If Rand Paul doesn't realize how racist he is, how does he remember to breathe?

May 21 2010 Published by under Politics

I hate writing about politics, but the mainstreaming of racism since the election of Obama makes writing about politics a moral imperative. We'll start with Dr. Rand Paul, who is running for one Kentucky's senate seats. The usual racist dog whistles are apparently too subtle for Paul, which is good. I'd rather a politician be explicit about his bigotry. What I really love about the Paul case is his attempt to make his bigotry an inevitable consequence of his other beliefs. This is good, and I'll tell you why.
Paul says that he disagrees with the parts of the Civil Rights Act that forbid private commercial enterprises from discriminating against customers. He makes it clear that he would never belong to or frequent an institution that practiced policies of racial exclusion but that they should be allowed to do so. This issue was settled a long time ago, but obviously many Americans aren't so happy about it. After all, if blacks can eat at a lunch counter what's to stop them from becoming president? Paul gives these folks cover in the guise of his "libertarian" beliefs:

MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don't serve black people?
PAUL: I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race.

But what? Racism and discrimination isn't just about what's in your heart or mine, but in what we as a society do to fight or encourage it. We don't allow restaurants to keep pet rats in the kitchen, and we don't let them turn away customers who are black. We use our laws to limit some personal behaviors because we must.
Here's the "but":

But I think what's important about this debate is not written into any specific "gotcha" on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking

I wish he were a moron, but he's not. He's using a whole new dog whistle, one which lets racists hide under the mantle of "libertarianism". This is a straw man. The civil rights act does not forbid racist speech, but certain discriminatory behaviors. Hate speech laws have been debated extensively in this country and so far the idea has not proved overly popular, but that's not the current point. The point is that someone who may be writing and voting on laws for the whole country is on the record as saying that in the name of "freedom" we must return to Jim Crow.
Whatever cover story he launches will not change this fundamental fact. This is not some great conspiracy to smear his great name. We don't need a conspiracy for that. He's doing just fine himself. But he is just one man. It's the people voting for him who truly make me ill.

32 responses so far

  • dean says:

    We've known for some time is old man isn't afraid to pal with racists (let them use his newsletter for some time) without any explanation - it seems rand learned the lesson well.
    he's been trying to backpeddle from this, but it seems that this racist sub-leaning has a long history with him.

    Paul wrote that "a free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin.

    - from a 2002 letter to the Bowling Green Daily News, in which he argued against the Fair Housing Act.
    Couple this with his stance against cutting medical payments from Medicare ("Physicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living") and you see him for what he is: not man of principle, but a man of opportunity and hypocrisy. That must be why the teabaggers love him.

  • Greg Laden says:

    I understand he gets most of his O2 from his skin.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Actually, Greg, I'm pretty sure that if anyone defines "mouth-breather"....

  • Phytophactor says:

    Paul sort of reminds me of a certain gentleman of the old south that I once knew who said, "What's wrong with being a bigot? Some of my best friends are bigots."

  • WTFWJD says:

    Here is the question I would pose to him:
    So, Rand, you're having a heart attack. You call 9-1-1 for an ambulance. The ambulance arrives. The EMTs take one look at you and say they don't serve whites. Do they have that right?
    My money would be on him trying to argue that they would have that right, with a little quibbling along the way.

  • on the record as saying that in the name of "freedom" we must return to Jim Crow
    Well let's be fair. The Jim Crow laws were Jim Crow laws, mandating discrimination under force of jail. Whether or not you think Rand's position with regard to private action is bad, this is certainly the opposite of what he's saying.

  • PalMD says:

    If the state allows discrimination, it is the same thing in effect. A store owner could call the police hand have black people removed selectively from their store. The power of the state is behind their discriminatory practices.
    I call bs, matt.

  • Umlud says:

    I recently read an interesting article -- cited originally by Orac. It seems to explain a little bit as to why such mainstreaming of racism is not merely allowed, but might not be recognized as being racist.

