Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 21, 2010

IT'S NOT JUST '40-YEAR OLD LEGISLATION'.... On "Good Morning America," Republican Senate candidate and right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul dismissed questions about his opposition to the Civil Rights Act by suggesting his views on the matter are irrelevant. To hear him tell it, there's no point in "bringing up 40-year-old legislation."

I've seen some Paul defenders make the same point -- unless Congress is planning to actually vote on repealing the Fair Housing Act or related laws, which isn't going to happen, what difference does Rand Paul's hypothetical opposition really make? It's not like eliminating child-labor laws will work its way to the Senate floor anytime soon. Settled law, the argument goes, is settled law.

It's hard to overstate how mistaken this is.

We're not only getting a closer look at the twisted worldview of a bizarre political movement, but we're learning that a man who may very well be a U.S. senator in January doesn't believe the federal government has the authority to interfere with private enterprise at all -- not even to end racial segregation.

As Ezra noted yesterday, it's hardly a stretch to think this might have public policy implications.

For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector's minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now, because the issue is not "area politician believes kooky but harmless thing." It's "area politician espouses extremist philosophy on issue he will be voting on constantly."

"Constantly" is not an exaggeration. Legislation related to private enterprise is a fixture of federal policymaking. Rand won't be in a position to evaluate proposals on the merits, because he's already decided that the underlying efforts have no merit -- if the government is considering a measure that interferes with the practices of a private entity, it's necessarily unacceptable.

(Unless, of course, we're talking about a woman's uterus or a gay couple's bedroom, which Rand Paul defines as public entities.)

If the federal government can't tell businesses what they can and cannot do, monopolies are fine, as is price-fixing. Food-safety regulations are objectionable, as are home-safety building codes. Where does Paul draw the lines drawn, exactly? It's hard to say -- the Kentucky Republican has drawn them in a radical way when it comes to racial discrimination and Americans with disabilities, and now he no longer wants to talk about the scope of his strange worldview.

A voter may or may not find all of this scary, but to dismiss a radical worldview as irrelevant because the Civil Rights Act is "40-year-old legislation" is a mistake.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

Food-safety regulations are objectionable, as are home-safety building codes.

absolutely. the market will self correct. a company that sell tainted food, for example, will go out of business because all of its customers will be dead or ill. problem solved! wonderful thing that free, unfettered market ...

Posted by: mudwall jackson on May 21, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Kind of like how lax building codes worked out in Florida in 1992 and The visit from Hurricane Andrew
Building codes who needs em. Just interference

Posted by: john R on May 21, 2010 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Re Offshore drilling: Does the federal government have any role to play in leasing public lands? Or will the public accrue sufficient benefits merely because exploration takes place to warrant allowing any exploration activity to take place without regulation by the populace?

I found his cavalier statement that "accidents happen" to be the one of the most bizarre statements that he has made yet. Catastrophes don't result from gremlins or trolls. They result from human errors. In both the Upper Big Branch Mine and Deepwater Horizon Disasters we will find that numerous errors were made by the responsible parties (we always do).

Lets face it, there is a reason libertarians are rarely elected to high public office.

Posted by: rk on May 21, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

His pappy is a nut, and so is he.

Speaking as somebody who leans strongly towards smaller government, I say it would be best if this guy were flushed, and fast. He should not be within a mile of public office. He's just too stupid.

If he gets into office hopefully the GOP chain of command will keep him in line for the most part -- they've already started. It's better than nothing.

Don't associate this little turd, or the GOP establishment, with any and all people who want smaller government.

Posted by: Wm T Sherman on May 21, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

"Settled Law"
Scott Brown had the same response when asked about Roe V. Wade in the MA senatorial debates. It was thought of as a "satisfactory response," and his defenders said "he could not change it if he wanted to." But, as is the case with Paul, the point is to get a sense of these politicians world views and which way they lean so you can have an idea about how they may vote.

Frustrating.

Posted by: Neal D on May 21, 2010 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the way the Roberts court is heading, congress might have to re-legislate "settled issues."

Lily Ledbetter, anyone? Campaign finance?

Posted by: efgoldman on May 21, 2010 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't the Constitution "just" a 200-something year old piece of paper? Why in the world should a politician be expected to know about something as old and esoteric as thought.

Posted by: AtlasMugged on May 21, 2010 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Since the government should not be establishing regulations and curtail the operations of "private companies", does that mean that the concept of "illegal alien" goes away? Of course, if undocumented(and who issues the documents?) people are no longer illegal, then there is no advantage to the hiring company to use fear of exposure to keep labor prices down since the fear of arrest and deportation is removed. Then, the employer is free to hire based on merit and qualifications, but must compete in an open market with other employers for the same labor pool. I wonder what this would do to prices if true competition for workers existed? Of course, there are still the 3rd world countries whose laws do not protect workers rights and conditions, and we certainly don't want to be Un-American and criticize them and penalize them for abusing their workers.

