Today is the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s signature on the Civil Rights Act of 2014. This year, of course, is also the 50th anniversary of the Goldwater presidential campaign, which made an opponent of the Civil Rights Act the nominee of Abraham Lincoln’s party.
That’s worth pondering this year, since the forces dominating the GOP in recent years have been in important respects throwbacks to the Goldwater campaign, believers in a permanent constitutional regime of limited government and states’ rights that no Civil War much less civil rights statute can be allowed to overturn. When, say, Rand Paul commits a “gaffe” by suggesting that the Public Accomodations Section of the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional, he’s actually speaking from the heart of constitutional conservatism, where no rights requiring vindication by the federal government are worth having—particularly if we’re talking about somebody else’s rights.
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