  • realinterrobang says:

    Speaking as someone trained in rhetoric, it's appalling that he's trying to construe excluding people from publicly-accessible spaces with speech acts. Behaving in a bigoted manner isn't "free speech," it's behaviour. If you want to exercise your freedom of speech toward the end of being bigoted, you have to actually perform a speech act, which have to actually be performed in a communicative manner. Saying "Get out of here; I don't serve your kind here" is a speech act; having your bouncer grab someone by the lapels and bounce them pursuant to that speech act isn't...
    Conflation is the first refuge of the rhetorical scoundrel.

  • Reporting from Kentucky. You would never know it from the national news, but according to the stats in the newspapers here, the top two democratic primary contenders garnered way more votes than Paul and Greyson combined. Now this happens. I may be dancing after the November election after all!

  • _Arthur says:

    If, prevailing myself of my rights under the Rand Paul Law, I put a "NO JEWS ALLOWED" sign on my chia pets store entrance, am I also allowed to check my customers papers, and to perform religion tests (bacon) to assure myself than no jew or half-jew sneaks in ?
    What about my "NO MORMONS" sign ?
    And my "B NEGATIVE PEOPLE, KEEP OUT" sign ?
    I just want to make sure my chia pets grow mold in a good home, that's all.

  • Scott says:

    I don't know anything about Rand Paul's history or other political or social views. This interview is the first I've heard of him. However, what I heard in the interview was only a very Libertarian political position: the government does not have the right to tell private citizens (and, by extension, private businesses) what they can and cannot do with their private property. It is a very laissez-faire, small government position, but it is a principled position. It's a position that says government does not have a constitutional right to regulate private businesses at all, or it at least restricts government's ability to regulate to a very small finite number of tasks. For example, this position would advocate that the government does not have the right to create the EPA, nor to regulate the emission of pollution in any way. That's private business, and a private entity can do anything they want.
    This position has the unfortunate consequence that it means that government cannot regulate the strictly business interactions between individuals. In practice, this means that a business can do anything it wants to, including discriminate.
    The freedom of speech means that anyone can say anything they want to, even if the speech offends someone else. The strict Libertarian position goes beyond that. It holds that anyone can do anything they want to, even if the act offends someone else.
    Unfortunately, this has the side effect that racists can use this as an excuse to act in a racist manner. It also means that those who want to act as a racist love politicians who espouse this position. It doesn't mean that Rand Paul is, himself, a racist.
    I happen to strongly disagree with this position. I think Rand Paul is wrong. Once you allow someone to act against another (as opposed to merely speak against another), you have (or have the potential to have) violated that other person's rights. That is, your right to act ends where it starts to violate my rights.
    So, let's strongly disagree with Mr. Paul and explain why his view of government's role is wrong, and why he should not be elected because of it. But if we simple call Mr. Paul a racist, I think we are degenerating into inappropriate name calling.
    (OTOH, if he is a racist, by all means call him out on it. I just can't draw that conclusion, based solely on this interview.)

  • Ray says:

    Why should the government concern itself with what goes on in privately owned buildings? If a business, a building, or a home is privately owned then who is allowed into that building should be completely at the owner's discretion. You would, I assume, agree that nobody's rights are violated if I refuse to allow someone into my home no matter what my reasons are. How is a private business any different?
    This, of course, shouldn't apply to anything publicly or state owned.

  • Scott says:

    Dear PalMD,
    I think you, yourself, are constructing a straw man to knock down. I don't remember hearing Mr. Paul saying that private business could use government police to evict people from that business. In fact, I heard him argue against that very point. He was only advocating that the government cannot compel a private business to conduct business with anyone. I agree that this means (in practice) that the government is, by inaction, allowing discrimination to take place. That is Mr. Paul's position. That's the position that must be argued against.
    Let's not weaken our position, by mischaracterizing Mr. Paul's position.
    (OTOH, I could have missed Mr. Paul calling for government action to enforce discrimination, but I certainly didn't hear it, and certainly did hear the opposite.)