I feel like I could go on forever, so will close and see what others think.

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
peace,
st john

Posted by: st john on May 21, 2010 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Sherman, I agree that there should be room in our general political discourse regarding the proper role and size of government. There is nothing inherently wrong with being concerned about budget deficits, burdensome taxes, and excessive regulation, and I have never believed that so-called liberals or progressives have a monopoly on common sense. The problem is that today's GOP has so enthusiastically embraced ignorance and dishonesty—if not paranoid fantasizing—when it comes to these kinds of topics that it makes meaningful discussion, not to mention concrete actions, virtually impossible to achieve. To paraphrase Barney Frank, it's a waste of time to argue with a dinner table.

Posted by: bluestatedon on May 21, 2010 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

I'm fascinated by the extent to which Rand Paul's problems stem from exactly the sort of question(s) we ought to put to federal court nominees.

Just imagine Supreme Court nominee hearings that dug as deeply as we are currently witnessing with Mr. Paul.

Posted by: JimmyJeff on May 21, 2010 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

No one in Virginia should quarrel with this post. Nor should teachers or state workers in New Jersey.

Posted by: red on May 21, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

It's fascinating how deeply insinuated Paul's and, by extension, the whole libertarian worldview is in the GOP. Regulation is ipso facto bad because markets know best and government is tyranny. Anyone who's ever gone to a political chatroom knows the familiar buzzwords and dogmatic certitude of the casual right-winger.

This is a debate we need to have because it's gone unchallenged in the national conversation for so long. Most wingnuts now define "socialism" to mean ridiculously anodyne things, and few people outside Barney Frank or Alan Grayson ever respond.

There is, unfortunately, no guarantee we'll win this debate given the profound disconnect between reality and the fantasies of so many Americans. It's why "rugged individualists" can be on SS and Medicare, or why military pensioners think government is oppressive. People who think government shouldn't touch their Medicare are a disturbing trendline in a nation where democracy depends on some degree of realism among the citizenry.

Posted by: walt on May 21, 2010 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'm fascinated by the extent to which Rand Paul's problems stem from exactly the sort of question(s) we ought to put to federal court nominees.

Just imagine Supreme Court nominee hearings that dug as deeply as we are currently witnessing with Mr. Paul.

High school civics? They aren't asking him tough questions.

Posted by: rk on May 21, 2010 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Walt - well said and I think you've addressed the crux of the matter.

Posted by: winddancer on May 21, 2010 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Watch for the "Seat Belt Removal Act of 2011," coming soon to a Senate near you.

Posted by: Daddy Love on May 21, 2010 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

The lunatics are taking over the asylum.

"Against logic there is no armor like ignorance".
Dr. Laurence J. Peter

Posted by: MsNthrope on May 21, 2010 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

I found his cavalier statement that "accidents happen" to be the one of the most bizarre statements that he has made yet. -- rk, @16:48

Well, accidents do happen. When you're 3yrs old and can't tear yourself away from playing, long enough to visit the potty. That's why so many 3yr olds still wear diaper/pants.

Rand Paul the Unready, king of the Pee Pottiers.

Posted by: exlibra on May 21, 2010 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

While there are arguments about how broadly it should be interpreted, it seems that the one thing the commerce clause allows for regulation of .... commerce. I will grant that it was written to regulate interstate and international trade, but that includes just about everything in the modern economy.
So, how a clearly enumerated power of the constitution became unconstitutional is questionable.

Posted by: patrick on May 21, 2010 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

This one is spot on.

Posted by: Algernon on May 21, 2010 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

How long will our lazy corporate media keep asking obvious, and relevant, questions of Rand before the word comes down to leave him alone?

Posted by: rrk1 on May 21, 2010 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

Conway got more votes than Rand Paul. Shouldn't Conway be invited to fill the vacancy on Meet the Press left by Paul's running away?

They'll probably invite McCain or Gingrich.

Posted by: putnam on May 21, 2010 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

He's an eye doctor, but not a real businessman. As long as he offers a competent service and has someone to handle the collections (most docs suck at that), he could build a prosperous practice, esp. if he does cosmetic stuff like Lasix 9and he does). He probably hates malpractice lawyers, but I wonder if he'll say anything bad about insurance companies. I also wonder if he takes Medicare patients (probably needs the cash flow even if he doesn't like the reimbursement rates and like most professionals, he probably doesn't. His daddy was in the service and he probably enjoyed all the socialism that goes with that. Like most libertarians, he'd rather talk than listen and because he talks he probably knows little about political history.

