Thursday, May 20, 2010


Well, I could call Rand Paul a dumb racist hick for statements he's recently made (in interviews with NPR and the Louisville Courier-Journal) in which he's expressed concern about using the law to desegregate lunch counters:

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I'm all in favor of that.


PAUL: You had to ask me the "but." I don't like the idea of telling private business owners -- I abhor racism. I think it's a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant -- but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership....

But this is less racism than a classic libertarian's belief in the magic fairy dust of the marketplace, which is presumed capable of solving nearly all problems. And you don't have to be from Kentucky to believe that -- The New York Times used to employ a columnist to make similar arguments, until he was shunted off to science reporting:

A 1999 [John] Tierney column used ... selective sourcing, arguing that the worker safety regulations inspired by the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factory fire did little to protect workers, whose lot only improved as a result of free-market competition. In the sweatshops of early twentieth century New York, Tierney saw a "dynamic economy" in which "a worker could walk across the street to a competing company or a whole new industry." But again, he cherry-picked a single study by a University of Arizona professor who had reached a conclusion he liked, and gave short shrift to the vast body of evidence showing that workers had little job mobility 90 years ago, and that safety improved as a direct result of the labor movement and government legislation.

That's pretty much Rand Paul's argument about lunch counters -- that we could have just used market pressures to make them be nice. It's boilerplate libertarianism. (The John Tierney column is here, by the way.)

Paul went on Rachel Maddow's show last night and tried to get himself out of trouble, but one of his new talking points made no sense whatsoever:

One of the interesting things about desegregation and bringing people together: do you know when it happened in Boston? ... You know when we got rid of the Jim Crow laws and when we got rid of segregation and a lot of the abhorrent practices in the South -- do you know when we got rid of it in Boston? ... Well, it was in 1840. So I think it is sort of a stain on the history of America that it took us 120 years to desegregate the South.... They desegregated transportation in Boston in 1840, and I think that was an impressive and amazing thing....

The problem is, when railroads in Boston were desegregated (in 1843, not 1840), it was partly through tactics that were exactly like the lunch-counter sit-ins, and the arguments against desegregation were quite similar to the one Paul is making now about lunch counters:

There was no place in the United States that allowed African-Americans to travel in the same class as white people.... On September 29, 1841 Fredrick Douglass and his friend James N. Buffum protested their not being allowed to travel in first class with white passengers on the Eastern Railroad Company. These two men, who were well-known as champions of the anti-slavery cause, entered the cars in Lynn, Massachusetts on their way to Newburyport.The conductor of the train approached the two men and ordered them to leave the car. Refusing to do so, two brakemen tried to physically remove the men. Before they could, a fight broke out between the two cars. For several days the train did not make the stop in Lynn knowing in the event that Douglass would come aboard again. Douglass' and Buffum's actions led to similar incidents on the Eastern Railroad....

Railroad executives argued that all Massachusetts corporations had been granted the power to make "reasonable and proper" by-laws for the management of their business, and "the established usage and the public sentiment of this community authorize a separation of the blacks and whites in public places." ...

A law was proposed in 1842. Under this pressure, desegregation of trains began; the law passed in 1843.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Rand Paul, if he were alive then, would have stood with the railroad owners and their insistence that they had the right to decide what was "reasonable and proper" in their accommodation decisions. (He might well argue that, as private businesses, they had the right to make unreasonable and improper accommodation decisions if they damn well felt like it.)


Paul is being asked about anti-black discrimination by businesses, as well as about (in the Maddow interview, at least) anti-gay discrimination and discrimination against those with disabilities. All that's going to paint him into a corner, but I don't know how much harm it's going to do him with Kentucky voters.

I'd ask him about discrimination against women. Dr. Paul, do you believe it's acceptable for a private company to pay women less than men for the same job? As a libertarian purist on these issues, I think he'd feel compelled to say yes. And that really might get him in deep trouble.

I think a certain kind of feminism has taken root in a lot of places where the rest of the liberal agenda is largely rejected. We saw this during Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. We see it with Sarah Palin. There's a lot of respect for women who are seen as tough and capable.

Ask him about women. Ask him if businesses can discriminate. Watch him squirm. And then watch him lose.


UPDATE: Well, here's why I thought Paul might skate by on this -- he went on Fox this morning and blamed the "loony left" for the uproar. I'm not sure if he's sending this message via Fox or receiving it from Fox: Fox Nation already has a thread up with the title "Liberals Play Race Card on Rand Paul." I suspect that this might be a fairly easy sell for Paul with the voters he needs. I still say advocating wage discrimination against working women would be a harder sell.

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