Republican senatorial candidate Rand Paul has gotten in hot water
over his views on the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul,
though reiterating his personal hatred of discrimination, expressed
skepticism at the anti-segregation law, citing his libertarian belief
that government should not tell private businesses how to operate, even
if that means allowing those businesses to discriminate. Paul has drawn
many comparisons to 1964 Republican president nominee Barry Goldwater,
who as a senator used the same argument to vote against the Civil Rights
Act. What is Goldwater's legacy? And should Republicans today be
following his example?
- They Face Same Ideological Hurdle
Newsweek's Ben Adler writes, "As
Goldwater's heir, it makes a certain intellectually honest sense for
Rand Paul to say that while he would not choose to shop at a segregated
business, it isn't his role, or that of the federal government, to
impose that on others. This is a very extremist view. Civil-rights
advocates will, correctly, point out that for someone suffering from
discrimination this is a distinction without a difference."
Goldwater Problem The Washington Post's David Weigel says that as a
result of "Barry Goldwater’s vote, on constitutional grounds, against
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the albatross of racism was hung around
the neck of American conservatism and remained there for decades and
even to the present." That's what Rand Paul is struggling against now.
Conservatism vs Rand Libertarianism Vololkh Conspiracy's David Bernstein explains
the difference. "the result of adopting the Goldwater and certainly the
Rehnquist 1950s/60s constitutionalist view is that state-mandated Jim
Crow would have continued indefinitely. The result of adopting the
libertarian view ... is that Jim Crow would have been abolished, except
that private discrimination would have still been legal."
- Libertarianism And Segregation Bruce Bartlett writes, "As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown
of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was
enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal
pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would
certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There
is no reason to believe that this system wouldn't have perpetuated
itself absent outside pressure for change."
'Basic Contradictions of Republican Libertarianism' Reproducing an
old column, CBS's David Miller laments the "fundamental
misunderstanding of Goldwater, in whom the basic contradictions of
Republican libertarianism were plainly visible from the start." He cites
Goldwater's "appeal to dismantle the federal government" and "numerous
dog-whistle appeals to American racists." The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan is more sympathetic:
"There was a very solid constitutional case against the 1964 Civil
Act, which was why Goldwater opposed it. But as an empirical matter, I
think the history of race in America proves the inadequacy of pure
freedom to redress the darkest of human impulses - to own, torture and
terrorize an entire race."
- Makes Sense, But It's Bad Politics
Jason Arvak concedes that "such nuance is lost (and
actively sabotaged) in the no-holds-barred political process. The
'Republicans are racists' meme has proven very useful for some Democrats
over the past few decades. ... It’s worth remembering that Lyndon
Johnson nuked Barry Goldwater with exactly the same blunt-axe distortion
that Rachel Maddow deployed against Rand Paul."
Whenever I bring this up, people quickly rush to assure me that
Goldwater didn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on
the most important political issue of his time out of racism, instead at
the decisive moment in his career he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with
white supremacists out of principled constitutional reasoning that made
it impossible for him to do otherwise. But this is actually more
damning. You could imagine the founder of a movement being afflicted
by an unfortunate character flaw that his followers lack. But the
argument is that Goldwater didn’t suffer from a character flaw.
Instead, having acquired a major party presidential nomination he stood
shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on the most important issue
of the day because his sincere political ideology led to horribly
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