Political Animal


May 14, 2011 8:00 AM Ron Paul and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

By Steve Benen

Last May, then-candidate Rand Paul’s (R) Senate campaign in Kentucky ran into a little trouble. The self-accredited ophthalmologist explained in newspaper, radio, and television interviews that he disapproved of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because the private sector should be allowed to do as it pleases. “[T]his,” Paul said at the time, “is the hard part about believing in freedom.”

Asked specifically by Rachel Maddow, “Do you think that a private business has the right to say, ‘We don’t serve black people’?” Paul replied, “Yes.” Seven months later, he won easily.

Almost exactly a year later, Paul’s father, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, explained his nearly identical beliefs about the milestone civil rights legislation.

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MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked the Texas congressman, “The ‘64 civil rights bill, do you think an employer, a guy who runs his shop down in Texas or anywhere has a right to say, ‘If you’re black, you don’t come in my store’?” And with that, Paul explained he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act, adding, “I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws.”

Matthews noted, “I once knew a laundromat when I was in the Peace Corps training in Louisiana, in Baker, Louisiana. A laundromat had this sign on it in glaze, ‘whites only on the laundromat, just to use the laundromat machines. This was a local shop saying ‘no blacks allowed.’ You say that should be legal.”

Paul didn’t deny the premise, but instead said, “That’s ancient history. That’s over and done with.”

I’d note in response that this isn’t “ancient” history — millions of Americans are old enough to remember segregation, and millions more are still feeling the effects. For that matter, that era is “over and done with” precisely because of laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The country didn’t just progress by accident; it took brave men and women willing to bend the arc of history.

Let’s also not lose sight of the larger context. In 2011, the United States has a member of Congress and a Republican presidential candidate who publicly expresses his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And because we’ve grown inured to GOP extremism, this somehow seems routine.

Indeed, it’s unlikely Paul’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination will feel the need to condemn his remarks, and probably won’t even be asked about them.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • hell's littlest angel on May 14, 2011 8:12 AM:

    While I love Rachel Maddow, I've never understood her weird geniality toward the Pauls. They're just a couple of foolish, nasty, selfish jackasses. Same thing with Jon Stewart. I don't get it.

  • c u n d gulag on May 14, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Well, I guess the baby nut doesn't fall far from the daddy nut tree.

    I wonder if Rachels interview didn't WIN the election for Rand in KY?

  • DAY on May 14, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Matthews is just another hack reporter, too lazy to do the hard work, so he talks fast, and interrupts guests, to show he is a "hard hitting, shirtsleeve newshound."

    Alas, he is not alone. It has been interesting, listening to on-air personalities ( I won't besmirch the word 'reporter') as they tepidly question newsmakers, almost embarrassed to ask a pointed question. And never following up!

    When the principal is not present, ooh, the knives are sharp! MSNBC's morning coffee klatch crew had each other in stitches earlier this week, topping one another as they disemboweled Newt Ginrich. Wanna bet not a peep when the Newster in sitting across the desk!
    The Sunday shows are worst. And Rachel stands alone.

  • j on May 14, 2011 8:25 AM:

    Since the Sunday shows are filled with republicans this week I am sure one of the media reporters will ask if they agree with the comments of the Paul's.
    That is if hell freezes over.

  • hell's littlest angel on May 14, 2011 8:27 AM:

    Chris Matthews (and Chunk Weezer) serve to remind us that the liberal side also has its shallow, inarticulate, demagogic goofballs. They hardly balance the scales against what the right has to offer, but they do remind us that we're not perfect.

  • Danp on May 14, 2011 8:39 AM:

    Well, I guess the baby nut doesn't fall far from the daddy nut tree.

    OMG. Are you Rand an "acorn"? :)

  • edr on May 14, 2011 8:57 AM:

    who votes more often? Blacks? or Right wing racists? The Republicans know what they are doing.

  • Steve Paradis on May 14, 2011 9:06 AM:

    Walker Percy wrote a comic (well, amused) dystopian novel which included a breakaway Segregationist Catholic sect, who celebrated "Property Rights Sunday".

    The Pauls aren't bigots but fanatics, the kind who would die being driven to a private hospital rather than a closer public one. They seem to think that all rights stem from owning property or capital. The problem is that no one, including Maddow or Matthews, seem willing or able to explain this carefully to a public who would reject such a notion with horror.