  • PalMD, sure, but that doesn't have anything to do with Jim Crow. Jim Crow was mandatory "separate but equal" public facilities, which we know was of course a contradiction in terms. In many cases it actually forbade private nondiscrimination. In my home state of Louisiana, for instance, you were legally forbidden to rent to a black person if the apartment already had a white tenant.
    Private discrimination is loathsome and repugnant. But it's not Jim Crow, and though neither of us buy Rand's argument, it's not fair either to attribute the specter of Jim Crow to him. My $0.02, but if he gets elected and I'm wrong I'll be right beside you with tar and feathers with his name on them.

  • Scott says:

    Dear Ray,
    Now you're getting to the right question.
    The answer to your question is that allowing someone into your home is different than allowing someone into your business. If you open your doors to the public, you are now a "semi-public" entity. (or is it "semi-private"?) If you don't allow anyone into your business, that's your business. If you refuse to let unaccompanied minors into your business because it might be dangerous for them, that's a legitimate safety issue. However, if you let some of the public into your business, but exclude others because of the color of their skin, that becomes discrimination. True, it is private discrimination, but the effect is a public effect. Government, as an advocate of the public, has an interest in leveling the playing field so that all citizens can compete fairly, and so government has an interest in preventing public discrimination.

  • Vicki says:

    What Paul is saying is that property rights should trump human rights. Either the bigoted store-owner can call the police to make me leave his lunch counter, or he cannot call them to stop armed strangers from walking out with the contents of his cash register. But well-to-do bigots like him take for granted that the cops who aren't supposed to care about mistreatment of non-whites, women, GLBT people, or the disabled will show up if someone sprays "Rand Paul is a racist pig" on the front of his practice.
    It's not a straw man to point out that Paul wants to overturn the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Acts, and probably most of the legislation currently justified under the commerce clause.

  • Ray says:

    I agree that the government should attempt to level the playing field in some areas, but I think that there are some areas which should be off-limits. A private business which is open to the public, whether considered semi-public or semi-private, is exactly that: a private business, which the owner has chosen to allow people into. And as such, it should be subject to the same sorts or rules that other privately owned buildings are subject to, with some modifications depending on what type of business it is.
    If it's a privately owned hospital or something that could actually result in the harm/death of someone, then by all means force them to treat everyone. But if it's a restaurant or toy store then, perhaps unfortunately, they should be allowed to turn away anyone they want to.
    I think you may be misunderstanding his position... This has nothing at all with the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor does it involve much of the Civil Rights Act. Only the parts involving the mandate that private businesses serve everyone equally. The most important word there being private. (If I understand him correctly)

  • The Gregarious Misanthrope says:

    So in Rand Paul's world, private enterprise is free to discriminate. Here's a thought experiment for him and his supporters.
    A black man drives into an all-white town in an oasis in the middle of the desert. His car is almost out of gas, but the gas station won't sell him any. There are no public phones and no mobile signal so he cannot call for aid. No one will sell him water or food or shelter him. He has money to buy what he needs, but no one will sell it to him. It's 120 deg. F outside. How long will the man last? Who will be responsible for his inevitable death?
    A bit far-fetched, perhaps, but I have no doubt towns existed that would have treated others like that. Parts of the country would be effectively walled off to some portion of our citizenry. It would be private apartheid.

  • D. C. Sessions says:


    Speaking as someone trained in rhetoric, it's appalling that he's trying to construe excluding people from publicly-accessible spaces with speech acts.

    s/construe/conflate/ but anyway,

    What Paul is saying is that property rights should trump human rights.

