigating. Why else throw overboard the just and basic principle that private actors, short of engaging in force or fraud, should behave as they wish?
What about the pro-life pharmacist who considers it immoral to stock and sell the morning-after pill? What about the landlady who thinks homosexuality is immoral and refuses to rent to a gay couple? What if she refuses to rent to an illegal alien? What about the "morally straight" Boy Scouts organization that discriminates against an openly gay scoutmaster? What about the healthy 25-year-old who refuses to purchase health insurance?
Republicans go all deer-in-the-headlights when someone questions their colorblind bona fides. But when Nazi sympathizers want publicly to march, many conservatives correctly defend the "right." Constitutional rights extend to both saints and sinners and those in between, no matter the outrage -- in this instance of Jewish Holocaust survivors over the prospect of swastika-wearing fascists parading through their neighborhood.
It is this freedom to discriminate that enabled Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson to become a billionaire through the use of race-based programming. It is this freedom that allows the Miss Black America beauty pageant to exclude non-black applicants. It is this freedom that allows private colleges and universities to discriminate against white applicants with higher SAT scores to achieve "diversity" by helping the "underrepresented." The Congressional Black Caucus discriminates when it refuses membership to whites, as it did recently to a white Tennessee representative even though he represents a majority black district.
If National Review's Lowry owned a restaurant, would he discriminate against blacks? Does he intimately know anyone who would do so? How would he treat friends who patronized restaurants that refused blacks? Of course he wouldn't exclude. Nor would his friends or associates. Obviously none of those "noble" souls in his immediate circle would consort with racists. So why assume that some unacceptable percentage of the "unwashed masses" will act as merchant-racists -- either without harmful consequences or the willingness to accept those consequences? Why do we further assume that, whatever the number of bigots, they will be capable of meaningfully affecting the day-to-day lives of blacks? If anything, these racists would have publicly outed themselves as part of the bad and the ugly.
The consequences of government coercion are more harmful than the certainty that some will use their freedom in ways that offend. Bad behavior tends to get punished in the social and business "marketplace." The Boston Red Sox, one of the last teams to hire black ballplayers, discovered fans valued winning much more than team racial homogeneity.
The well-intended, but misguided, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- as applied to private conduct -- sought to change not only whites' behavior but also their "feelings." Some blacks perceive racial hostility toward them from their local Korean grocer. But if treated with a smile and offered quality goods at fair prices, most blacks patronize the store. People expect and respond to a certain measure of respect as a customer, regardless of how the proprietors may personally "feel" about them.
Instead of defending Paul on this issue against race-card-playing leftists like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, conservatives/Republicans/pundits panicked. How are we to get the country back on the course set by its Founders if we cannot stand with the Rand Pauls of the nation on the bedrock principle of maximum personal liberty?