Obviously, there’s been a lot of discussion of Rand Paul’s case of athlete’s mouth with respect to the Civil Rights Act, and a lot of talk of racism, as any issue as racially charged as that one is likely to provoke. But here’s the thing: As I mentioned in comments here, I don’t actually think Paul is a racist. I don’t think most of his various defenders are, either.
Now it’s understandable that so many would look at this issue and think that it’s about race, given the dubious history of the issue, but viewing it that way is a mistake. This isn’t actually about race at all. It’s about government.
So why do libertarians (Paul is only the most recent, but far from alone in doing so) pick on something as taboo as the Civil Rights Act? Because it’s an anathema to their political philosophy. It’s a crystal-clear case of where government intervention was absolutely necessary to resolve a pervasive social problem. But according to libertarianism, such problems aren’t supposed to exist. According to them, all such problems can and will be resolved by market forces, not by the “heavy hand” of the government, and these problems will actually be resolved in a better way by those market forces.
What to do when confronted with obvious counterexamples? Make up a revisionist history in which the “heavy hand” of the government was simply unnecessary. So you argue, against all evidence to the contrary, that it was the government that forced those terrible, terrible policies upon a populace that didn’t want them, and that absent that government force, such policies would not have existed, or would not have long survived. Never mind that segregation was nearly as prevalent in, say, Boston, where no Jim Crow laws existed, as it was in the South. That inconvenient historical truth must be thrown under the ideological bus.
It need not have been the Civil Rights Act, either. There are plenty of other examples. It’s still an article of faith among libertarian types that the financial crisis was caused by Fannie and Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act, despite all evidence to the contrary. The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act actually result in more air and water pollution than we’d otherwise have, according to them. (A risible position, I agree, but I swear that’s what they say.) Rand Paul himself has even called out the government for being too hard on BP for the ongoing oil spill nightmare — apparently, the market has decided that 1 to 2 million gallons of oil per day spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is A-OK.
So as tempting as it is to do so, it’s a mistake to frame this issue through the window of race. It’s about government, and the desperate desire of libertarians to pretend that effective government is unnecessary and nonexistent. They’re still nuts, just not the kind of nuts that the Civil Rights Act flap initially seems to imply.