Martin Cothran, staffer with the Family Foundation of Kentucky and generally awful person, is excited about Rand Paul’s recent primary victory in the Kentucky Senate race. “Is Rand Paul the de facto leader of the Tea Party?“, he asks:

In fact, one of the Tea Party’s long-term problems is that it doesn’t have a single, recognizable leader. It may have just found one.

Paul has the intellectual ability to articulate the Tea Party case in a way Palin can’t.

(Palin is “the fairy godmother of conservative politics,” in Cothran’s telling.)

Anyway, the question then is what this intellectual leader of the teabaggers thinks about stuff.

The Lexington Courier-Journal asked the candidate what should’ve been a simple question a few days ago:

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.


PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind. …

INTERVIEWER: But under your philosophy, it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworths?

PAUL: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part—and this is the hard part about believing in freedom—is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example—you have too, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things. . . . It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior.

Nothing about this shows intellectual leadership. He says he supports an end to discrimination, but that he opposes the law which allowed those discriminated against to seek redress. And why does he oppose letting people whose individual rights were trampled seek redress from the tramplers? Because letting individuals enforce their rights would trample the rights of individuals to trample others’ rights..

To compare this to free speech is silliness. Anyone is entitled to say that they don’t like black people, and it’s good to know that the ACLU would be there to defend someone’s right to speak even the most offensively racist nonsense. But neither the ACLU nor anyone else would claim that a right to free speech allows a company to refuse to rent to someone just because of the color of their skin. That’s not speech, nor is it mere boorishness. Racist policies are objectionable because they restrict people’s liberties, treating some people differently than others purely on the basis of skin color.

If Paul truly would have marched to oppose such discriminatory policies, then he understands all that. And if that’s the case, then his defense of a nebulous right to be racist is simply incoherent and intellectually vacuous. But even that intellectual failing would still not have led him to think that defending discrimination is the same as “believing in freedom.”

Alternatively, he may have learned enough over the years to realize that racism is bad, but he doesn’t quite know why. He knows he should want to have to marched with King, but not why. And so he thinks the marchers had some private grievance against individual institutions, not that they were arguing (successfully, not to mention rightly) that their freedoms were infringed by discriminatory policies. In other words, he doesn’t know what freedom means. He doesn’t believe in it. What he believes in is selfishness.

Adam Serwer expresses this brilliantly, writing: “Paul would never face the actual ‘hard part’ of his vision of freedom, because it would never interfere with his own life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Rand Paul would not have been turned away from a lunch counter, be refused a home, a job, or denied a loan, or told to sit in the black car of a train because of his skin color, or because of the skin color of his spouse. Paul thinks there is something ‘hard’ about defending the kind of discrimination he would have never, ever faced. Paul’s free market fundamentalism is being expressed after decades of social transformation that the Civil Rights Act helped create, and so the hell of segregation is but a mere abstraction, difficult to remember and easy to dismiss as belonging only to its time. It’s much easier now to say that ‘the market would handle it.’ But it didn’t, and it wouldn’t.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates draws out Paul’s ignorant selfishness brilliantly, observing: “there’s this sense that it’s OK to be ignorant about the Civil Rights Act because it’s a ‘black issue.’ I’m not a lawyer, but my sense is that for a senator to be ignorant of the Civil Rights Act, is not simply to be ignorant of a ‘black issue,’ but to be ignorant of one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed. This isn’t like not knowing the days of Kwanzaa, this is like not knowing what caused the Civil War. It’s just embarrassing–except Paul is too ignorant to be embarrassed.”

This became more clear when Rand Paul sat down to talk with NPR’s Robert Siegel:

SIEGEL: You’ve said that business should have the right to refuse service to anyone, and that the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, was an overreach by the federal government. Would you say the same by extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

Dr. PAUL: What I’ve always said is that I’m opposed to institutional racism, and I would’ve, had I’ve been alive at the time, I think, had the courage to march with Martin Luther King to overturn institutional racism, and I see no place in our society for institutional racism.

SIEGEL: But are you saying that had you been around at the time, you would have – hoped that you would have marched with Martin Luther King but voted with Barry Goldwater against the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

Dr. PAUL: Well, actually, I think it’s confusing on a lot of cases with what actually was in the civil rights case because, see, a lot of the things that actually were in the bill, I’m in favor of. I’m in favor of everything with regards to ending institutional racism. So I think there’s a lot to be desired in the civil rights. And to tell you the truth, I haven’t really read all through it because it was passed 40 years ago and hadn’t been a real pressing issue in the campaign, on whether we’re going for the Civil Rights Act.

SIEGEL: But it’s been one of the major developments in American history in the course of your life. I mean, do you think the ’64 Civil Rights Act or the ADA for that matter were just overreaches and that business shouldn’t be bothered by people with the basis in law to sue them for redress?

Dr. PAUL: Right. I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think that we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that.… And I think when you get to the solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.