  • KurtRex1453 on May 14, 2011 9:07 AM:

    You can clothe Ron Paul's language in what ever libertarian suits you like, but underneath it all he's still a naked racist pig.

  • bdop4 on May 14, 2011 9:31 AM:

    Ron Paul's reasoning is very seductive at first blush. I mean, who's against freedom and liberty? I also agree with a number of his campaign planks (ending the War on Drugs, GWOT, etc.), but the world on which he bases his beliefs simply does not exist.

    This guy is nuts if he doesn't think that if we repealed the Civil Rights Act, areas of this country wouldn't revert back to the Jim Crow days. All one has to do is look at the voter ID laws that are being proposed today in a number of states. Not much of a difference. What he also doesn't explain is how this country would have dealt with racism without the CRA and other laws.

    Government in of itself isn't bad. It's merely an instrument of power. It's when the wrong people get control of it that it becomes a problem. The Jim Crow laws were created by people who today would enact the same laws if given the chance.

  • HMDK on May 14, 2011 9:35 AM:

    I have little doubt about the racism, but in the larger scale it doesn't even matter. If people like these get their hands on actual, real power, it won't be like it is now: Insane republicans endlessly "exploiting" willing weak democrats. No. It'll be even worse. Hard to fathom though it might be.

  • berttheclock on May 14, 2011 9:38 AM:

    No, Rachael Maddow does not stand alone. Yes, she, ususally, does the best interview work on television, but, as posted supra, she did give Rand Paul Prime Time viewing and she never questioned him about those libertarian beliefs. She must have thought the viewers would be smart enough to hold his comments against him. Smart and the average Kentucky voter do not compute.

    Lawrence O'Donnell is far more intelligent than Olbermann in attacking the clowns from the right as he did, last night, when, he attacked Rand Paul for saying the ACA would make him, other physicians, his janitor and nurses into slaves and that police would have the right to knock on his door and force him to treat patients.

    Many forget why the Republican Party turned into the present RepuG Party. It began when the libertarian Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of '64, then, defended that vote when he ran for the Presidency. The Southern Democrats turned from LBJ to Goldwater and switch parties. Those SDs could have cared less about any libertarian point of view. They just did not like Blacks legally. (More than once, I used to hear that from Southerners that Northerners liked Blacks legally, but, not personally, whereas, in the South, they liked them personally, but, not legally) Then, Nixon, used this Southern Strategy to build the RepuG Party into one of bigots. The views of the Rands are no different from the libertarian views of Goldwater.

  • Daniel Buck on May 14, 2011 9:42 AM:

    And with that, Paul explained he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act, adding, “I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws.”

    Two separate issues are at play here. Should private businesses be allowed to discriminate against, e.g., blacks, Baptists, Jews, etc.

    Paul says yes.

    Should the state -- in some circles called "the government"-- be allowed to pass laws requiring businesses as well as government services to discriminate against Blacks, Baptists, Jews, etc.

    Paul says yes.

    On the first count, as abhorrent as the idea is, it's at least consistent with Paul's version of libertarianism.

    Paul's second thought, however, is fascism pure and simple.


  • Daniel Buck on May 14, 2011 10:07 AM:

    “I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws.”
    Re-reading that sentence, it's possible Paul meant that while he would have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that he would have voted to get rid of Jim Crow laws. It's not a model of clarity.

    Of course, the 1964 Civil Rights Act overturned state and local Jim Crow laws, so in opposing it he was as a practical matter supporting the Jim Crow laws.

  • Texas Aggie on May 14, 2011 10:47 AM:

    I wonder what his answer would have been to a question about whether the University of Michigan had the right to exclude white people so that they could enroll some blacks, in other words, affirmative action? Shouldn't any university be free to determine its own enrollment policies?

  • mim on May 14, 2011 10:52 AM:

    All those negatives in Paul's statement are creating confusion. He would have voted against the Civil Rights Act because it was a proposed LAW banning discrimination (curtailing property rights), but he would have been OK with repealing LAWS requiring discrimination (again curtailing property rights). A consistent libertarian.

