By now it just about everyone in the left side of the blogosphere has heard about Rand Paul’s near self-immolation on the Rachel Maddow Show last night. The Tea Party darling and newly minted Republican Senatorial candidate from Kentucky was pushed hard, but politely by Ms. Maddow about his position that part of the Civil Rights Act should be repealed. Lots of folks have pointed out how bad this will be for him politically, what struck me is how wrong-headed his political point of view is.
Dr. Paul won his primary by energizing the far Right in Kentucky but that is not going to work for him in the general election. In his appearance last night he defended his position by saying that he thought the 1964 Civil Rights Act was good in all the areas where it circumscribed discrimination at the governmental level, but thinks it goes too far when it tells private business that they can not discriminate.
The crux here is the idea that private business is completely private. This is a fallacy. Every business in the country is licensed at some level or another. There is no such thing as a truly private enterprise. Which is the way we want it, but not the hard core Libertarians like Doc Paul. He would like to make this about discrimination, and the First Amendment. That is the tactic he used last night. He made the point that while discrimination was abhorrent, we should not limit peoples right to say abhorrent things.
He is right on that, but this ignores the fact that limiting who you will sell to based on race is not really speech in the sense that the Framers would have recognized it. They were talking about being able to say things about the government and how we are governed. Commerce was separate from the Free Speech part of the Constitution on purpose.
However this is a smoke screen or a strawman. What Doc Paul is really interested in is unregulated commerce. He objects to the idea that the federal government can impose rules of any kind on business. He is a true believer in the myth of the Free Market and its ability to correct any ill. Doc Paul would end the Americans with Disabilities Act as well, for the same reason he objects to one Title of the Civil Rights Act; namely it imposes requirements on business.
Doctor Paul is an idealist. He really believes the myth of the rational actor. He thinks that if we did not have the ADA businesses would choose to give workers who were in a wheel chair first floor office space. The reality is that they would just not hire workers who require any kind of special accommodations. His statement also ignores the fact that even if they had a first floor office, they would not be able to go to other floors of the building without an elevator anyway.
Watch for Doc Paul to try to keep this small bore, going forward, but there are bigger implications to the “hands off business” philosophy. We have seen what lax regulation can lead us to with the BP oil disaster. Imagine if they had no regulation at all, no oversight even if name. Does anyone think that there would be a better outcome than what we have now? Me either.
One of the things that is really frustrating about the whole Libertarian political view is the way that it aims to overturn decades of case law and legislation. While they may have a point that the original intent of the Constitution is different from what we have today, the fact is we have evolved to this point by consensus of the people of the nation. As a whole the people of this country find it is good thing that business is constrained from discrimination, that there is a check on restaurants serving tainted food, that the rights of property owners is balanced by the overall needs of the nation.
This is where Dr. Paul should be really in trouble, not the idea that he is standing up for racists by wanting to overturn the public accommodation portions of the Civil Rights Act, but that he wants to dismantle the federal governments policing business altogether. The question we should be asking him is not should business be able to discriminate but should it be able to do things like serve tainted food or sell products that contain lead or melamine?
His argument is that there is too high a cost imposed by the ADA and the Civil Rights Act on business. Well keeping products safe is expensive too, should business be turned lose to do as they please, with the mythical Free Market left fix it? The problem with this is it assumes a level of enlightened self interest that just does not exist in reality. Would it have been better for BP to keep the drill mud in the drill line until the final cap was poured? The cost of doing that is nothing compared to what they will be paying out for this spill, yet even with the known risk of a disaster they chose to try to save the 10 million. We see the same kind of thing in the Financial products industry, the inability to stay away from risk when there is money to be made.
In Doc Paul’s world view these things would not happen. Since that does not match with reality, it is clear that his policy prescriptions are not suited for our nation. We don’t want them as a people, and we can not afford the very easily predictable consequences of them. It is hard to see how anyone who has not come from privilege can hold the point of view that business rights trump the rights of the citizens. All this is just goes to show why Dr. Paul is unsuited for members in the United States Senate.