Rand Paul Becomes a Politician

Rachel Maddow cornered Rand Paul on the subject of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the strangest thing happened. He turned into a politician before our very eyes. This champion of the truth-telling Tea Partiers waffled and dodged like the most seasoned of pols. You half expected him to say, “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

Mr. Paul’s difficulty is this. His libertarian ethic leads him to believe that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was mistaken insofar as it ordered private businesses to not discriminate. He applauded those sections of the law that forbid the government from discriminating but he equivocated on the section of the law that required private establishments to desegregate. Maddow tried to corner him into a “yes” or “no” on whether or not he supports that aspect of the landmark law, but he refused to answer. He said that liberals have a problem because they want to argue that restaurant owners can prevent patrons from bringing firearms into their restaurants. He brought up William Lloyd Garrison, apropos of nothing really. He began several replies to Maddow’s yes-or-no question by saying, “Well, it’s interesting….” He argued that Maddow’s question was really just a political attack designed to make him appear like a racist. Paul categorically said he opposed all forms of discrimination and racism and there is no reason to disbelieve him. But, that was not the question. The question is about the role of government in society and whether or not the federal government was right to insist that it be against the law to discriminate on the basis of race in private businesses that serve the public. He would not answer. His career as a non-politician politician lasted less than 24 hours.


Mr. Paul also has raised objections to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which has dramatically altered the possibilities open to those with disabilities in our society. He cited a practical example of why he is opposed to the law: Why should a small business owner not be permitted to merely put a disabled person’s office on the first floor rather than be forced to build an elevator so the disabled person can work on the second floor? The problem is that this practical example is false and I know so. Back in the early ‘90s, the business I managed expanded to the neighboring building, which required extensive renovations. Because of our high profile in downtown DC, we were one of the first businesses whose renovation work was done in consultation with the Justice Department for compliance with ADA. Originally, they really did want us to put in an elevator but when we showed them how the cost of this would essentially close the business, they relented. So, his example is a false one and I will be happy to come to Louisville to testify to that fact.

Mark Silk has argued that Rand Paul’s victory shows that the religious right and the libertarian Tea Partiers can happily co-exist. I am not so sure. Certainly, as Silk points out, the religious right felt duped by the establishment Republicans in Kentucky who evidently misrepresented Paul’s position on abortion to them. Paul is pro-life. But, as Silk notes, the libertarians are uniformly in favor of same sex rights, opposed to government intrusions into the bedroom, and they need to keep that quiet until after the November election if their alliance with the religious right is to hold. That might work if we did not have a two-party system, but if I were the Democratic nominee, I would be challenging Paul on the issue of same sex marriage rights in every debate and in every advertisement.

Readers know of my suspicion of libertarianism. I witnessed the damage it perpetrated on the Democratic Party which embraced its cant in an effort to defend abortion rights. It robbed the Democratic Party of its ability to articulate a moral underpinning to its agenda. It will do the same for the Republicans. Libertarians will be at war not only with the religious right on the issue of same sex unions but with the neo-con right on issues of American intervention abroad. Their minimalist view of government coheres with one strand of American political thought, our rugged individualism, but it is completely unable to accommodate the other strand in American political life, the Biblical commitment that we are our brother’s keeper. Any successful politics in this country finds ways to balance both those impulses, not to jettison the one to exalt the other.

Catholics, especially our friends over at First Things who are devoted to the examination of first things, will recognize that libertarianism is not just a bad fit with Catholic social teaching, it is an impossible fit. Two central, foundational concepts in Catholic anthropology – communion and solidarity – find no room at the libertarian inn. In the Catholic worldview, the human person is made for communion with God and other persons and solidarity expresses the social nature of our selves. In the libertarian worldview, interests may converge, but the attempt to articulate common goals to be undertaken not as a congeries of individuals but as a people, as a nation, that is a misguided project. Libertarians are wrong. They are profoundly wrong. And, in the coming months in the great state of Kentucky, it will become more and more apparent just how wrong they are.   

Michael Sean Winters


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Brutus Taylor
9 years 2 months ago
"Two central, foundational concepts in Catholic anthropology – communion and solidarity – find no room at the libertarian inn. In the Catholic worldview, the human person is made for communion with God and other persons and solidarity expresses the social nature of our selves."
You make the strong assumption that communion and solidarity are only possible if they are enforced at the barrel of a gun.  True communion and solidarity are not coerced.  The same is true for charity.  
Later on, you make the same mistake with regards to common goals.  You insinuate that common goals are not possible without using violence (government force) against people.  That is both incorrect and quite frightening.
9 years 2 months ago
"That might work if we did not have a two-party system, but if I were the Democratic nominee, I would be challenging Paul on the issue of same sex marriage rights in every debate and in every advertisement."
Michael Sean Winters becomes a culture warrior before our very eyes.  Isn't this the kind of tactic you decried so much during the health care debate by charging conservatives with using the pro-life message to oppose the President's health care bill?  Who are you?
9 years 2 months ago
So if you could have afforded to install an elevator then they would have forced you to do this even though you could have had the disabled person work on the first floor? You had to talk them out of this because you could not afford this and you prove what point???
Tom Maher
9 years 2 months ago
Rand Paul needs to have a chance to define himself to the public in his own words and actions. Rachel Maddow could not care less who Rand Paul actually is or how he ticks. A great part of "who is Rand Paul" problem is that he is his father's son and therefore everyone thinks he is the same as his well known father, Ron Paul. He is not. In fact he has his own ideas and needs a chance to make his own thoughts known.