Posted by: Rich on May 21, 2010 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

If there's anything that shows some lack of confidence in their new star, it's:
"Kentucky GOP urges Rand Paul to avoid national spotlight"
Well, sure. Why didn't the dumb voters in KY think twice before going with that dopey changy gut feeling?

Posted by: neil b on May 21, 2010 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

And of course you get to define what's "radical" or don't you? My how you just love to play commissar.

I guess what's radical or not is all in the eye of the beholder. Some people think allowing abortion is pretty radical.

Some people think socialism is pretty radical philosophy too and yet you don't seem to harass Bernie Sanders over a 48 hr. period about it. Hell, Bill O'Reilly doesn't do that. He accepts him for what he is and let's the voters decide if that's what they want or not.

If wish to debate such views fine. Instead you wish to throw a temper tantrum.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on May 21, 2010 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

Can the federal government set the private sector's minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors?

I'm unconvinced that disaster is the only possible outcome of reversal of all these policies. The certainty of the readers of this column resembles that of George Bush. It is a certainty that is unexamined, quite possibly wrong, and potentially dangerous. Certainty when you are wrong produces the impression in others that much of the rest of what you have to say is ALSO wrong.

Credibility is important to the good guys.

Minimum wage laws - During the roaring 90's McDonald's has to hire at 20-30% above minimum wage to land any workers. In bad times like these, being able to hire people at 3 dollars an hour may get an aspiring entrepreneur a rocket-like boost (as well as swelling the profits of less deserving mega-firms). The increase in the demand for labor may produce higher demand, lower unemployment and a recovery of the prevailing wage to something livable.

Maybe it's all bullpucky spun by conservative con men, but the laws of supply and demand CAN work some remarkable feats. Is this an IMPOSSIBLE outcome? If we ridicule it without examination, how am I ever to read a thoughtful commentary by Krugman to explain carefully WHY it is indeed impossible?

I'd like to see more thoughtful dissection of libertarianism's flaws so I can dismiss them through logic rather than peer pressure.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on May 21, 2010 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Niil B, let me remind you the voters of KY aren't all hillbillies or teabaggers. 400K democrats showed up to vote for the dem primary, only half of that showed for the repubs.

Conway is a great candidate, a progressive dem. I suggest you try to improve the situation rather than blather on. Help us defeat repubs in KY

Posted by: citizen_pain on May 21, 2010 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

I think we have to start looking at the ascendancy of people like Paul as a symptom of what is beginning to happen to our social fabric. This kind of shit doesn't just happen in a vacuum, folks.

Posted by: rbe1 on May 22, 2010 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

toowearyforoutrage,

There was no minimum wage law until 1938. From 1929 to 1933, unemployment rose to 25%. It didn't turn around until the government got more involved after FDR's inauguration.

And Steve's point in quoting Ezra (who wrote the passage you quoted) is not that repeal of these things would necessarily lead to disaster. As Steve says, "A voter may OR MAY NOT find all of this scary." (emphasis added)

And he's not saying that the minimum-wage piece is necessarily radical. Most people take minimum-wage legislation as a given, so in that sense being for its repeal would be "radical," but there are potential problems with it (particularly in a deflationary environment).

What Steve IS saying (I think) is that this is just a piece of a "radical worldview." We know that Paul thinks restaurants and hotels should be able to discriminate on the basis of race (or he DID think that until he realized that it wouldn't fly no-way no-how). We know he thinks it's bad for the president to criticize a corporation that may have negligently caused the country's worst environmental accident, and which has a sorry track-record of safety violations.

It's hard to know where "arguable" ends and "obvious" begins. I'm pretty comfortable with characterizing Paul's _known_ positions as radical, and they imply important questions about other positions that would be obviously radical (repealing food safety regs or oil-rig safety regs), as well as things that at least have a plausible theoretical argument in their favor (repealing the minimum wage).

If people have to carefully build the case for every obvious statement they make, conversation becomes impossible.

Posted by: Karl on May 22, 2010 at 5:39 AM | PERMALINK

Every time Rand Paul opened his mouth I found myself thinking about Sarah Palin and her answers when she was fiving an interview, bow it seems, with the cancellation of MTP they have managed to shut him up for awhile, now I KNOW he is another Palin - where does the GOP come up with these people who probably call not pass a college debate?

Posted by: jJS on May 22, 2010 at 6:31 AM | PERMALINK

The break point for Rand Paul will come when he either publicly sticks with his long-held principles and continues to apply them to real legislative choices he'd face in the Senate, or whether he tries to cotton candy through the election. If it's his cotton candy against Conway's nuts and bolts....

It shouldn't be a particularly difficult political feat for Democrats to make the Kentucky election a referendum on Rand Paul's actual views. Paul is evidently quite inclined, personally, to go along with that.

