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Libertarians and conservatives debate Rand Paul's gaffe

U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul's musings on the Civil Rights Act and federal power have, unsurprisingly, sparked a fascinating debate in the brainy libertarian/paleoconservative blogosphere. The best criticism of Paul I've seen comes from Bruce Bartlett, whose 2008 book, "Wrong on Race," argued that the Democratic Party was largely responsible, and not called to account, for much of the de jure racism against African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries. But Bartlett doesn't let Paul off the hook.

As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There is no reason to believe that this system wouldn't have perpetuated itself absent outside pressure for change.

In short, the libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s gave us almost 100 years of segregation, white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs, the KKK, and discrimination of African Americans for no other reason except their skin color. The gains made by the former slaves in the years after the Civil War were completely reversed once the Supreme Court effectively prevented the federal government from protecting them. Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn't work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.

Historian Tom Woods, who has helped Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) write some of his best-selling books, weighs in on Rand's side.

[A]ny non-hysteric knows a segregated restaurant would be boycotted and picketed out of existence within ten seconds, but we’re supposed to fret about fictional outcomes from the repeal of a law that will never be repealed. And certainly we cannot question the 1964 Act, since our betters have decided the matter is closed.

Of course, someone might have objected to that Act on the grounds that it would of course lead to affirmative action, since racially proportionate hiring is the only practical way to prove one has not been “discriminating.” One might also object to the law on constitutional grounds, or on the grounds that (as has indeed happened) it would lead to legally protected classes whose members simply cannot be fired, since their employers know they will be hit with groundless but costly and time-consuming litigation. (Incidentally, black employment statistics saw far more progress in the one year before the 1964 Act than in the two years after it.)

On the straight-up conservative front, RedState's Erick Erickson argues, simply, that the media are lying about Paul.

The media, playing the useful idiot of the left, is now in a full tizzy that Rand Paul would have opposed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Not once did he say that. In fact, in the entire transcript, the only thing Rand Paul said he was opposed to was institutional racism and he favored the Civil Rights Act’s eradication of institutional racism.

By David Weigel  |  May 20, 2010; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election , Libertarians , Race  
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Next: The Republican establishment stands by Rand Paul, sort of

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