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Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

by , Editor Emeritus , Free Liberal

 Photograph of President Lyndon Johnson Signs the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., with Other Civil Rights Leaders in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC, 08/06/1965 From: Johnson White House Photographs

Dr. Rand Paul’s week began pretty well with a win in the Republican Senate primary in Kentucky. Then, the libertarian hopeful treated himself to four days of the unpleasant effects of foot-in-mouth disease.

His comments the Civil Rights Act on the Rachel Maddow Show (via Dave Weigel):

MADDOW: In terms of legal remedies for persistent discrimination, though, if there was a private business, say, in Louisville, say, somewhere in your home state, that wanted to not serve black patrons and wanted to not serve gay patrons, or somebody else on the basis of their — on the basis of a characteristic that they decided they didn’t like as a private business owner — would you think they had a legal right to do so, to put up a “blacks not served here” sign?

PAUL: Well, the interesting thing is, you know, you look back to the 1950s and 1960s at the problems we faced. There were incredible problems. You know, the problems had to do with mostly voting, they had to do with schools, they had to do with public housing. And so, this is what the civil rights largely addressed, and all things that I largely agree with.

MADDOW: But what about private businesses? I mean, I hate to — I don`t want to be badgering you on this, but I do want an answer.

PAUL: I’m not — I’m not —

MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don’t serve black people?

PAUL: Yes. 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 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 don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it. I think the problem with this debate is by getting muddled down into it, the implication is somehow that I would approve of any racism or discrimination, and I don’t in any form or fashion.

MADDOW: But isn’t being in favor of civil rights but against the Civil Rights Act a little like saying you’re against high cholesterol but you’re in favor of fried cheese?

PAUL: But I’m not against —

MADDOW: I mean, the Civil Rights Act was the federal government stepping in to protect civil rights because they weren’t otherwise being protected. It wasn’t a hypothetical. There were businesses that were saying black people cannot be served here and the federal government stepped in and said, no, you actually don’t have that choice to make. The federal government is coming in and saying you can’t make that choice as a business owner.

Which side of that debate would you put yourself on?

PAUL: In the totality of it, I’m in favor of the federal government being involved in civil rights and that’s, you know, mostly what the Civil Rights Act was about. And that was ending institutional racism.

MADDOW: When you —

PAUL: And I’m in favor of — I’m opposed to any form of governmental racism or discrimination or segregation, all of the things we fought in the South, in fact, like I say, I think it’s a stain on our history that we went 120 years from when the North desegregated and when those battles were fought in the North. And I like to think that, you know, even though I was a year old at the time, that I would have marched with Martin Luther King because I believed in what he was doing.

Here is what I would have said and why if asked about the Civil Rights Act:

My Soundbite Answer: Our great nation was founded with two great, glaring flaws: Slavery, and the treatment of women. The aftermath of those mistakes are still with us, even to this day. A number of steps were taken along the way to redress those profound injustices; I’m sure we all could find fault in each of the remedies. We could play hypothetical games, going back further to fix past mistakes, but I’m interested in the here and now. I do not advocate the repeal of the Civil Rights Act. We’ve made progress toward a color-blind society, but we’re not there yet.

Rationale: The most direct answer to this question is: I don’t know. I wasn’t there. You’re asking me a hypothetical that is impossible to answer. The relevant question is whether I would vote to repeal it, and I can’t say, since I have not read the bill. The totally candid answer is that from what I know of the bill, it forces businesses to not discriminate in providing services, e.g., lunch counters. In isolation, if there were one lunch counter somewhere that barred black or gay people, no one would bat an eye. When the practice is widespread that the descendants of former slaves cannot do business like the descendents of non-slaves, something else is at work here.

The culture was, in effect, infected by the unnatural impact on it by slavery. We can’t know what things might have been like had we never had slavery in this country of course, but in my judgment errors in the laws led to the separate-but-equal situation that continued into the 1960s, 100 years after slavery was ended. Undoing social engineering may well be a form of social engineering itself, but the motive strikes me as appropriate. Like everything, the CRA was sub-optimal. But at this point, adjusting it is not on my radar screen. This country has massive challenges before it. Tweaking the form of redress for an obvious injustice doesn’t merit bandwidth at this time.

Make Your Own Soundbite is your chance to answer the tough questions posed by the media. Please contribute your answer and your rationale below in the comments.


Free Liberal editor Robert Capozzi
Robert Capozzi is one of the stone-cold soldiers of hip-hop, and a private investor from New York.