Rand Paul and the Vacillations of Libertarianism

Libertarianism, as far as I’ve been able to understand it, is as loose as you can be on, well, everything. Far right on economic policy—as in low government interference in business—and far left on social policy—low government interference with your person. On paper, like any stance: conservative, progressive, socialist, etc., it looks good, but in practice, it rarely yields good results.

Take the recent appearance of Rand Paul, whose rapid acceptance by Kentucky voters is comparable to Sarah Palin’s rise to stardom during the McCain campaign of 2008. Rand Paul’s steamroller of a campaign quickly hit a brick wall when he appeared on the Rachel Maddow show and hemmed and hawed over his position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While he was almost comically unclear (in a Palin-esque way), the section of the bill he seemed to disagree with, according to a Courier Journal article Maddow referenced, is Title II, which outlaws discrimination in businesses which serve the public, such as hotels, restaurants and theatres.

What exactly he was trying to say was, again, hazy, but the well-worn mantra of ‘freedom’ stuck in his craw—that people who have abhorrent views should still have the freedom to express them. And he’s right, to a degree. The KKK is allowed to demonstrate in public, and they do with some regularity. But extending that freedom to allow discrimination in businesses that serve the public is a troubling view into the limits of the ‘freedom’ dynamic in the Tea Party movement.

It’s safe to say that Rand Paul’s leeriness about the Civil Rights Act extends beyond just the second title. His father, longtime Texas senator Ron Paul, has some unpopular opinions about the Civil Rights Act as well, in both Title II and Title VII of the act. In fact, Ron Paul was the only person to cast a nay vote commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During his statement, he argued against racial quotas in employment and the government interfering with private business on private property.

In other words, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

But while the second Paul is (or was) heralded as one of the heroes of the Tea Party Movement, his father is an almost legendary example of bureaucratic pigheadedness. The father and the son believe in many of the same things, but the movement tried to cast the younger as somehow being different. Fact is he’s just more spineless. At least Ron Paul sticks to his guns, rather than say “It is interesting, because…” over and over again like his blubbering son.

Both hold the same views on same-sex marriage (against in theory, but doesn’t think it’s up to the government), public education (against), state-run healthcare (against), deficit spending (against), gun control legislation (against), immigration reform (against), etc. They’re “for” some stuff too, but generally, they’re against getting involved in pretty much anything.

They’re only involved in freedom, and in practice, that means freedom for the government to do nothing other than what’s explicitly allowed by the Constitution, as if the country were encased in amber.

Not even getting involved in the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rand Paul called the Obama administration “un-American” when the president criticized BP for not acting quickly enough to stem the spill, even as Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele criticized the Obama administration for not stepping in and taking over for BP.

The “inexperience” that is attributed to Rand Paul by Steele and other politicians (understandably eager to keep the seats they’ve had for decades) in the wake of this “gotcha” (Palin) by the “liberal media” doesn’t have to do with Rand Paul’s views, but rather the way he fails to communicates them. If he were truly a straight-shooting libertarian like his father, he would have simply outlined his argument against Title II of the Civil Rights Act, or anything else he disagrees with.

But as hardnosed as Palin or Rand Paul claim to be, they don’t have the guts of the incumbents they plan to replace.