Yesterday I posted on the fallout from Rand Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The post didn't generate much discussion here, but it did lead to an interesting discussion on Twitter with two of my mutual followers. So I figured I'd revisit a few of the issues in the post and add some thoughts.
First, after I wrote that post and defended it to Marc and Alison, I came across this Think Progress post that describes how Paul even defends earmarks that benefit him directly. I had doubts about Paul's libertarian credentials from the beginning, but I was giving him the benefit of the doubt in saying that maybe he's principled enough to be taking this stand on libertarian first principles alone. But in light of this I don't know how we can possibly allow him to claim that he's a principled small-government activist. Principled libertarians would oppose government overreaches that benefit them in the name of limiting government - the younger Paul clearly does not, and so can't cry "libertarian" when opposing laws banning discrimination in private business. What does that mean? It means that Paul is using small-government principles when convenient as a means of preserving his place in the current social order. He's playing libertarians for fools, and he played me and everyone who thought he was principled for fools.
(Libertarians: if you want a candidate to support, look west - his stance on immigration notwithstanding, Tom Campbell's got far more libertarian cred than Paul could ever hope to have.)
I'm not willing to whip out the R-word on Paul, though, and that leads me to my second point. Part of the discussion with Marc and Alison focused on whether it was better to call someone racist or ignorant. I had called Paul the latter; they insisted on the former. My point, though, was this: you can fix ignorance really easily. Show someone (say, Paul) that their supposedly principled stand actually reinforces racism and erodes liberty, and they might come around. Racism? Not so much. Deeply ingrained prejudice takes a long time to go away, if it ever does. Furthermore, racism is a hell of a charge in today's political environment. "Racist" is just about the worst thing you can call someone in polite company. Calling someone ignorant when they're actually racist is a danger, I'll admit. But if you're coming upon someone who's merely ignorant and you call them a racist, you've burned that bridge for good. Those who support policies with racist effects for reasons other than racism are potential allies. Call them racist, and you've alienated them for good. What you lose by calling a non-racist a racist is far more important than what you lose by calling a racist something else. So I think it's a good idea to wait until you're damn sure before you drop the R-bomb.
And finally, I've seen a few honestly principled libertarians defend the desire to eliminate the public accommodation section of the Civil Rights Act, and the arguments are non-racist and interesting... but I can't for the life of me figure out why they'd want to make them. Thing is, the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act increased overall individual liberty - the new freedom of black people to shop and work where they wanted far outweighed the freedom to discriminate in business lost by white people*. So it's a forest-trees thing - in their zeal to construct a framework for a government that respects individual liberty, they take a position that is ideologically consistent but counter to their stated goal of maximizing personal freedom. Indeed, looked at this way, defending the Civil Rights Act doesn't even mean defending other libertarian bugaboos such as the ADA, OSHA, or other federal regulations since they place a far higher burden on businesses than the exceedingly minor burden introduced by the Civil Rights Act (which, as far as I can tell, costs businesses nothing to implement).
So the punch line of the previous post remains: the argument over the Civil Rights Act displays the limitations of small-government theory. Sometimes government action actually increases the individual liberty of the overall population. So in cases like this when the two collide, libertarians must ask themselves which is more important - personal freedom, or opposing government expansion?
I won't go through the tortured logic I went through to pick this video. Just enjoy it.
As a bonus, the greatest song ever written about curling: