For Democrats, Rand Paul is going to be the gift who keeps on giving.
Forget about pinning down the newly minted Republican nominee for Kentucky’s open US Senate seat on the question of whether he thinks applying civil rights laws to businesses amounts to “too much government.” Just imagine the opportunities for asking GOP leaders—and candidates around the country—whether they happen to agree with their party’s candidate in one of the hottest Senate races of the year.
Of course, Paul will try to make it easier on his fellow partisans. He’s done his best to backtrack from his most controversial statements, saying he’s not in favor of repealing civil rights laws. But once you have to “unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” the damage is pretty much done.
And this won’t be the last controversy of this kind.
The fact is that, when Paul has gotten into hot water, on this issue and a host of others, it has not been a mistake. He’s introducing Americans to libertarianism—not as a political slogan but as an ideology whose followers take very seriously the work of downsizing government. So seriously that they would even get rid of the good parts.
Of course, liberals and conservatives differ on how to define “the good parts.”
But the thing is that liberals and conservatives—for all their disagreements—really do think there are good parts. For instance, they pretty much agree that it is appropriate to impose basic civil rights mandates on business.
Serious libertarians don’t. For them, government is, at best, a necessary evil—with the emphasis on the “evil.” Rand Paul has repeatedly given interviews, not just in the distant past but recently, in which he has expressed discomfort with civil rights mandates—not just with regards to protections for minority groups but also for people with disabilities. The Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board refused to back him in the Kentucky primary because it said Paul “holds an unacceptable view” on civil rights.
The point here is not to suggest that Paul is a serious racist. He says he is not and that he “abhors” discrimination of any kind.
The point is that he is serious libertarian.
When Paul allowed as how he might have a problem with the critical components of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—in a terrific interview by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow—it suddenly started to dawn on Democrats and Republicans that a relatively genuine libertarian had been nominated by one of the major parties for a major position.
The thing about libertarianism is that it is an ideology that both Democrats and Republicans like to borrow from—liberals like the live-and-let live approach to social policy, conservatives like all the talk about deregulation and downsizing government.
It is only when the whole package gets pulled together that things get hairy.
And Rand Paul really is his father Ron’s son—which means that he is very serious about economic libertarianism, pretty serious about maintaining a classic libertarian non-interventionist foreign policy and pretty shaky when it comes to social libertarianism (especially when it comes to reproductive rights).