Monday, June 24, 2013

Matt Yglesias and David Frum concisely explain why objections to the 1964 Civil Rights Act by Ron Paul & Rand Paul are wrong and effectively racist

Those kinds of arguments are not restricted to Rand Paul and his father Ron Paul, but are common among various tendencies on the right, including those that call themselves "libertarian".  And some people are too ready to take them seriously, or even to find them plausible and half-convincing. So it's worth taking the trouble to knock them down, since they happen to be wrong and pernicious.

For a broader discussion of Ron Paul's links to the whole neo-Confederate ideological swamp,which his son Rand Paul has tried to fudge but has not really abandoned, I refer readers back to my 2008 post on Why Ron Paul condemns the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln. By itself, a historical  argument that the side fighting for freedom in the American Civil War was the Confederacy, that Lincoln was a tyrant, and that the Union victory was a disaster for American liberties might seem to be of limited significance for current political concerns.  (Like arguments, perhaps, that Stalinism was really "progressive" on balance and has been unfairly misunderstood?)  But when the same perspective also leads people to claim that key provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were unnecessary, harmful, oppressive, and unconstitutional, then it's clear that this perspective has a lot of practical relevance.

Frankly, the kind of "libertarian" perspective for which Obamacare and Social Security and the 1964 Civil Rights Act are tyrannical but slavery was no big deal is, in my humble opinion, difficult to take seriously on either moral or logical grounds.

=> Here is Yglesias's post from Friday, In Defense of the Civil Rights Act—Against White Supremacy. As he noted, it was actually part of a series of exchanges, but it can stand quite well on its own:
I've been in a long and winding multi-front Twitter exchange over the question of Senator Rand Paul and race. The specific impetus was my assertion that Paul's opinion that democracy "gave us Jim Crow" relates to his white supremacist inclinations. Inclinations that I think are evidenced by, for example, his previous stated opposition to key provisions of the Civil Rights Act. That prompted a debate with some competing strands of conservative punditry, with Charles C.W. Cook taking the view that Paul is right and the Civil Rights Act is bad while David Freddoso thinks that the Civil Rights Act is good but associating Civil Rights Act opponents with racism is slander.

So to return to the beginning, there's no plausible meaning of "democracy" in which democracy gave us Jim Crow.
[JW:  And here Yglesias makes a crucial point that is too often overlooked, so pay close attention.]
Even if you take democracy to relatively narrowly mean majoritarian voting procedures this doesn't work. In the period between the Civil War and World War II, African-Americans were a majority in quite a few southern states and would have been a large—and potentially decisive—voting bloc in the others. If, that is, they were allowed to vote. But instead of voting, African-Americans were disenfranchised via a systematic campaign of terrorist violence. The same campaign that gave us the Jim Crow social system. The point of the Civil Rights Act, including its provisions regulating private businesses, was to smash that social system. And it succeeded. It succeeded enormously. The amazing thing about retrospective opposition to the Civil Rights Act is that we know that it worked. It didn't lead to social and economic cataclysm. In fact, the American south has done quite a bit better since the smashing of white supremacy than it was doing previously.

I think the Cook/Paul view that we should somehow regret this and pretend that everything would have worked itself out on its own is bizarre.

But it's not only bizarre. It seems to me that it necessarily has to stem from not taking the interests and history of African-Americans seriously to even be comprehensible. The "respectable" thing to say about people like Paul or the late Barry Goldwater, I suppose, is simply that they are ideologues rather than people driven by some kind of racial animosity. But I think it's selling free market ideology short to suggest that government regulations meant to undo the outcome of a century long campaign of terrorist violence is just a straightforward consequence of a general support for free enterprise. You need to combine that ideology with a sincere indifference to black people's welfare to reach that conclusion, just as you need to combine Paul's ideology with genuine indifference to the history of race in America to reach Paul's conclusion about democracy's relationship to Jim Crow.
=> In April the dissident conservative Republican David Frum, who has made it his business to tell inconvenient truths to his fellow Republicans, explained those points quite forcefully in the course of a review essay on Joseph Crespino's political biography of Strom Thurmond, Strom Thurmond's America.  Frum's piece is very intelligent and illuminating, and I recommend reading it in full.  But for present purposes, here are the key passages:
"How did the party that elected the first black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African-American congressmen, become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race?"

Rand Paul posed that question in his speech last week at Howard University.

Coming from him, it does seem a singularly naive question. He might have found an important piece of the answer at, where he will find this statement by his own father on the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, explaining the Texas congressman’s continuing opposition to that law:
[T]he forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the federal government unprecedented power over the hiring, employee relations, and customer service practices of every business in the country. The result was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society. ...

Rand Paul is right of course that the Republican party is the historic party of civil rights; the Democratic party the historic opponent. In 1964 as in 1875, it was Republican votes that enacted civil rights laws; Democratic votes that overwhelmingly opposed them.

[JW: To be more precise, in 1964 it was Southern Democrats who voted overwhelmingly against the Civil Rights Act, along with Southern Republicans, whereas Northern Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor, even more overwhelmingly than Northern Republicans. It's just that in 1964 there weren't that many Southern Republicans in Congress.]

But those Democrats who voted “no” in 1964 lost the struggle for control of their party. And the single most ferocious of the Democratic “no” votes, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, would soon switch to become a Republican himself, leading to the realignment of the American party system that Rand Paul lamented at Howard.  [....]

Goldwater’s platform issues were anti-communism and anti-statism. Yet we make a mistake if we forget, or choose to forget, that he not only opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but also the Brown v. Board of Education decision and its subsequent enforcement by the Eisenhower administration.

Goldwater explained his stance by invoking his libertarian philosophy. In the words of his famous book, The Conscience of a Conservative:
[T]he federal Constitution does not require states to maintain racially mixed schools. Despite the recent holding of the Supreme Court, I am firmly convinced - not only that integrated schools are not required - but that the Constitution does not permit any interference whatsoever by the federal government in the field of education. … It so happens that I am in agreement with the objectives of the Supreme Court as stated in the Brown decision. I believe that is both wise and just for negro children to attend the same schools as whites, and that to deny this opportunity carries with it strong implications of inferiority. I am not prepared, however, to impose that judgment of mine on the people of Mississippi or South Carolina, or to tell them what methods should be adopted and what pace should be kept in striving toward that goal. That is their business, not mine.
In assessing those words, begin with this one fact. Until the 1920s, both Mississippi and South Carolina had black majorities. In the year Goldwater published, blacks made up more than 40% of the populations of the two states. In what sense can we say that “the people” of a state have adopted a decision if the majority or near-majority of those people have by violence and threat of violence been excluded from participation in that decision? Goldwater probably never thought very hard about that question, but the logical implication of his words is that their author - or at least the author’s expected audience - did not consider black people as belonging to “the people.” [....]

Back when Larry Summers was President of Harvard he made himself unpopular in some circles by pointing out, correctly and pertinently, that certain positions can be anti-semitic in effect without necessarily being anti-semitic in intent. (Fans of Mearsheimer & Walt and BDS, please take note.) The same is true for white-supremacist anti-black racism.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub