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Liberated from Libertarianism: Rand Paul Runs and Hides from ... Rand Paul

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MADDOW: The Civil Rights Act was created to take away the right of individual business owners to discriminate, taking away their right to make that decision. Which side of that debate are you on?

PAUL: In the totality of it, I'm in favor of the federal government being involved in civil rights, which is mostly what the Civil Rights Act was about. I'm opposed to any form of governmental racism or discrimination or segregation.

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MADDOW: The reason that this is something I'm not letting go of this is because it effects real people's lives. This question involves the matter of private discrimination in public accommodations. Should that be allowed?

PAUL: The debate involves a lot of court cases with regard to the commerce clause. Many states are now saying that they have a right to force restaurant owners to allow people to enter with guns even if the owners don't want them to. So you see how this issue can cut both ways, against liberals too.

MADDOW: What if the owner of a restaurant or a swimming pool or a bowling alley wanted to segregate their facility? Should they be allowed to do so under your world view?

PAUL: We did some very important things in the 1960s that I'm all in favor of. That was desegregating schools, public transportation, water fountains.

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MADDOW: How about lunch counters?

PAUL: Well, if you do that, then can the owner of the restaurant keep out guns? Does the owner of a restaurant own his restaurant or does the government own his restaurant?

MADDOW: Should Woolworths lunch counters have been left to be segregated? Sir, just yes or no?

PAUL: I don't believe in any discrimination. If you believe in regulating private ownership, you have to decide on whether you also want to force guns in restaurants when the owner doesn't want them. This is a red herring being used by my political opponents. It's an abstract, obscure conversation from 1964 that you want to bring up. Every fiber of my being doesn't believe in discrimination, doesn't believe that we should have that in our society, and to imply otherwise is just dishonest.

MADDOW: I couldn't disagree with you more on this issue, but I thank you for coming on the show and having this civilized discussion about it...

So, by my count, Maddow asks Paul the core question here no fewer than eight times in a row. This is precisely what she should have been doing, and in doing so she provides a huge service to American society. If I were to fault her anywhere, it would be only for not identifying Paul's diversionary tactics for what they were, calling them out, and thereby pushing them off the table. I would have liked to have seen her say, "With respect, sir, we're not talking about that. Or that, or that, or that. We're talking about this."

And she would have needed to do that several times over, because Paul's game here is to shift the discussion to domains where he is more comfortable, and where the problems with his ideology don't show up so readily. Maddow says let's talk about discrimination in privately-held public accommodations, and he says let's talk about my lack of prejudice. She tries again and he wants to discuss governmental discrimination. She repeats the question and he says let's talk about nineteenth century history. She asks once more and he starts talking about censorship and the First Amendment. She tries yet again and he changes the topic to guns, which involves legislating behavior, rather than race, which concerns who you are. She asks still another time and he cries foul, claiming that this is some obscure red herring being used by his opponents for purposes of political assassination.

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All of these are diversionary lies, meant to avoid the unpleasant realities of what libertarianism would actually look like in action. But the last lie is the most egregious. The entire reason for Rand Paul's existence right now which is also almost literally true, given that he has the unfortunate burden of being named for Ayn Rand, a twisted soul if ever there was is his premise of reclaiming American government in the name of liberty for the American people. That's who he is. That's what he represents himself to be. That's his political shtick, his raison d'être. What the Maddow interview reveals, however, is that he's really just another politician trying to win office, not a crusader at all. And what it also reveals is just how bankrupt are those libertarian notions if you look at them at all closely.

The ideology has some nice bumper-sticker like appeal, especially for the more simplistic among us. I mean, who, after all, could be against more freedom? And, indeed, when it comes to social issues, the libertarians have it exactly right. The government shouldn't be in the business of controlling women's bodies, or telling people what substances they can imbibe, or who they can sleep with or marry, or whether they can end their own lives should they choose to. But you don't need to be a libertarian to get to those places. These are also progressive ideas as well.

Where libertarianism breaks down is in assuming that we can all just do what we want and it will work out great. And in assuming that all private actors are essentially well intentioned. Neither of these is true, and a libertarian society would leave each of us at the mercy of these twin fallacies. And that's an ugly place to be, let me tell you.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
 

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