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Rand Paul And The Civil Rights Act: The Difference Between Philosophy And Politics

Rand PaulJames 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.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. However, he needs to learn to be less of a philosopher and more of a politician.

    Are you saying he should pay more attention to perception than reality? This is a very depressing way to start the day.

    Not all idealists are on the Left.

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  2. john personna says:

    Years and years ago, I read a book by Louis Rukeyser, the financial show host. He said something like “I’d be a libertarian, but libertarians are all nuts.”

    It’s not that this is literally true, but that “nut quotient” is high enough to reduce mainstream appeal.

    Not all idealists nuts are on the Left.

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  3. Pete says:

    he needs to learn to be less of a philosopher and more of a politician.

    What a load! It’s attitudes like yours which perpetuate the circus in Washington. Eventually, our “politicians” will cause so much damage, that they will be replaced by principled philosophers, like Paul. All you fence sitters out there should grow some cojones. If Paul loses, so what. EVENTUALLY, the scumbag politicians will be chased out of Washington by principled philosophers; not RINO’s and DINO’s.

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  4. legion says:

    This is a problem that libertarians have had before, especially those like Paul who haven’t run for office before.

    And this, more than his specific statement, is why Paul and so many like him aren’t competent for office – a marked inability to learn from the mistakes of others. Even painfully obvious things like this.

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  5. You’re jumping to conclusions there, legion.

    This is really the first bump in the road that Paul’s campaign has had. How he handles it going forward is what matters.

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  6. Anderson says:

    Jon Chait notes that, if the media is doing its job (always iffy), Paul will have more questions to answer:

    I’m not certain that civil rights is going to really hurt him in this race. Pretty soon he’s going to get questions about government programs and regulations that have more visceral appeal to conservative white Kentucky Democrats than the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Minimum wage? Child labor laws? Social Security? I bet he’s against them all. It will be a fun campaign.

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  7. Vast Variety says:

    that the government should ban bias in all of its institutions but cannot intervene in the policies of private businesses.

    But Rand Paul doesn’t seem to want to include that ban on bias that prevents same sex couples from enjoying the civil laws of marriage. I know that many libertarians want to pull government entirely out of the business of marriage, but that is something that isn’t likely to happen anytime in the next century, so in the mean time same sex couples are just going to suffer.

    And again, I would love to be proven wrong.

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  8. J.W. Hamner says:

    In short, I think Paul will survive this.

    It seems to me that the media freakout for this is significantly bigger than the on-off story about Blumenthal that you declared to be his demise.

    I suspect you are exactly wrong on both counts.

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  9. carpeicthus says:

    To be fair, he’s also a pretty bad philosopher.

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  10. Jon Chait notes that, if the media is doing its job (always iffy), Paul will have more questions to answer…

    Why? Or is there a different standard for Paul running for the Senate than there was for Obama running for president?

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  11. PD Shaw says:

    I would find some of this strategizing more persuasive if it took into consideration this is Kentucky. More conservative than a number of Southern states according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, like Mississippi and South Carolina.

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  12. Robert C. says:

    “Philosophically, I think Paul has a point.”

    Ahh…so John Doe can open up a bar that excludes blacks, Hispanics, gays…..and thats OK. Yet, his bar is on a street that is paid for by tax dollars, the Fire dept. that protects his bar is paid for by tax dollars. The Police that protect him and his patrons is paid for by tax dollars. The rules governing the import of foreign beers he serves is paid for by tax dollars. The courts he’ll use if he has to sue a patron are funded by taxes. His liquor license is enforced by taxes. But, he can still choose to discriminate by race or sex? What a lode of crap.

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  13. TangoMan says:

    Ahh…so John Doe can open up a bar that excludes blacks, Hispanics, gays…..and thats OK. Yet, his bar is on a street that is paid for by tax dollars, the Fire dept. that protects his bar is paid for by tax dollars. The Police that protect him and his patrons is paid for by tax dollars. The rules governing the import of foreign beers he serves is paid for by tax dollars. The courts he’ll use if he has to sue a patron are funded by taxes. His liquor license is enforced by taxes. But, he can still choose to discriminate by race or sex? What a lode of crap.

    Ahh…so John Doe can marry a woman of his choice and in choosing her he excludes blacks, Hispanics, lesbians…..and thats OK. Yet, he’ll live with the woman in a house fronted by a street that is paid for by tax dollars, the Fire dept. that protects his home is paid for by tax dollars. The Police that protect him and his missus is paid for by tax dollars. The rules governing the import of the stuff he buys for his home are paid for by tax dollars. The courts he’ll use if he has to sue someone who damages his home are funded by taxes. But, he can still choose to discriminate by race or sexual orientation? What a lode of crap.

    Don’t we all know that once government (read US, the taxpayers) is involved in funding public infrastructure that as soon as our private lives intersect any of the public infrastructure that we’ve paid for that gives government the right to rule our lives. But never fear liberals have promised us that they will break this pattern of behavior when it comes to ObamaCare.

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  14. Steve Verdon says:

    Don’t we all know that once government (read US, the taxpayers) is involved in funding public infrastructure that as soon as our private lives intersect any of the public infrastructure that we’ve paid for that gives government the right to rule our lives. But never fear liberals have promised us that they will break this pattern of behavior when it comes to ObamaCare.

    This.

    For the commentards who think that public funding of roads means that all businesses can thus be micro-managed by government don’t seem to realize the full implication of that position. Once this position is taken there is nothing the government can’t do with respect to private property and we are seeing already. Kelo, forfeiture laws, etc. The forfeiture one is particularly nasty in that it over turns a long standing legal tradition of innocent until proven guilty.

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  15. TangoMan says:

    For the commentards who think that public funding of roads means that all businesses can thus be micro-managed by government don’t seem to realize the full implication of that position.

    I wonder how the commentards would rejig their formulation to address virtual businesses? Everyone works from home, they network through the internet and the boss chooses to discriminate freely in his hiring?

    Are the commentards prepared to argue that the federal gov’t can now regulate how you associate on-line and exactly what you can do on-line because DARPA created the backbone of the interent?

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