“Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart-ass New York Jew
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool …”
— Randy Newman, “Rednecks“
Last week, fresh from winning the GOP nomination for Senator Jim Bunning’s old seat, Tea Party favorite Rand Paul told a couple of interviewers that he had a problem with the Civil Rights of Act of 1964 — that is, it uses the force of law to make businesses admit black people (“Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?”), rather than using the power of the Free Market and libertarian magic dust.
When it was pointed out to Paul that, without government intervention, certain (let us say) historically Negro-averse parts of the country could not otherwise have been desegregated expeditiously, Paul accused his interlocutors of playing “gotcha” politics with his very principled stand — which he abandoned shortly thereafter, declaring that he certainly would not try and repeal the act, despite its interference with free enterprise.
Some mainstream conservatives, like George Will, shook their heads at Rand: “in 1964, we, as a nation, repealed one widely-exercised right — the right of private property owners to serve on public accommodations whom they want — and replaced it with another right, that is the right of the entire American public to use public accommodations,” Will said. “We were correct to do so …”
But rightbloggers aren’t inclined toward such an MOR approach. That’s for squares! Their consensus was that Paul was heroic to denounce the Civil Rights Act, though some felt he should have kept his mouth shut about it until he was elected.
As for the act, they were divided on whether there was anything good about it, but there was one thing about it they all agreed was bad: Liberals like it.
Those in the don’t-ask-don’t-tell camp at least showed some awareness that normal people might not share Rand’s feelings about the Civil Rights Act.
While lauding the way Paul was “trying to bring serious constitutionalism back into the mainstream,” The American Spectator said his comments “were an example of what not to do.” Granted, they said, there was “room for a discussion” about “whether Jim Crow could have been dismantled with a less aggressive federal approach,” but “these discussions are probably best had outside the heat of a political campaign.” After the campaign, one imagines, we can revisit the CRA to our hearts’ content.
“When you’re running for office and someone asks you if you support the Civil Rights Act you say ‘yes,'” advised DrewM of Ace of Spades. “Why? Because answering anything else paints you as a crank who doesn’t need to be taken seriously on anything else.” As for himself, DrewM sighed, “Personally, I would love to see some adjustments made to the way we deal with civil rights litigation and regulation in this country … it’s an almost impossible task in Congress (maybe the courts someday).” Keep hope alive!
(Later DrewM professed grudging approval of the Civil Rights Act, though he suggested that America might have experienced “gains in race relations” without it. No crank he — at least when he’s cornered.)
At National Review Daniel Foster said the controversy was irrelevant because “the whole exercise is an abstraction, and one that doesn’t map neatly to current policy debates. In other words, my opinion that the Three-Fifths Compromise and the 1808 stuff in the Constitution were probably justified, because forging a union was worth a temporary compromise on slavery, does not mean that I’d rather there have been slavery.” We’d love to hear Foster explain his views on the Three-Fifths Compromise to his black friends, assuming he has any.
The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto said he supported the Civil Rights Act — but nonetheless admired Paul for standing up for his “morally dubious” beliefs, by which Paul “has shown himself to be both candid and principled to a fault.” It’s not what you believe, apparently, but whether you believe it strongly enough to make a fool of yourself on national TV over it (assuming it’s not some liberal nonsense, of course).
Besides, added Taranto, when Paul wins the election he will “merely” be “one vote of 100 in the Senate,” most of which will be in favor of the Civil Rights Act, unless the Republicans achieve a majority.
Taranto also fretted that “Paul’s eccentric views on civil rights will harm the Republican Party by feeding the left’s claims that America is a racist country and the GOP is a racist party.” One is tempted to ask: Now where would they get that idea?
Many rightbloggers blamed the press for the real crime here — that is, reporting what Paul said, rather than some other less offensive thing.
“Libertarians sometimes in their robust self-appreciation of politics tend to say things that get them in trouble in this hyper-political atmosphere,” explained Torrey Spears. “And it appears that Paul got caught in the trap of Liberal Speak without a clear exit strategy …”
Spears is one of Paul’s black defenders. The other is Another Black Conservative, who gave Paul credit for “supporting the results of the Civil Rights Act and not the actual legislation,” which was very generous of him — sort of an “it’s the thought that counts” approach. He, too, expressed concern that Paul’s talking “gives the left room to paint him as a racist.”
Liberty Pundits was even more focused on the damn media. “It took one whole day for the left to go after Rand Paul,” they explained. “They see [his poll] numbers and they want to Terminate Him (politically of course).” Thus they accurately quoted him, the bastards! And now, just because Paul “answered poorly” — which could have happened to anybody — “the press is looking to tar him and the whole party as racist. … It’s freaking annoying.”
No doubt! But some of the brethren decided that it was time to stop playing defense on Paul, and start standing up for his iconoclastic, pre-recantation idea.
“This is an important debate to have,” said Say Anything, “and Republicans shouldn’t shy away from it. We have been going down a path toward big government for some time now, and it’s useful to look at some decisions made in the past and ask whether or not they were the right decisions.” Today the Civil Rights Act, tomorrow Brown v. Board of Education!
Recalling Lee Edwards’ statement that prominent conservatives had, by opposing the Civil Rights Act, hung “the albatross of racism … around the neck of American conservatism,” Robert Stacy McCain cheerfully declared, “I will risk ‘the albatross of racism’ by siding with Buckley and Goldwater and — though Edwards doesn’t mention this — Ronald Reagan.”
McCain claimed the act had by “logical extension” led to such nightmares as the Community Reinvestment Act, and that the media’s insistence on quoting Paul constituted “intellectual terrorism,” an “Orwellian ‘memory hole,'” and an attempt to “decide what people can or cannot say in public discourse.” Then he counseled conservatives against “whining or acting defensively indignant,” which must have been some kind of private joke.
The obstreperous RedState offered “A Proud Defense of Rand Paul.” Correspondent constitutionalconservative told readers that the Jim Crow laws the act overturned “were enforced by the state the liberals worship.” (This was a common trope, and suggests that the white people of the South were against Jim Crow — though their general reaction to desegregation strongly suggests otherwise.)
The author seemed less interested in legalistic defenses of Paul’s words, though, than in using the story to stir anger toward liberals. “The left-wing press is out to flay Rand Paul,” he said, via “a story that started, not so-coincidentally, on government-sponsored NPR.” They were coming after Rand with (this is almost charming) “McCarthyist smear tactics,” but constitutionalconservative urged readers to stay strong: “By attacking Rand Paul, they want to make you think that you are alone. But,” the author promised, “you are not alone …”
Did these authors know that Paul had backed down? What difference would that make? Whatever expediency later demanded of him, Rand Paul had offered rightbloggers a rare glimpse of an alternate universe — one in which the last liberal idea they hadn’t yet managed to discredit was suddenly within range of their howitzers. Now they had a winning candidate who, however briefly, had suggested it was all a terrible mistake. Think how it must lift their spirits! Maybe their next candidate will be able to keep it up more than a couple of days.
Does that mean they’re racist? No — it means they’re unable to accept that, with the Civil Rights Act, the Big Government they despise did something that a.) improved the lives of millions of people, b.) unlike some other government achievements, isn’t even remotely cool to sneer at, and c.) the Democrats get credit for. Over the years they’ve tried to take the shine off this achievement, but that never seems to work — in fact, their best efforts just seem to make things worse for them. So, perversely, the increased racial harmony that pleases everyone else just makes them sullen and bitter.
We’ll leave it for you to decide whether that’s better or worse than racism.