Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul = Done

Thank you for playing.

Damon Root tries to justify Paul's stance on Libertarian grounds:

It’s also important to acknowledge that economic rights are not in some inherent conflict with civil rights. In fact, we have significant historical evidence showing that legally enforced property rights (and other forms of economic liberty) actually undermined the Jim Crow regime. Most famously, the NAACP won its first Supreme Court victory in 1917 by arguing that a residential segregation law was a racist interference with property rights under the 14th Amendment.

Finally, keep in mind that Plessy v. Ferguson, the notorious 1896 Supreme Court decision that enshrined “separate but equal” into law and become a symbol of the Jim Crow era, dealt with a Louisiana law that forbid railroad companies from selling first-class tickets to blacks. That’s not a market failure, it’s a racist government assault on economic liberty.

Bruce Bartlett, corrects this rather silly version of history:

Both Rand's supporters and critics point to Senator Barry Goldwater's principled opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, according to Rick Perlstein's excellent book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act was based entirely on constitutional concerns. He had been told by both William Rehnquist, then a private attorney in Phoenix and later chief justice of the Supreme Court, and Robert Bork, then a professor of constitutional law at Yale, that it was unconstitutional. Bork even sent him a 75-page brief to that effect.

To be sure, the Rehnquist-Bork position was not a lame rationalization for racism. It was rooted in the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 essentially replicated the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which was enacted by a Republican Congress over strenuous Democratic opposition. However, in 1883 the Supreme Court, then it its most libertarian phase, knocked down the 1875 act as well as many other Republican measures passed during Reconstruction designed to aid African Americans. The Court's philosophy in these cases led logically to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which essentially gave constitutional protection to legal segregation enforced by state and local governments throughout the U.S.

As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There is no reason to believe that this system wouldn't have perpetuated itself absent outside pressure for change.

Defending Paul's attempted dodge is abhorrent. The fact that he's only arrived at this realization in the last 24 hours and after drawing nationwide scorn is obscene. Paul apologists may try to justify his stance by claiming his position is based on principle, but what's the point of standing on principle when the principle sucks?

I actually think Newsweek did a good job of succinctly explaining why Paul's statement on the Civil Rights Act is important:

But the most notable phrase in Paul's statement, the one that Politico picked up for its news alert is this: "I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

This is an odd thing to say. No one in Congress is talking about repealing the Civil Rights Act. Saying you are not for that is, though reassuring, meaningless on a practical level. It's like saying you are not for eliminating the federal departments of education, commerce, and energy, and the income tax. Actually, Rand Paul wants to do all of those things, so maybe it's a good thing we know where he stands on Civil Rights Act repeal.

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