Rand Paul toasted by the even-handed Rachel Maddow over basic civil rights

I must admit, as one of the Ron Paul supporters that worked tirelessly to convince Rand Paul to leave his profession as an eye surgeon to pursue a seat in the US Senate, this is not the easiest article to write. 

Agree with her politics or not, Rachel Maddow has a reputation for giving people a fair chance to explain their positions.  This Wednesday, coming off a “Randslide” victory in the Republican Primary for US Senate in Kentucky, Rand Paul returned to the show which launched his political career, and Maddow welcomed him to the big leagues.

The crux of the interview revolved around a straightforward question from Maddow about whether Dr. Paul, because of his adamant support of small government, supported the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s.  Without answering the question directly, the self-identified tea party candidate gave several long, confusing, and painfully awkward responses.

If he gave any answer at all to Maddow, it was that Civil Rights legislation was good when it came to public discrimination, even though forcing privately owned businesses to treat people of different races or gender equally was beyond the constitutional powers of government. 

To be fair, Paul repeatedly expressed his disfavor for discrimination across the board.  However, the tea party candidate offered little in the way of a practical solution to what he asserted was, surely to the surprise of minorities all over the country, a purely philosophical discussion. 

Dr. Paul’s inability to address Maddow’s practical question of whether privately owned institutions may discriminate against customers should be concerning not only to most voters, but “Ron Paul” and other libertarian-leaning voters themselves. 

As Rand Paul accused Maddow of politicizing the question and “conflating the issue,” Dr. Paul’s biggest mistake was not accusing the host of playing politics, but that he did not even see the opportunity to defend desegregation on the fundamental constitutional principles he champions.  Paul justified his position under the right to the freedom of speech, while ignoring the more fundamental and obvious issue of a person’s right to equality.

Libertarian beef with the Civil Right Acts is not over the idea of racial equality that it codified, but the belief that the legislation was over-reaching because it infringed upon the property rights of private business.  In a black & white world, where businesses and institutions are either private or public, the philosophical line-in-the-sand between public and private institutions that Dr. Paul draws may have merit. 

But in the real world, where private business owners serve and benefit from public use (the owners of grocery stores, entertainment establishments, and clothing outlets to name a few), the ramifications of his narrow conception are serious.

A community is nothing more than a collection of private actors and actions.  So, if the freedom of speech and the right to private discrimination supersedes a person’s right to participate in and enjoy the benefits of a desegregated community, we are bound to live in a society where all persons are “endowed with certain inalienable rights” only insofar as the business class of society permits. 

If Rand Paul is going to have a shot in November, perhaps he should re-think his analysis of the government’s role in protecting civil rights.  Perhaps he should argue that when the force of government is used to defend fundamental rights, like equality, government is performing its primary purpose. 

So as not to stray from his belief in limited government, perhaps Rand Paul should not claim that the Civil Rights Act infringes upon the rights of bigots, but that the Civil Rights Acts unnecessarily expanded the power of government indirectly.  

By justifying equality under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, instead of the fundamental rights “endowed by our creator”, advocates of federal government expansion have unconstitutionally extended federal powers by using similar Commerce Clause justifications to meddle in state affairs such as educational curriculum, gun control, and health care.

If Rand Paul fails to merge his philosophy with the practical demands of public office, the collection of private votes at the ballot box will undoubtedly, and unequally, favor his opponent in November.