Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul on civil rights (legislation)

Here's his appearance on MSNBC with Rachel Maddow. (There is a five-minute introduction, including video/audio clips of his interviews with NPR and the C-J.) The primary subject is the use of federal law to deal with (local) businesses which engage in (overt) discrimination.

I saw this on some liberal blogs this morning and figured they were just digging for partisan dirt. Then I got a call to do an interview with Joe Arnold for WHAS. So, apparently, it will have a few legs. For reasons I'll cover below, I'll be surprised if it has much gas after this week.

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There are a number of interesting things to consider here:

First, politically: Paul did an artful job in answering difficult questions about a nuanced position. As he did with abortion during the GOP primary (a much larger issue), he should be able to weather this as well. He's careful not to fall into the yes/no soundbite "trap" and at the end of the day, sounds like a very reasonable person. As Grayson found with abortion, attacks like this on Paul will likely seem desperate and backfire.

Second, Paul mostly alludes to the largest philosophical issue at hand (and his opponents and most of the media ignore the question altogether): If we find someone else's behavior to be repugnant, when should we seek legislation as a potential remedy? (I address this at great length in my book on Christianity and public policy.)

In a nutshell, it boils down to a distinction between "justice" (when direct and significant harm is done to others) and "morality" (when not-- typically, when the bulk of the damage is done to oneself and the behavior is still considered sinful or immoral). As such, discrimination can fit as a justice issue, but then one is left to consider practical issues.

Third, if one wants to invoke government as a means to various ends, there is still the vital question of (de)centralization: should government operate at the neighborhood, local, state, or federal levels?

Fourth, Paul makes a number of practical points in drawing comparisons and drawing out inferences of intervening in this manner. Paul allows for a distinction between public sector activity (where public sector enforcement is appropriate) and private sector activity (where private sector responses may be "adequate" and public sector enforcement may be quite troubling).

For example, private clubs and private schools are allowed to "discriminate". Will that be discontinued as well? When should we abridge "free speech" under the 1st Amendment-- even when we find such speech offensive or repulsive? If we prevent restaurant owners from having rules in their businesses, would they not be allowed to prevent people from coming in their establishments with firearms?

Three other considerations:

1.) It's interesting (and incoherent) that the C-J avidly and openly supports various forms of "institutional racism", while decrying Paul's stance on using government to deal with personal racism.

2.) Paul makes the important point that such discrimination is bad for business. (He didn't make the corollary point that competitive markets tend to drive such inefficiencies out of the market.)

3.) Maddow is referring to a law from a much different time and place-- the 1960s. Whatever the ethical and practical merits of the legislation then, it's a completely different topic today. What does/would happen to a company today that actively engaged in racial discrimination?


At May 20, 2010 at 8:22 PM , Blogger Darrell said...


Aren't federal anti-discrimination laws problematic prima facie because the central government has no constitutional authority to abrogate property rights?

At May 20, 2010 at 9:08 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

If you want to follow the Constitution, I don't know of a reasonable case for federal involvement in this context.

At May 21, 2010 at 7:35 AM , Blogger Darrell said...

Well, I think we should certainly desire to hold to the Constitution. It is the law, right? :)

Did you wind up talking to Joe Arnold?

I think this is an interesting time politically in that we're going to see how much true power the political establishment has.

If they can destroy Rand's candidacy, which will be the goal, then we'll see that the elites still have the capacity to establish parameters of debate.

If people have lost "faith", and I mean an almost religious devotion, in the media and the apparatus of cultural dissemination, and if Rand can use newer technologies (blogs, social networking, etc.) to challenge accepted orthodoxy by uttering what amount to public heresies, then we'll know that the tide may be turning.

It is possible, too, that Rand will simply give ground. He seems to be doing so already, and I think that's already been the case in the arena of foreign policy, civil liberties, etc.

I thought he made a strong case discussing this with Maddow. As you mention, there are other arguments in the arsenal he hasn't unsheathed.

At May 21, 2010 at 8:11 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

I talked with Joe and assume he probably worked some quote into the video portion of the story. More important, he almost certainly worked my comments into his coverage. He's fair-minded, so I'm betting it was good.

I've been (somehow) surprised to see the "party elites" come out in favor of establishment candidates during the primary season-- including a number of "conservatives". It will be interesting to see whether they mess with Paul or support him.

In one sense, they just want more GOP bodies-- even though they would prefer a sure-thing, establishment candidate-- so they'll probably support Paul. (A recent, interesting, local example is the Democratic support for James Bottorff's widow in HR-71 in 2006. But then they were happy enough to work with Steve Stemler after he won the primary.)

But on the other hand, party purity (at the expense of purity of conservative principles) may win out-- and they may seek to sack Paul before he can do damage to the GOP's (purposefully) watered-down label.

I don't think these sorts of arguments will work-- whether from the right or the left-- in this campaign season, in Kentucky, and against Rand Paul. And to the point I made in my post, those who use it will be tempted to push it too far and come off looking desperate.

At May 21, 2010 at 10:32 AM , Blogger SocioSam said...

What Rand said on ABC this morning might be even more trouble. He said it was "unAmerican" for the U.S. President to criticize the foreign owned oil company BP.

At May 21, 2010 at 12:02 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

That might hurt with some Tea Partiers, but should help him some liberals.

At May 21, 2010 at 9:23 PM , Blogger SocioSam said...

His defense of British Petroleum whose breaking laws and lax safety standards killed 11 working class Americans - they killed 15 working class Americans in a previous lax safety measure in Texas - might not go over well. Also, British P is getting something like 3 different tax breaks which Rand the Man never criticized. It is going to be an interesting election cycle.

At May 21, 2010 at 10:31 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

I didn't follow his comments on that. Was he saying that it's a civil and criminal court issue rather than a President being involved?

As for not criticizing the tax break, I'm confident that he would oppose any and all subsidies, whether he has made that explicit or not.


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