CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY
Shortly after my initial rants, I saw a news alert that Rand Paul had issued a more definitive (and coherent) comment on this matter. Unfortunatley, I could not find the time to immediately revisit the subject. Out of fairness, I will now.
Finally, Mr. Paul is saying all the right things, and without equivocation. Of course, questions will persist: Does he really believes any of this? Or is he only speaking the words to salvage a newborn political career?
I don’t know. But I will concede this much: In my rush to jump on the condemnation bandwagon yesterday, I glossed over Paul’s insistence (even before the latest statement linked above) that he as an individual would punish an establishment that practiced racial discrimination through his pocketbook, by taking his business elsewhere. I now understand more clearly what my initial outrage prevented me from hearing: Paul’s concern was not with banning the practice of discrimination, but with the method by which such a ban is implemented: Should the ban be affected from a centralized authority or from dispersed actors in a wide-open marketplace?
The most reasonable, realistic answer is … both.
Where Paul seems to have stumbled is precisely where many of his most unforgiving opponents have stumbled: By refusing to acknowledge (up front) that the answers to what ails us are rarely derived from either a pure “free market/individual action” or pure “centralized government/mandated action” playbook. The best answers are consistently a mix of the two. Justice requires both commonly established, universally applied rules and dispersed actors reinforcing those rules with personal, localized decisions.
In a non-market context, I touched on the need for this two-edged sword in the eulogy for my father last year.
In 1965, shortly after I was born, my father took a job at Monsanto. Now, it’s important to remember what was going on in 1965. A year earlier, Congress had passed landmark legislation to help put an end to discrimination and advance civil rights in this country. And a year before that, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had delivered the speech in which he said: “I have a dream … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
It would be nice to believe that Dr. King’s words in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 combined to immediately put an end to discrimination in this country. Sadly, that was not the case. In fact, there was such violent backlash to the Civil Rights Act and to Dr. King that on April 4, 1968 — 41 years ago this week — Dr. King was gunned down and killed.
So let there be no doubt. In 1965, three years before Dr. King was killed, discrimination continued, too often and in too many places in this country.
If you don’t believe me, ask Cleo Collins. Cleo was also working at Monsanto in 1965. Cleo remembers how many of his white colleagues treated him: the averted glances; the condescending talk. If Cleo is willing to remember those days, he’ll tell you that the laws might have changed, but the prejudice and disrespect were still there.
And then: Cleo met my dad. Many years later, Cleo told my Mom that my father was one of the few, perhaps the only white man, who treated Cleo with the respect he deserved, who judged Cleo not on the color of his skin but on the content of his character.
The facts are these: No matter how well my father treated Cleo Collins, no matter how much my father recognized Cleo’s possession of the same civil rights as any other U.S. citizen, there were too many people who did not. National — not local, not state, but national — law was needed to reinforce and ultimately enforce these fundamental principles. And yet, no matter how robust, how far-reaching the national law was, it was insufficient without role modeling, without the quiet acts of basic human courtesy extended by men like my father.
And that, I fear, is what those who agree and those who disagree with Rand Paul too often forget.
ORIGINAL POST, 5/20/10, WITH REVISIONS
I have to agree with Ben Smith. I don’t see how Rand Paul recovers from this …
The attack on Rand Paul’s principled libertarianism — which appears to hold that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate on race — writes itself, and it’s hard to see how he makes it to the Senate if he can’t give a better explanation than he gave Rachel Maddow last night …
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates chimes in …
What’s most troubling about this interview is not that Paul opposes a portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s that it’s clear Paul hasn’t thought much about his position. Lacking a rigorous intellectual framework for his opposition, Paul is wobbly on defense. So what you see, in the main, is Paul trying to change the subject–at one point, I think he actually asks (rhetorically), “Am I a bad person?”
This subject is not theoretical. There is a clear and justified role for Washington in defining the agreement of a nation that we will not tolerate racial discrimination in the marketplace. That debate is arguably as settled as the one over the shape of the earth.
Period. End of discussion. Move on.
The fact that Mr. Paul won’t “move on” is precisely the problem. We’ll find out soon enough whether or not that matters to a majority of Kentucky voters.
UPDATE TO ORIGINAL POST, 5/20/10, WITH REVISIONS
It appears Mr. Paul is now trying (per my earlier phrase) to “move on.” Back to Ben Smith …
“I’ve never really favored any change in the Civil Rights Act,” [Paul] said. “They seem to have unleashed some of the loony left on me.”
Paul called the Civil Rights Act “settled” but suggested he does view federal regulation of private business on matters of racial discrimination as fundamentally unconstitutional.
“Settled” was another term I used earlier. But it hardly seems settled in Paul’s mind, when he qualifies his defense with “never really favored” — does he “sorta really favor”? — and “fundamentally unconstitutional.” If he consider the ’64 Act unconstitutional, then he presumably does want the subject to be revisited. Again, that’s not the definition of “settled.”
Perhaps he’s drawing a clear line between the ’64 Act and subsequent legislation/regulation — i.e., he concedes the former is settled, but the latter (in places) might have gone overboard. Fine. Let’s talk specifics in that vein. Which laws/regs of this nature does he believe have crossed the line? Certain affirmative action regs? Something else? I’d just like to see his list.
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