Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul & The Business Good, Government Bad Argument

A few thoughts about this Rand Paul/Rachel Maddow dust-up:

While I certainly don't believe he's a nasty, overt racist, Paul's mish-mash of Libertarian/Republican/Tea Party tenets certainly revealed his beliefs to be incongruent with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (you know, the one that forced racist restauranteurs to serve black folk).

Here's an exchange about a specific effect of the '64 C.R.A.:

Maddow:... How about desegregating lunch counters?

Paul: Well what it gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says 'well no, we don't want to have guns in here' the bar says 'we don't want to have guns in here because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each-other.' Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion...(emphasis mine)

Maddow: Well, it was pretty practical to the people who had the life nearly beaten out of them trying to desegregate Walgreen's lunch counters despite these esoteric debates about what it means about ownership. This is not a hypothetical Dr. Paul.

Paul is basically suggesting that he has a philosophical problem with government imposing civil rights laws on business owners. His defense? Well, business are owned by people, not by the government, and should be allowed to operate their business in any manner they wish, even if it's offensive.

I've never been impressed with this argument. First of all, it ignores the symbiotic relationship between private business and government. If I operate a restaurant in the United States, I benefit from the support of the government in a host of ways:

• Highways, bridges, and tunnels (built by the government) make it easy for customers to drive to my restaurant.
• Subsidies paid to farmers help ensure that I'll be able to buy fruit and vegetables at an affordable price.
• Our public school system provides me with a literate, educated pool of workers to choose from.
• The Federal judicial system lets me defend myself against lawsuits, insurance claims, and other legal matters.
• Environmental protection laws let me rest assured that my customers won't get sick and die if they drink the water I serve them.
• I don't have to worry about serving rotten hamburger patties to my customers, thanks to meat inspection laws, mandated by the government.
• The Federal Reserve helps stabilize the dollar, protecting me from wildly unpredictable, Zimbabwe-style inflation
• An infrastructure of satellites, telephone lines and broadcast frequencies allow me to advertise my restaurant to a huge audience of potential customers
• I'm protected from foreign threats thanks to a highly advance, standing military force.

So when I hear Paul suggest that business owners should be able to decide whether or not they should be allowed to serve black people, because, hey, it's none of our business, I've got to disagree. We're fortunate enough to live in a nation that literally moves mountains to help businesses prosper. Defiance of federal Civil Rights legislation isn't just ugly, it's un-American.

Update: Paul made a clarifiying statement today:

"I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Can you believe a political candidate in 2010 would need to make such a statement?


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