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.