FGF E-Package
The Ornery Observer
June 17, 2010

Clarifying the Negative Impact of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
Rand Paul Starts Much-Needed Debate

by Paul Gottfried

fitzgerald griffin foundation

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 1972.

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 rights reserved.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
See a complete bio and other articles

To sponsor the FGF E-Package:
please send a tax-deductible donation to the
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
Vienna,VA 22183
or sponsor online.

© 2010 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation