Jim DeMint: I'm going to talk to Rand Paul about his positions

Heh. Think Progress cornered him this morning about Paul’s take on the Civil Rights Act and, unlike RP, the old pro had the savvy to give the politically safe answer. Follow the link for video. As for what he and Paul will be chatting about, two words: Message discipline.

Two clips below for your edification, one the much buzzed about exchange last night between Paul and Rachel Maddow (Dave Weigel has the full transcript) and the other his walkback this morning on Laura Ingraham’s show, in which he served up some red meat about the “loony left” and gave the time-for-this-to-go-away answer that, yes indeed, he supports the Civil Rights Act. What this means to his libertarian fan club, I don’t know. Presumably it’ll be shrugged off, either on grounds that he secretly opposes the law but has to make certain concessions to get elected (see, e.g., Obama and gay marriage) or that it’s a non-issue compared to cutting spending, rolling back ObamaCare, ending the Fed, screaming against about the gold standard, etc. I’m actually surprised that he backed off, as the whole Paul phenomenon is based on the idea of principled, uncompromising libertarianism. He’s out there — or at least, I think a lot of his supporters want him to be out there — not just to win an election but to do so with a full-throated, unapologetic defense of laissez faire, warts and all. If his base preferred a safe pol who’d say what he had to say to win, they would have gone for Grayson; instead they took a chance on the purist, and now they’re either about to ride the roller coaster for six months or watch Paul water down his message in hopes of making it more digestible to centrists. If he does end up imploding because of his views, perhaps there’s a lesson there about how politically viable strong-form libertarianism is, even in this anti-Democratic tea-party climate.

In the meantime, he’ll have to contend with a question posed by Bruce Bartlett (via Weigel): If libertarian solutions are the best way to end discrimination, why didn’t things start improving for blacks until the feds got involved in earnest in the 1950s? Presumably the answer will be “it wasn’t the feds, it was MLK’s civil rights movement that turned the tide,” but it’s hard to separate those two: Civil rights leaders leveraged federal power in various ways to protect minority rights. I think the real answer is that Paul isn’t claiming that libertarianism is the “best” way to end discrimination, he’s claiming (or was claiming) that it’s the only constitutional way. If that means leaving businesses alone who refuse service to blacks, well, that sucks, but that’s property rights for you. That’s the bind Paul’s in now, either gritting his teeth and saying, “yes, under our rule of law, we have to be willing to endure some racism” — which seems to be his position — or claiming that we could have achieved the same level of equality we’ve achieved now purely through boycotts and pickets and other non-state means. I’d like to believe that we could have, but I think a Kentucky voter quoted by the Times (in a different context) said it best: “He says things, and I wish they could be that way, but I know they’re not.”

Speaking of strong-form libertarianism, Ann Althouse is calling me out for misrepresenting Paul’s views in my post yesterday. I didn’t mean to, but she’s right that I should have been clearer. Althouse’s point is that Paul opposes any government interference in how someone runs their business, which would be strong form laissez faire; I assumed, because he danced around NPR’s questions and because this was obviously about to become a major headache for him, that he was taking the more palatable, weaker form position that it’s more acceptable for state and local agencies to act against discrimination but that the feds should stay out. (As it turned out, he now says having the feds interfere is fine.) That’s why I brought federalism into it, and that’s why I thought the Fourteenth Amendment would eventually end up in the discussion. If Paul doesn’t want the feds meddling in private businesses to protect minority rights, does he at least support letting them meddle with state governments that refuse to do so? I think he’s answered that question by implication today, but like I say, I should have been clearer.

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