    Actually, the slogan is that "property rights are human rights." What Rand Paul is proposing [1] and many of us are disputing is that property rights have or should have equal status with more liberal [2] rights such as free speech.
    It's easy to hold such positions if you never really examine the implications. The contortions that Ayn Rand went through to avoid letting reality taint her writings stems in large part [3] from trying to write hundreds of thousands of words without letting any real-world complexity contaminate her black and white melodramas.
    And if it's easy to hold such positions if you never confront the implications, it's also easy to avoid that confrontation if you never have to deal with applying them in the real world. Like anarchy, the Randian "Objectivism" which markets itself as capital-L Libertarianism works only when isolated safely away from the real world [4].
    [1] Channeling his namesake.
    [2] In the historical sense.
    [3] Of course, a lot came from her being such a wretched writer.
    [4] And no, Alan Greenspan isn't an exception.

  • Scott says:

    Well, that's the issue in a nut shell. We agree that the government should attempt to level the playing field in some areas. The question then becomes, where do you draw the line? That's where the politics starts to come into play. Those are the gray areas. That's where we can have a healthy debate.
    The problem with Rand Paul and the Tea Party position is that there is no gray area. It's either black or white. Either the government has no rights to regulate private businesses at all, or we have complete socialism. They see no way to compromise in between.
    As for Misanthropes' scenario, that isn't far fetched at all. That pretty much sums up what a lot of the South was like. (AFAIK. I was not there.) There were southern counties where blacks knew they simply could not go into.
    And Ray, that scenario is where the government has an interest to protect the public interest in making everyone, including private businesses, play fair.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    A bit far-fetched, perhaps, but I have no doubt towns existed that would have treated others like that. Parts of the country would be effectively walled off to some portion of our citizenry. It would be private apartheid.

    I have one word for that: Texas.

  • Chris says:

    The Gregarious Misanthrope:

    A bit far-fetched, perhaps, but I have no doubt towns existed that would have treated others like that. Parts of the country would be effectively walled off to some portion of our citizenry. It would be private apartheid.

    I heard stories of that happening from older engineers when I first went to work for an aerospace/defense company close to thirty years ago. In the 1960s Boeing did work on the Saturn V in Huntsville, AL. Some Asian engineers were regularly harassed outside the high tech area of Huntsville.

  • Donna B. says:

    I have to disagree that property rights are not a basic human right. Like all other human rights, they can be limited. If Paul is asserting that they can't be limited, then he is outright wrong. If he is asserting that a certain limit shouldn't apply, then that is his opinion and he's as entitled to it as we all are to disagree with it.
    But I do think almost everyone here would be howling that property rights ARE a human right when things other than discrimination in a private business are up for discussion.
    Without the right to own property, one is a slave to someone else or something else because keeping, using, and disposing of the fruits of one's labor is the basic property right from which the rest follow.
    Personally, I see his argument as logically stemming from a right of association rather than property rights and if viewed from that perspective, comparing it to free speech is not simply a rhetorical trick. But since that's not the way he phrased it...
    However, I don't think a business is granted the full property rights that an individual has, even if the owner is the sole employee as well as sole proprietor. I base this view on property rights as well. To offer to sell X for $5 is to offer to make a contract with anyone who has $5. To deny someone the right to make a contract is a denial of a property right.
    Of course one can define those he will enter into a contract with under some defined circumstances. I am thinking of restaurants that require certain standards of attire, or the right of proprietors to expel misbehaving miscreants.
    Essentially I think Paul is wrong, but for different reasons than I've read here so far. I think his invocation of property rights in this regard apply only to one's home. When it comes to my house, I think I should be able to limit access to whoever for whatever reason. For example, Bill O'Reilly ain't ever setting foot in this place. Neither is my next door neighbor. They are both jerks.
    If I was running a hot dog stand downtown, either of them would have the right to buy. A sign saying "No Jerks Served" just wouldn't suffice.

