Rand Paul, Candidate for U.S. Senate (Kentucky) and son of the world’s most famous Libertarian, has spent the past couple of weeks bucking for the title. He claimed King of the Hill last week, when the entire country went agog over his belief that the federal government should not have the power to prohibit private businesses from denying service to people based on race (or gender, or religious belief, or hair color, or height).
After sacrificing his chances for election to Rachel Maddow, America went into it’s expected tizzy. Depending on which television talking head was wailing, Paul is either a fool, a diehard racist, or even a wimp for backtracking on his statements.
Yet in the zeal of the political left to capitalize on an opportunity, and the media to put on a rating-grabbing show, we’re missing the chance to take advantage of the moment to have a serious political debate.
Although Paul is running as a Republican, his views are classic Libertarianism. More than 15 percent of Americnas identified themselves as Libertarians in 2006, and it’s easy to believe that number has risen significantly since the economy tanked two years ago. More and more citizens want the government’s hands off their money, their health care, their businesses, and their daily living. The political left risks ridiculing Paul at their own elective peril.
But Paul sees the issue in strict terms of individual liberty – if you own a business, you should be able to serve who you want. It’s an attractive argument until you follow it to its natural conclusion. Allowing private discrimination on such a level would drag us back to the late 60’s race riots. The Civil Rights Act was passed in our lifetime, and people wronged have a long memory. Pasting a “Whites Only’ sign on a restaurant now would be like waving a red flag before a bull (or possibly yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre).
The question to be asked isn’t whether Rand is a racist, The question is at what point are individual liberties outweighed for collective order and safety, or even by the simple need to compel some people to do what’s right? It’s a question with no simple answer, and a question everybody’s to busy grandstanding to even ask.