And again, when he tried to explain himself to Rachel Maddow (from whose show he announced his candidacy):

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MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don’t serve black people?

PAUL: Yes. I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race.

But I think what’s important about this debate is not written into any specific “gotcha” on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?…

What I was asked by The Courier-Journal and I stick by it is that I do defend and believe that the government should not be involved with institutional racism or discrimination or segregation in schools, busing, all those things. But had I been there, there would have been some discussion over one of the titles of the civil rights. And I think that’s a valid point, and still a valid discussion, because the thing is, is if we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about: do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well.

Throughout the interview he tries to treat racial discrimination as a First Amendment right. But it isn’t. It’s not free speech for the real estate industry to declare certain parts of a city cannot have black homeowners or renters. It is not free speech to forbid black children from attending certain schools. It’s not free speech to restrict wheelchairs from your business, or to tell blind people or deaf people they cannot enjoy a meal in your restaurant.

This is simply not an intellectual argument. If Paul is the intellectual leader of the teabaggers, they’re dumber than they look.


Update: Now Rand Paul’s campaign says that the Civil Rights Act was totally awesome and he loves each and every word in it. Intellectual leadership!



  1. #1 scripto
    May 20, 2010

    I’m sure Paul would have marched next to Dr. King back in the day. Just as long as he didn’t have to sit beside him on the bus ride down.

  2. #2 dean
    May 20, 2010

    His dad Ron had no problem with racists using his newsletter for years, and is himself a general idiot. It seems the son learned his lessons well.

  3. #3 Osh
    May 20, 2010

    But what if there was only one grocery store in town, and the store had a sign out front, “Paul Family Not Allowed”. Would he feel happy about that (while starving)?

  4. #4 Woody Tanaka
    May 20, 2010

    Paul is an idiot. The notion that ownership means “I get to do whatever I want” is nonsense. We, as a society, decide what rights go along with ownership.

    For example, there is no reason other than that we have decided it to be so that a property owner has the right to all profits produced by his property, regardless of whether others worked to bring about those profits. We, as a society, could decide that ownership only entitles an owner to 1/2 of the profits, with the remainder to be split among the workers.

    And, of course, the real reason we have this view of property ownership/profits is that our law is a direct descendant of the rules made up in the context of the oppression of the serfs and slaves by the so-called “nobility” and the slave holders, and enforced by the sword and the lash in order to protect the profits of these oppressors.

    (It is no accident that the modern area of the law dealing with such things as the employee/employer relationship and the agent/principal relationship is known by the term “Master/Servant.”)

    And, any way, with regards to the Great Civil Rights Act, we, as a society decided that an owner’s rights do not include the right to exclude others on the basis of these characteristics when that same owner is making a profit at our expense.

  5. #5 Emily
    May 20, 2010

    Rand Paul said:
    I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership.

    It seems to me that Paul has trouble grasping the fact that people are not really the “rational” profit-maximizing agents of his ideal free-market economy.

  6. #6 Trey Cheotomy
    May 20, 2010

    To play devil’s advocate, I guess he is saying that segregation should have ended without government intervention. And yes, segregation should have died its own death from lack of moral support from citizens. But would it have? I don’t know. Eventually, I guess.

    So do we wait around for an evil to whither away, or do we take action to end it? Since a majority of federal legislators recognized the evil, passing the Civil Rights Act looks like the logical next step.

    The resentment of the South toward the federal government has a long history. To them, the CRA was just another instance of the federal government telling them what to do, encroaching into their life. That resentment is still alive today, and Rand Paul is its representative.

  7. #7 Roy MacPherson
    May 24, 2010

    Whoa, there, Woody!

    If you think for one second that this might be a better place if business owners should be inclined to give up half of their profits to their employees, you might want to take another look. You seem to forget that owning or starting a business involves a certain amount of risk and huge personal liabilities. In my case, I invested my life savings and spent thousands of hours building a successful business, and I expect to reap the benefit of my labors. My employees do get their share of the profits—it’s called a paycheck. And, in the meantime, they absorb none of the risk or personal liabilities of business ownership. They get to sleep at night. Believe me, if some law were enacted where I had to give up half my profits to my employees, heartless capitalist I am, I’d close my doors in a second and leave four people without any paychecks at all. And you’d see thousands upon thousands of businesses shutting down along with my own. Imagine the impact of that, on a larger scale.

    Or, perhaps you’d enact legislation to force me to keep my business open?

    And as for the “Great” Civil Rights Act, the purpose was to de-institutionalize racism and segregation, not to compel business owners into serving everyone. Let’s not forget that segregation in the Deep South was backed by law; the problem that people faced wasn’t that they couldn’t dine in the same area at the personal discretion of business owners, it was that they could be arrested for doing so. That’s a huge difference.

    You can argue that maybe those Jim Crow laws were the preference of the business owners, but it makes very little sense for any business owner to turn away any customers without a good reason for doing so. I, personally, don’t think that race is a very good reason.

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