Thursday, 20 May 2010

Honestly Wrong

Rand Paul's victory in the Republican Primary for one of Kentucky's Senate seats seems to have driven a large portion of my particular neighbourhood of the blogohedron completely mad. In fact, madness is very much on the agenda; the vast majority of those on the left seem utterly convinced that Paul is totally out of his libertarian tree, and something of a cockbag besides.

I can't speak to whether or not his bagginess could most accurately be described as cockesque. I'm also far from sure that he's a nutcase, either. What he most certainly is is deeply, profoundly wrong, but that's hardly a surprise in a GOP candidate.

Given how much flak he's getting over his, er, intriguing position on the interpretation of the First Amendment, though, I wanted to point one thing out that is to his credit. A little bit of perspective and balance. You could see it as a concession to Spielbergo's demands that this blog's political coverage be more positive, or as a poorly disguised ploy to make people believe that that all my other posts about how the Republicans are twats must be the truth.

Either way, here's what Paul has to say on the subject of denying service to potential customers on the basis of their race:
I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind... [T]his is the hard part about believing in freedom.
Needless to say, this is nonsense. First of all, the right to express oneself is not the same thing as the right to perform any action one is allowed to express the desire to perform. There are all sorts of things I can say I want to do to or with people without it being OK to just go ahead and do it because I'm on my own property. Private property is not immune from the law, and the case that such laws are unconstitutional because entering into a financial transaction counts as "expression" strike as profoundly unpersuasive.

Secondly, if we're really going to be serious about the business of freedom, we need to realise that we maximise freedom by carefully balancing restrictions on all sides, not by pretending that each restriction removed has increased freedom when all you've done is convert it from one form to another. Paul isn't creating the freedom for shopkeepers to be racist out of thin air, he's transmuting it from the freedom to buy food for your children from wherever is convenient, irrespective of your skin colour.

Here's the thing, though. As much as I think Paul's ideas are totally unworkable and based on fundamentally flawed premises, I have to give him credit for introducing an idea most Republicans won't go anywhere near: there are some decisions the government might have to take that will be hard. That will cause problems for certain people. Essentially, Paul is saying "This is going to be a problem for a lot of people, but it is still the right thing to do."

It speaks volumes about the state of the American right that this is somehow impressive, but here we are anyway. This has been one of my big problems with conservatives since day one, the resolute refusal to admit that their choices could possibly disadvantage anyone, from "Everyone already has access to healthcare" through to "We will be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people". Paul deserves credit for not playing by the same rules, even if as a result it's allowed him to criticise the Civil Rights Act in a way most of his fellow GOP politicians would never dare. It's probably why Daniel Larison likes him so much, and if we could have a few more like him, it might be easier to view the political struggle in America - and elsewhere - as being being between two philosophies, rather than between flawed opportunists and straight out mendacious bastards.

In other words, Paul isn't crazy. He's just deeply wrong and astonishingly honest, and that's confusing the crap out of an awful lot of people who aren't at all used to seeing the two things coming in the same package.

Update: Well, that didn't last long...

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