But no Republican political professional believes that he can win that way. So this one is a test, not to much of Paul's integrity (although it will be) as it is of the Democrats' basic political competence: here is a guy whose purpose in running for office guarantees that he will lose -- IF they frame the election so that the voters see what Paul truly believes and will do: let the guy enthusiastically defend his principles in practice -- every example should come back to his philosophy.

But the old line that a liberal is someone so fair-minded that he won't take his own side in an argument applies here. On every issue that Ezra cites -- the minimum wage, illegal immigration, the environment, consumer safety, etc. -- there will be a temptation to frame the issue so that it is the Democratic alternative that the voters will be approving.

Don't.Do.That.

When the other guy is showing you the way to beat him, let him lead you there.

Posted by: theAmericanist on May 22, 2010 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

toowearyforoutrage: "the laws of supply and demand CAN work some remarkable feats. Is this an IMPOSSIBLE outcome? If we ridicule it without examination, how am I ever to read a thoughtful commentary by Krugman to explain carefully WHY it is indeed impossible?"

There is a lot of examination going on. And the criticism of Paul isn't that markets are bad things; to the contrary, most US liberals are mostly free market supporters. I don't hear very many cries for government to set the prices of coffee tables.

The criticism is over the apparent claim that markets are the solution for everything. Take the Civil Rights Act controversy. The libertarian argument is that no government intervention is necessary because business that discriminate won't do as well as business that don't. Discrimination takes away customers (those who are discriminated against and those who object to discrimination), so the business that don't discriminate will drive the others out of business or force them to stop discriminating in order to compete.

The problem is that discrimination can actually be good for business if the community is highly racist. Racists are less likely to patronize integrated businesses, so market pressures can actually make it pay to discriminate, thereby perpetuating the practice. Indeed, some people argue that was exactly the case in our nation's history since discrimination lasted for quite some time and did not come under pressure to abate in some regions until government intervened.

Also, Paul and others believe in deregulating health care and applying even more of a market-driven approach than we have today. But I think that ignores the fact that markets don't always drive prices down (they can bid prices up, see professional sports salaries and higher education) and that we don't consume health care the way we consume other goods. And it also ignores the evidence from our peer nations which have greater government intervention in health care and yet deliver comparable (and in some cases better) results as we do while we spend 50% to 100% more than they do.

So the issue isn't markets, or libertarianism per se; it's the doctrinaire application of ideology to all situations, even where there is ample evidence that it doesn't work in some circumstances. Theories are fine, but it's important to have people who are willing to deal with reality when it conflicts with one's preferred ideology. And there is a serious question as to whether Paul meets that test.

Posted by: dsimon on May 22, 2010 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Racists are less likely to patronize integrated businesses, so market pressures can actually make it pay to discriminate, thereby perpetuating the practice

Precisely. A recent example of this is when the Cracker Barrel Restaurant chain stated that they would not hire gays. There was a groundswell of support locally and people came from miles around to patronize their restaurants. I'm sorry to say that I have family who joined in to support Cracker Barrel, and who were willing to wait in a line that stretched outside the restaurant for a chance to stick it to the gays.

Repealing any parts of the Civil Rights Act would send stress fractures throughout the country as rednecks and wingnuts gleefully closed their businesses to minorities. In many smaller towns this could mean hardship for people trying to get basic services. We don't need a return to ante-bellum darkness like that.

Posted by: trex on May 22, 2010 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Repubicans brag about destroying LBJ's Great Society advances, undoing Roosevelt's progressive legislation. They are state by state trying their dammedest to destroy the Voter's Rights Act.

So Ayn Rand's lying when he implies that standing legislation can't be undone.
In fact virtually the entire civil rights revolution, and the anit war revolution of the 60's resulted in existing legislation being overthrown.

Put another way Rand Paul is lying and deliberately so.

The RepoTalibian of today swares they will repeal Health Care Reform, priviitze public education, privitize Medicare and Social Security. That would be doing exactly what Rand wants done, and he lies about his own intentions.

Posted by: Marnie on May 23, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

“Food-safety regulations are objectionable, as are home-safety building codes.

absolutely. the market will self correct. a company that sell tainted food, for example, will go out of business because all of its customers will be dead or ill. problem solved! wonderful thing that free, unfettered market ..."


But they only have to reincorporate under a new name, get fed start up funds and do it again.

Plus that massive Salmonella. Botulism, or E. coli kill off will cost tax payers and society millions if not billions of dollars, all of which will be paid into the already uber rich health care industry.

It would be like the human version of Wall Street ripping off your life savings, just taking the next logical step and ripping off your life.

And they can double down by creating a derivative and betting on it.

Posted by: Marnie on May 23, 2010 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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