  • Doctor Biobrain on May 14, 2011 11:14 AM:

    His argument that this is ancient history makes absolutely no sense, as he's not just saying that he'd repeal the law now that we've fixed these problems. He's saying he wouldn't have voted for it at the time, back when it was on-going. So that's one argument he doesn't get to have.

    Thus said, I don't think Paul's a racist. He's much too wrapped up in his delusional fantasies about the government infringing upon his liberty to have a real world belief like racism. It's unfortunate when life gets so easy to deal with that we have to invent our own problems. Yet Republicans do it all the time.

  • labman57 on May 14, 2011 11:52 AM:

    Yep, that position will surely motivate the American public to support Ron Paul's candidacy -- defending one's right to engage in racial discrimination. Time to break out the old restaurant window signs -- no n*ggers served here!

    Both Pauls believe that discrimination is abhorrent ... unless it's being done by a private business person, then it's all good.

  • RMcD on May 14, 2011 12:15 PM:

    Matthews did his due diligence on this one. He got Paul to admit to a patently obscene position without a second of equivocation. My one complaint is that, even on MSNBC, we can't call this what it is: "racist."

    Paul often gets a free pass with the press because he's a cute old man and he no likey the wars. Fine. But a southern white male of his age doesn't get to play dumb on the 1964 CRA. And I say this as a southern white male of his son's generation. Believing what Paul believes makes you a racist piece of crap. It's not like he hasn't gotten warnings before. New Republic called out the Ron Paul Newsletter for its race-mongering years ago, Paul has long standing ties to the racist von Mises Institute, and his son got asked the exact same question by Maddow a year ago. After all that, to still hold that the CRA was "totalitarian," as he said yesterday, and that Jim Crow was a reasonable exercise in "freedom," makes you a sick, twisted son of a bitch.

  • Sean Scallon on May 14, 2011 1:03 PM:

    "has a member of Congress and a Republican presidential candidate who publicly expresses his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And because we�ve grown inured to GOP extremism, this somehow seems routine."

    And you know what's even more funny, we had a president (Ronald Reagan) who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a venerated U.S. Senator (Barry Goldwater) who opposed it too. Are you saying they should be erased from history because of their opposition?

    Do you want elections to be about the future, what you're going to do in office, or about retroactive voting? This nonsense about the CRA is nothing more than a distraction, a distraction from the fact the war still goes on, innocent civilians are being killed by predator drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan that you don't give a damn about it, the nation is bankrupt and people are losing their homes while billions went bankers. But no, you and others on the Left want some soft perfect historical record for candidates that not even Jimmy Carter could live up to.

    It shows where your priorities lie and it's pathetic and it also doesn't work as Rand Paul perfectly demonstrated. Attack Paul for his libertarianism if you like, that's fair because that's what the debate should be about, not what would have done 50 years ago. Try again.

  • mim on May 14, 2011 1:28 PM:

    We should attack the Pauls, father and son, for their libertarianism. Not that we should give up the fight against racism, but libertarianism is Public Enemy No. 1 today and we should be making a solid case against it.

  • Karl Sonneman on May 14, 2011 2:35 PM:

    Paul's statement: “I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws.” may be confusing, but that should not have excused anyone from demanding clarity. The Jim Crow laws compelled private business and individuals to discriminate. A railroad company that operated integrated cars north of Dixie was required by law upon entering Southern states to remove Blacks from the White cars and transport them in separate, Black only cars. The private entity was required to remove whites as well from the Black car. In other words, no one had freedom to oppose segregation. This is not freedom or liberty or justice, and it is too serious to allow either father or son to obfuscate on the issue.

  • Cha on May 14, 2011 4:59 PM:

    Ron Paul is an ugly little mofo.

    I hate captcha.

  • max on May 14, 2011 5:17 PM:

    Kentucky voters have certainly given us an amazing collection of fruitcakes in the House and the Senate.

  • chi res on May 14, 2011 5:39 PM:

    I’d note in response that this isn’t “ancient” history — millions of Americans are old enough to remember segregation

    As a matter of fact, this country is more segregated today--in housing, schools, religious institutions, you name it--than it has ever been in its history.

  • Michael Heath on May 15, 2011 12:30 PM:

    Liberals fail to deploy the best weapon in their arsenal against the Pauls' position; especially since it uses their own understanding of rights against them.

