Earlier this week, Rand Paul, noted libertarian son of noted libertarian Ron Paul, was doing great. He had harnessed the support of the Tea Party and the mainstream GOP, overcome gloomy initial polling numbers, and seized Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary vote by a wide margin. Paul then ran a victory lap on NPR… where he came out against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, because they give too much control to the federal government, instead of letting states and corporations end discrimination when it’s profitable for them to do so. Liberty!
He then went on Rachel Maddow’s show, where he was given twenty minutes of rope to do with as he pleased. You can watch his knot-tying skills above — the meaty stuff’s at 14:00, and Dave Weigel’s got a transcript. Liberty!
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Paul’s particular style of protecting liberties excludes those whose liberties actually need protecting. He’s fine with unchecked government control of women’s bodies, gay couples’ relationships, and immigrants’ lives. Credit where credit’s due, he’s against the PATRIOT Act — but he’s fine with Gitmo, torture, and other lapses in due process. In other words? He’s espousing Republican ideals.
And his stance on the Civil Rights Act, that Title II anti-discrimination regulation of private businesses is unwarranted and that the free market will correct itself against racism, makes sense on paper. It assumes that people will do the right thing and not be racist, either as business owners or consumers. And when Paul says that he would have marched alongside Dr. King — sure. I don’t think the black-communist-in-the-White-House rhetoric of many of his followers is necessarily any reflection on his own beliefs.
The problems? Lunch counters didn’t desegregate on their own, and many of his followers really are racists who like what they see in him. By advocating the logical conclusion of conservatism, Rand Paul is registering wrongness at Arizonan levels.
Besides, institutional racism and systemic racism, the very things that Rand Paul rails against but refuses to use the government to fight, doesn’t need racists to keep going. The disparity’s baked into the system itself. If Paul knew his issues, he might realize this; as it is, he’ll only perpetuate the problems he says he’d march against.
For example, here’s his big idea on solving the unemployment crisis, which, sadly, was probably not initially drafted as part of a high school civics class assignment:
But also maybe welfare should have a local person, a man or woman who sits down across the counter from them and says “What are you doing to find work?” and gives them some tough love and says “Go to work!” It can work, you know. We’ve tried the other way, just coddling people and giving people everything. Why don’t we try just getting them to work?
As anyone who actually knows this issue can tell you, the post-Reagan-Clinton safety net is simultaneously draconian and ineffective, and perpetuates the raced economic gap it claims to fight. And Kentucky TANF is seventh lowest in the country. As the American Prospect’s Paul Waldman puts it, “Just think of that Kentucky TANF recipient, living large on her $3,144 a year, saying ‘I don’t need to work — as long as I’ve got welfare!’ Someone really needs to tell her to get a job.”
In the same interview, he invokes the Trail of Tears while proposing a year-long Kentucky tax holiday, deepening the impression that he just hasn’t given the issue much thought but is happy to discuss his ideas on it anyway. Someone should ask him about redlining.
Ultimately, calling Rand a racist takes the blame off of where it belongs — conservative ideology’s refusal to grow up and come to terms with the 20th century. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s just incurious, rather than actively malicious, when it comes to the issues facing his constituency and the history of his own states’-rights movement. I’m not sure if that’s any better. We’ll find out on Election Day which liberties Kentucky voters prioritize — their liberty to live free, or Wal-Mart’s and Wells Fargo’s liberty to deprive Kentuckians of their liberties.