  • Left_Wing_Fox says:

    Frankly, I just see this as more evidence that free market fundamentalists either are clueless about the actual functioning of the market, or are lying about the inevitable results. If the free market could change racist attitudes through economic pressure, then Jackie Robinson wouldn't be such a big fucking deal.
    Here's the thing; african american communities had roughly 2 centuries of slavery and economic and political exclusion from american politics. As a group, they simply don't have the economic power of the white population. If government simply stood back and said 'Ok, we're no longer engaging in racism. We leave it to the companies to as their conscience dictates", that does nothing to eliminate the existing racist attitudes of a segregated society. How many business owners would risk losing the middle-class majority by allowing in a lower-class minority? Those who lived in middle-class communities suffered little economic hardship by refusing to sell their homes to the newly middle-class blacks looking to get out of the ghettos. Think of all the people who blamed the CRE on the mortgage bubble, just because they weren't allowed to exclude people from a mortgage based on where they lived, as opposed to their actual credit history or income.
    The bigger problem is when you realize that libertarian/free-market conservative groups want to reduce the role of government as much as possible. Every step they take to back out of wealth redistribution heightens that economic divide between racial lines, which feeds into classist resentments, which morph back into racist tropes. Ethnic neighbourhoods become poor neighbourhoods, which gives rise to crime, which feeds back into cultural fears of that ethnic group's criminal tendencies.
    If Rand Paul is not hiding his racism behind free-market fairy-tales, then he's dangerously naive.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    I just see this as more evidence that free market fundamentalists either are clueless about the actual functioning of the market, or are lying about the inevitable results.

    The problem is that you're thinking in terms of the economic entity, "market." They, however, are referring to the mystical/metaphysical entity "The Free Market." Your description of them as "fundamentalists" is a step in the right direction.
    If you want to understand their writings in context, replace "Market" and "Free Market" with "Flying Spaghetti Monster" and replace "Invisible Hand" with "Noodly Appendage." It really doesn't change anything, but it does remove the confusion.

  • He may or may not be a racist himself, but you can't infer it from this comment.
    He is obviously a hard-core libertarian who reliably sticks to the 'non-aggression principle'. He was brought up to believe in this principle above all from birth. The CRA violates the non-aggression principle in this respect so he is against it. That's all there is to it.

  • Left_Wing_Fox says:

    No, no. I think that way of them already. I'm just providing the reason why I see it that way. 😉
    And just like christianity, the true believers for FreeMarket Fundamentalism are in the minority, but have undue influence over the political landscape in America. Almost all our politicians give lip service to it, and the most vocally pious are the most likely to be found committing grievous sins. If it's a christian, infidelity, if it's a FMF, outright theft of those "Hard earned taxpayer dollars". If it's _BOTH_ you'd probably find them tax-fucking some kid's freedom hole.

  • daedalus2u says:

    Rand Paul is no libertarian. He is a lying bigot.
    He is against women having control over their uterus. He is against gay people being allowed to marry. If he is for government intervention into such private and non-public arenas as reproductive rights and marriage, then he is no proponent of small government.
    Now he is claiming that he was “attacked” by the liberal media? What happened on Rachel Maddow's show was an “attack”? If Rand Paul is so delusional as to think that Rachel Maddow “attacked” him, he is too delusional to be allowed to be in the US Senate. If you couple delusions of what constitutes an “attack” with the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war what is that going to do with civil discourse?

  • Heath Watts says:

    Libertarianism is a political ideology that is as ethically and intellectually as empty as creationism and postmodernism. How was Paul able to become an ophthalmologist with such nonsensical and low-brow ideas rattling around in his head? I would like to know who paid for his medical education. Rand Paul was a military doctor, so two questions arise in my mind. First, why would someone who is so deeply against the federal government of the U.S. serve in the military, and second, did the military pay for his medical education? If Rand's ophthalmology degree was financed with funds obtained from the federal government, then he should carefully re-evaluate his stance on the purpose of the government, because he has been a large beneficiary of that government.

  • ktesibios says:

    Regarding Rand Paul and his equally batshit-insane old man:
    You know that old saying that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"?
    In this case it should be "the horse apple doesn't fall far from the horse's ass".

  • daedalus2u says:

    Bill Maher had a good phrase too "the shit doesn't fall far from the bat".