But MSW's labelling Rand Paul as "Libertarian" and then running with MSW's caricatured version of how a liberatatian would act in MSW's made-up "Catholic" world is completely distorts who Rand Paul is. Rand Paul has already refuted many mistaken impressions that he is blindly liberatarian. For example, he in a very Republican way he disapproves of the Obama admisistration "pre-announcement" of not using nuclear weapons under certain condition as being an unnecessarily weak give-away. He favors in negotiating with Iran that all options including military options should be on the table. Rand is more practicle side than the Obama admisistration in dealing with Iran's nuclear threat which of course no one can hide from.

And of course sometimes libertarianism is clearly superior to wanton do-gooderism in recognizing that government in trying to solve one problem often instead creates many other problems.

Governemnt often has no or very limited ability to solve society's problems. For example the most advanced insightrs of humanlind are in the libertarian ideas of the First Amendment of the Constitution where government is actually forbidden to be involved. "Congress shall make no laws abridging... freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freeedom of religion". In the areas of speech, press and religion govenment historically has proven to not only be of no help but an tyrannical danger to society. Throughout history governemnt has shown itslf to be one of the worst problems humankind can face. Government is often the problem; not the solution. American's "anthroplogy" is greatly advanced by forbidding meddling third parties in government from regulating speech, press and religion. Much of our freedom and properity we enjoy is derived from First Amendment libertarian principles restricting the government in our private affairs. Libertarianism at time has profound merits that we can all agree to and benefit by.
9 years 2 months ago
He is not a "libertarian," he is a conservative libertarian.  He is against abortion 100% of the time and is with Catholics on almost all social issues.
Too bad the same cannot be said of the Democrats that MSW continues to shill for...
9 years 2 months ago
This is a joke.  In today's world Catholics will thrive better in a libertarian world then in a liberal world which is naturally hostile to religion, especially Catholics.  Mr. Winters touts a philosophy that is inimical to his religion.  So one has to doubt where his true loyalties lie.
He must have been reading the comments about Ayn Rand the other day and laying in wait for an opportunity to attack libertarianism.  However, he has to present a convoluted argument to do so.  I am not a libertarian but easily recognize that Catholicism can thrive better in an environment that will not restrict what it can do than in one that tries to regulate everything one can do.  (Except sex.  That is the one thing liberals are completely open to.)
James Lindsay
9 years 2 months ago
All libertarians are not created equal. We are not all Randian, von Mises types. Some of us are left wingers - believing that laws that establish corporate priviledge are equally wrong. Such people believe in a cooperativism similar to Catholic Distributism. Also, not all libertarians share Paul's contempt for civil rights legislation - although many do since they are compulsively anti-force. Some of these don't seem to understand that if you open a business to the PUBLIC, you can't pick and choose your customers. One must open a PRIVATE club if one wants to exclude others. Reflexive libertarians don't really see this, especially those on the right (some - not all - of whom are also "culturally" conservative at heart - meaning some really are bigots and use liberty as a charade).

Michael, you seem to have been deliberately rattling some people's cages of late. It certainly does keep people reading the column, but I'm not sure it is doing much good otherwise.
Beth Cioffoletti
9 years 2 months ago
Keep rattling, MSW.  You give voice to many of my own Catholic beliefs and I am very grateful to see them publicly aired so articulately.
Jesus rattled quite a few cages himself so you're in good company.
9 years 2 months ago
Please define 'conservative libertarian' . My guess it's' I'm for complete freedom for everything, everybody  EXCEPT.. the exceptions are  for everything I think/know/believe is wrong and what is taught by the 'magistarium'. My guess this won't fly even in Kentucky.
James Lindsay
9 years 2 months ago
Brutus, sometimes the barrel of the gun is necessary to level the playing field, particularly in the area of the distribution (not redistribution) of wages and benefits. This is particularly the case when you have oligopolistic and monopsonistic wage structures - meaning that the bosses and owners can tell workers what they will be making without their having much of an opportunity to seek alternatives. That is the case in most of the labor market. Robbery occurs in the private sector as well and employers, even employers who would voluntarily pay more, cannot because of price competition should they do the right thing in such areas as living wage and sick leave. Tax policy actually makes wages for the poor more manageable because the poor get tax benefits, sometimes in excess of their taxes owed - or even their earned income. Health care reform will likely fail (leading to a single payer system) because sick leave was not mandated for all workers (which would have kept the playing field level for small business and franchisees) - keeping people in the ER rather than a doctor's office during business hours.
James Lindsay
9 years 2 months ago
Conservative libertarians oppose government regulation of business, but not regulation of private conduct by business (which they view is voluntary). They do not oppose capitalism (and all its horrors - which BTW, is different than a free market) - even though it takes the state to create a limited liability corporation. Conservative libs are also supportive of the rights of individuals to exclude others, even in the public sphere.

