ELIZABETHTOWN, PA — A remark by Rand Paul, GOP nominee for the
U. S. Senate, on the Rachel Maddow Show on May 19, in which he expressed
reservations about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, sent the media into a
feeding frenzy. Going for the kill against the Tea Party favorite were
neoconservative journalists Linda Chavez, Ross Douthat, Jonah Goldberg,
and David Frum. From their attacks against a fellow Republican, it
would seem that the libertarian ophthalmologist from Kentucky and son
of presidential candidate Ron Paul was trying to reintroduce slavery.
What Rand Paul actually said did not prevent him from coming out
for the right of all American citizens to have access to public facilities
and institutions. Nor did it conflict with his stated moral objection
to racial discrimination. Contrary to Goldberg’s objection, Paul
was not “lamenting the lost right of bigots.” Nor is there
any indication, with all due respect for Goldberg, that Paul, a self-described
libertarian, was “defending Jim Crow” and “unjust
bigotry” while opposing “economic freedom.” He was
noting with displeasure that particular parts of the bill promoted
government control over a wide range of commercial and social relations.
Such pervasive control, which grew directly out of the enforcement
of the bill, has spread to such situations as the right of men’s
clubs to be gender-restricted. The war against discrimination has taken
even more intrusive forms, such as the claims that disproportionate
impact in hiring situations demonstrates the deliberate exclusion of
certain groups from jobs and educational institutions, or the introduction
of quotas by those anxious to show that discrimination is not taking
place in hiring and college admissions.
A particularly noteworthy use to which the Civil Rights Act was put
came in 1993. Black police officers, who had stopped at a Denny’s
restaurant in Annapolis, Maryland, brought a successful multimillion-dollar
suit against Denny’s under Title II of the Civil Rights Act that
forbids discrimination in the workplace. The evidence of this discrimination
was the failure of a waiter to serve the successful litigants in what
a judge considered a timely fashion, and equally damning, the failure
of the waiter to serve sufficiently warm coffee to the litigants. This
suit, which brought the alleged victims of discrimination considerable
wealth from those being shaken down, together with the promise that
Denny’s employees would undergo sensitivity training, was based
directly on the provisions of the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, the act
created the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and gave the
commission far-reaching power to investigate and report on discrimination.
That agency had its power further enhanced by congressional act in
If Goldberg believes the Civil Rights Act has increased “economic
freedom,” then he must explain how such surveillance and government
bullying of the private sector had nothing to do with the act. And
the bureaucratic outgrowths that sprang from it were not long in coming.
They began about 16 months after the passage of the law, when government
administrators started recommending quotas. Further, as Goldberg admits,
many who opposed the act, which applied to women as well as racial
minorities, were highly respectable public figures, including Albert
Gore, Sr.; Goldberg’s favorite president, Ronald Reagan; George
Bush; and Barry Goldwater. These and other critics expressed concern
that the legislation might lead to unacceptable restrictions on economic
freedom and freedom of association.
Why is Paul not allowed to bring up these things without being attacked
as a bigot or a fervent friend of bigots? Rand Paul focused his criticism
on certain provisions, while agreeing with the act’s prohibition
of discrimination in public institutions. He also explicitly attacked
Jim Crow laws for using state power to enforce discrimination. How
is his objection to having the government engage in other forms of
social and economic coercion in the name of fighting prejudice the
same as Jim Crow? Although Paul criticized the act, he also indicated
that it is now firmly entrenched in our legal structure. He is concerned
that it might be applied to limit further our social and economic freedoms.
Unfortunately, he explained all of this poorly on the Rachel Maddow
program, after having agreed to be questioned by an unfriendly hostess.
(His comment the next day that going on the program was a “bad
decision” was an understatement.) Considering that his controversial
opinion was likely to come up and that he had stated it before, one
might have hoped that he would have been prepared. Instead, he responded
with awkward phrases before lamenting the fact that he had not been
able to go on a Freedom Ride with Martin Luther King. In the process,
he fell between two stools, neither effectively defending a controversial
position nor successfully avoiding the attacks that were likely to
come from embracing it. If one decides to jump into troubled waters,
one should know how to swim.
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2010
by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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