Rand Paul And The Civil Rights Act: The Difference Between Philosophy And Politics
James and Steven have both written at length about the Rand Paul/Civil Rights Act story, and I believe the Washington Post’s David Weigel makes an excellent point about this whole controversy this morning that is worth expanding upon:
So is Rand Paul a racist? No, and it’s irritating to watch his out-of-context quotes — this and a comment about how golf was no longer for elitists because Tiger Woods plays golf — splashed on the Web to make that point. Paul believes, as many conservatives believe, that the government should ban bias in all of its institutions but cannot intervene in the policies of private businesses. Those businesses, as Paul argues, take a risk by maintaining, in this example, racist policies. Patrons can decide whether or not to give them their money, or whether or not to make a fuss about their policies. That, not government regulation and intervention, is how bias should be eliminated in private industry. And in this belief Paul is joined by some conservatives who resent that liberals seek government intervention for every unequal outcome.
Now, few conservatives would go as far as Paul. In an essay just this month on the thought of William F. Buckley, Lee Edwards criticized Buckley’s belief “that the federal enforcement of integration was worse than the temporary continuation of segregation.”
“As a result of National Review’s above-the-fray philosophizing,” wrote Edwards, “and Barry Goldwater’s vote, on constitutional grounds, against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the albatross of racism was hung around the neck of American conservatism and remained there for decades and even to the present.”
That, in miniature, is what is happening to Paul.
This is a problem that libertarians have had before, especially those like Paul who haven’t run for office before. The usual issues where they get tied up are things like legalizing drugs and prostitution, but the strong libertarian defense of property rights, which is essentially what Paul is arguing here, is another one. Philosophically, I think Paul has a point. Politically and historically, however, he approached this from precisely the wrong angle.
The left will say that this is the end of the Paul campaign, and even some on the right who supported Trey Grayson in the primary have been issuing “I told you so” commentary this morning, but reality is probably different. Paul does need to address this issue in a way that gets it behind him, sooner rather than later preferably, but it’s not going to become the defining issue of the campaign. This is still a Republican year, and Paul is running in a conservative state that has a history of electing Republican Senators. The race will be competitive, but Paul still has a very good shot at winning.
The golf story that Weigel writes about, by the way, refers to the fact that some on the left decided to criticize Paul for holding his Tuesday night victory party at a members-only golf club in Bowling Green, rather than at a hotel. Paul responded to questions about the choice by saying that the venue was less expensive for the campaign because he was a member of a club, and rejected suggestions that it reinforced Republican stereotypes by noting, correctly, that golf had become much more than a rich man’s game in recent years thanks largely to the popularity of Tiger Woods. It’s a silly non-controversy, of course, (as Wonkette noted, there’s little difference between Country Club and swanky hotel ballroom) but somehow it got combined with the Civil Rights Act story and became part of the narrative that started developing last night.
In short, I think Paul will survive this. However, he needs to learn to be less of a philosopher and more of a politician.
Update: The first post-primary poll of the Kentucky Senate race is out and, so far at least, Rand Paul is doing very well:
Rand Paul, riding the momentum of his big Republican Primary win on Tuesday, now posts a 25-point lead over Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race, but there’s a lot of campaigning to go.
A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Kentucky, taken Wednesday night, shows Paul earning 59% of the vote, while Conway picks up 34% support. Four percent (4%) percent prefer some other candidate, and three percent (3%) are undecided.
Paul consistently led Conway prior to winning the Republican primary, but had never earned more than 50% support. Conway has been stuck in the 30s since the first of the year. Last month, Paul posted a 47% to 38% lead over the Democrat.
Obviously, even though the poll was taken Wednesday night, it probably does not fully reflect any impact from the Civil Rights Act coverage. Nonetheless, Paul is apparently starting from a very strong position.