Even conservative Republicans like Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are very uncomfortable with Rand Paul’s initial musings about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. DeMint, a tea party supporter, knows that the movement is already stuck with the perception that racism against the first black president animates some of its supporters.
So Paul spent yesterday dancing back so fast from his previous remarks that he’s probably still out of breath. One blogger mused, “How long will it be before Rand supporters affirmative action?”
Later Thursday, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he went further. Asked specifically whether facilities should have had the right to segregate their lunch counters, as was common in the South, he said, according to the CNN transcript, “I think that there was an overriding problem in the South so big that it did require federal intervention in the ’60s. And it stems from things that I said, you know, had been going on, really, 120 years too long. And the Southern states weren’t correcting it. And I think there was a need for federal intervention.”
But let’s give Paul credit for — at least initially — sticking to a philosophy that reflects pure libertarianism. Libertarians believe that the individual rights of property owners are more important than anything else. In a 2002 letter to the editor of a Kentucky newspaper objecting to the Fair Housing Act, he underscored that philosophy:
Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate.
That may sound strange in 2010, but it didn’t in ancient times — way back in 1964. Barry Goldwater gained the Republican nomination for the presidency on just that philosophy.
Libertarians also believe that the free market will cure most imbalances. They see the “market” as godlike, a rational force that will alter unfavorable circumstances to produce the most prosperity. But centuries of discrimination against black Americans prove that’s just not true. And, if Rand Paul had grown up black in America, he would know that’s not true.
Restaurants, hotels and other private, profit-making facilities were more than happy to turn down black folks’ money. My parents could afford to dine out every now and then. But restaurants in the Deep South still wouldn’t take them, as conservative Bruce Bartlett notes:
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.
I take exception to only one point that Bartlett made, and that’s his assumption that “any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained.” He might be right about that, but we don’t know because it was never put to the test.
This much I do know: The South chose to remain poor rather than desegregate. As Booker T. Washington once put it: “You can’t keep a man in the ditch unless you stay down there with him.” The white South was happy to stay in the ditch. Northern business executives were reluctant to invest in a region with such difficult race relations, so they didn’t come. The South started to enjoy prosperity only after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were forced upon it.