    We all possess infinite rights. The real question we debate is how does government involve itself in the exercise, defense, restriction, or prohibition of the exercise of our rights.

    In this case using the Matthews laundromat illustration, how should the government get involved? If a black person walked in and started using a washing machine and the cops were called by any party, whose rights should they defend? Should they defend the owner's property and association rights to exclude blacks or should they defend blacks rights to enjoy equal [color-blind] access to goods and services?

    From this competing rights perspective the conservative-libertarian argument is obviously immoral and unjust. If the government protected the bigotries of the laundromat owner it would fail the 'just governance' principal of the Declaration of Rights regarding government's obligation to treat people equally, which is also the law of the land against the states via the 14th Amendment of the Constitution,

    . . . nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [emphasis added - MH]

  • toowearyforoutrage on May 15, 2011 10:13 PM:

    I support KKK rights to hold their pathetic little parties.
    Many of my liberal peers do.

    If one of these crackers runs a laundromat, he's forced to serve a black man?

    Sure one is speech, the other is freedom of association.
    I hate both, but you'd condemn me for the one, but not the other? He can be racist in one way, but not the other?

    Pretty arbitrary choice of freedoms we choose to allow for the ignorant masses.

    That said, not a penny of tax money should go to ANY business that excludes ANY taxpayer from full participation in their company. Not a penny of any decent person's pocket money should either, and the correlation between poverty and racist inclinations should become ironclad.

  • George Washington on May 21, 2011 4:05 PM:

    If I may, please;

    The important thing for everyone to remember is the difference between Natural Rights (aka. God given Unalienable Rights) and Civil Rights. The former, no man has the lawful right to transgress¬. That which your creator gave you only he can take away. Civil Rights on the other hand, are given by government¬s, by men, and that which man can grant to another man he can take away. Civil Rights also imply that some posses the right to grant rights, while others do not. What does this suggest about the condition of those who are only granted rights by other men? That they are subordinates, proverbial slaves to those who grant them Civil Rights.

    The question must be asked: If human beings have Unalienable God given rights why do they need Civil Rights, considering that Unalienable Rights, by there very nature, supersede all others?

    So I suspect that it's all about control. "Let us deny people their Unalienable Rights so that we can substitute Civil Rights for them instead. For Civil Rights are ours to grant and revoke as we see fit, control those who would speak or act not as we desire, but Unalienable Rights are only the province of our Creator and make other men our equal in freedom and liberty."

    For all You growing Mr. Ron Paul Supporters, Ron Paul 2012!!!
    For all You Mr. Ron Paul skeptics, Please do some research and draw Your own conclusions. Mr. Paul did not make it 22 years in Congress by being a kook, racists, extreme whatever You want to call him.
    Substantiate Your claims with credible research.
    American to American we are on the same team.
    Ron Paul 2012

    Thank You

  • Wake up on June 12, 2011 6:33 PM:

    I guess you all missed the part where he said a business who didn't serve black people would fail. Yet we twist his words so we can have values consistent to MSNBC. And here I thought only FOX news did that. I guess democrats are a lot smarter so they can brain wash people more effectively than Glen Beck.

    Wake up and believe in your own values, you don't always have to be a republican or a democrat. How about we start being humans and vote the way which we truly believe rather than with party affiliations?

  • Wake up on June 12, 2011 6:39 PM:

    Please read George Washington's post above mine. Genius. I applaud who ever you are.

  • sterling on August 21, 2011 2:29 AM:

    its amazing how many people on here listend but didnt understand including cris mathews

  • ec on December 24, 2011 10:48 PM:

    What your not understanding about property rights is that a black store owner also has the right not to serve certain people, like racist groups such as the KKK. It goes both ways.

    Business owners own their property and products, just like we own our houses. It is their right to choose who is allowed on their property.

    As others have said, you cannot stop racism with laws.

    Ron Paul's positions are getting twisted all around by the media, but these are things he has been telling us for decades.. It's all well documented and you'll find him to be the most consistent candidate this election. He is not a racist, he is not going to start the apocalypse, but he is going to ensure we ALL get back our civil liberties and the budget is balanced.

    Please read his plan to restore america and do further research on his true positions instead of accepting the half-baked misconceptions and assumptions put out by most of the media. :)