Sunday, May 15, 2011

With Liberty, Injustice For All

In the politics of the Paul family, like son, like father:

Just about a year after his son Rand Paul stepped in it when he told Rachel Maddow he was opposed to provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) told Chris Matthews Friday he wouldn't have voted for the law in the first place had he been in Congress at the time....

"Yeah," he told Matthews when asked if he would have voted against the act in Congress. "But I wouldn't vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws."

Ron, like his son, said that his statement about the Civil Rights Act has nothing to do with the law's intentions -- i.e. ending institutionalized discrimination in a wide swath of American life, including in the public accommodations where African Americans were denied service at the height of the Jim Crow era. Paul said he would vote against the law because it imposed unfair rules on what private business owners can and can't do on their own property. Essentially, they should be free to discriminate if they wish, Paul says, however distasteful that may be.

Ron Paul has a notoriously troubled history with race, yet we can, even if only for the sake of argument, disregard this. His ostensible anti-racism fails on its own terms.

Put simply, Paul believes racial equality is a good thing but would have voted against legislation that would have furthered it, because it violated his absolutist stance on individual freedom: that business owners should have the right to make whatever disagreeable policies they like. In a maddening way it's an admirable, principled position, of the same conviction as his anti-war stance that makes Paul such an outlier in the Republican party and made him an occasionally appealing figure for liberals in the bad old days of George W. Bush.

But results matter. The rottenness of the status quo which a defeat of the Civil Right Act would have maintained is self-evident, even to Paul. Yet he would have preferred that an enormous segment of the population continue to be treated as second-class citizens, rather than that the powerful class keeping them down should be stripped of that particular "liberty."

The whiteness of the beneficiaries of Paul's position may be incidental to his overarching worldview, but it is very real, and no amount of freedom-talk changes that. The problem isn't that Ron Paul's a racist, it's that he would have voted in the name of freedom against a law aimed at abolishing second-class citizenship for blacks.

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