Left libertarians believe in economic democracy within the workplace and the ending of the corporation priviledge - meaning that if you own the piece of a business and it creates a torte the successful plaintiffs can not only take your business assets, they can go after your house and car, etc. Left libertarians are also more accepting on personal relationships that the Magisterium frowns upon.

Both kinds are in favor of overturning drug laws and releasing (and reenfranchizing) drug offenders serving in a racist southern penal system, which would cause Rand more trouble than anything he believes or says about marriage. Actually, the pure libertarian position is to simply stop celebrating marriages other than in churches, so that people get civil unions from the state (regardless of sexual orientation) which give them automatic contract rights vis a vis tax policy and their families of origin in regard to medical decisions. Of course, this is a distinction without a difference designed to placate the religious and cultural conservatives (sadly, one shouldn't be able to be both - but quite a few are - cultural conservatism being a polite reference to racism).
9 years 2 months ago
What if Rand just changed his mind?  Why is that so bad?  Is it so inconceivable that the sorts of things you might think or say at one time have to move more toward the center in a general election?  I mean if changing your mind or become "wiggly" on issues is something so bad, then almost every politician, including our revered President, would have some 'splaning to do.
James Lindsay
9 years 2 months ago
Obama is not for marriage either. Given the fact that the Speaker of the House is from San Francisco, there is no possibility that Gay Marriage will become a congressional issue (except for the repeal of DOMA) because she knows she would be thrown out of office for letting a Defense of Marriage Amendment come to the floor so the opinions of Paul and Obama really do not matter. This matter is now before the federal courts in a case designed to draw Kennedy into repealing all state prohibitions on gay marriage. Indeed, once that case is decided, DOMA falls automatically and the defense of marriage is only important as an impetus to a constitutional convention (which the sponsors would also have consider abortion and a balanced budget - assuming they can control the agenda). Then the only question is, are there enough blue states to block the expected outcome - assuming that the people who call it can dominate it (which is not an assumption I would make).
9 years 2 months ago
Comments can be a little silly some times.  Capitalism is just what the layman's understanding is.  Capitalism as defined by wikipedia as
''Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned; supply, demand and price are mostly set by market forces rather than economic planning; and profit is distributed to owners who invest in businesses. Capitalism also refers to the process of capital accumulation.''
Now with something as ubiquitous as capitalism there are lots of variations but the definition above is suitable to discuss it.  If one wants to see how wikipedia talks about different forms of capitalism, go to its discussion.  There are obviously whole courses on it and its variations in academia and several have written books on it.
The horrors of capitalism.  What horrors.  Go outside and look around and see what capitalism has built and go anywhere else in the world to see what alternative systems have wrought.  Capitalism like anything can lead to some problems but give me a break.  Look at the medical system, the technology system, the education system, the housing etc and compare it to anywhere else in the world.  Not perfect but there is no close second.  That is why people all over the world have been flocking here for decades.
And because it is not perfect we have people who want to change it.  And replace it with what?  Nothing else will employ so many people at such a high level.  Only a few years ago jobs were going begging because there was not enough people with technical skills to do them.  We should be encouraging capitalism as best as we can.  Since 1980 when Ronald Reagan lowered taxes and reduced regulation, 45 million jobs have been created by small businesses and none by established businesses.  So destroy that and you will put people out of jobs for 50 years.  Encourage that and you will get the jobs as the small business that capitalists and investors create will employ the people.  There is a very small percentage of the population, probably less than 1/2 of 1 % who end up doing this.  Let them loose and we all will benefit.  Stifle them and we will be talking about permanent high unemployment as Obama's economic advisers are currently doing.
And to use a favorite phrase around here.  Unemployed people is not social justice no matter how a Jesuitical commentary wants to slice it.
Helena Loflin
9 years 2 months ago
Rand Paul has also freely stated (a few years ago in a Letter to the Editor of his local paper) that it should be a business owner's freedom under the First Amendment to refuse to sell or rent housing to minorities.  Sure sounds just like a David Duke to me.
Joseph Courtney
9 years 2 months ago
I find it absurd that Winters calls Rand a "champion of the truth-telling Tea Partiers"?  Truth-telling Tea Partiers???????????  You mean the ones who call Barack Obama a communist, a nazi, a Kenyan, a secret Muslim, a Chicago thug?  The ones who claimed health care reform was designed to kill seniors?  You mean the folks who never met a fact that couldn't be contorted or ignored?  This group of ignorant, loutish loudmouths is the worst thing to have happened to the hope of civil politics in a long time. 


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