Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rand Paul and Ayn Rand: not peas from the same pod

One of the tragedies from the Ron Paul movement has been the association of libertarianism with very unlibertarian sentiments. Before Rand Paul picked up his father's sullied mantle I was talking with someone who had been a top official in the Liberal Democratic Party at a dinner in London. Some of the people were libertarians who thought the Paulites were a good thing. I pointed out how our ideas were being associated with ideas that were most clearly not libertarian. The Lib Dem guy made the point about "brand contamination." When someone becomes associated with other things, a tad bit more nefarious and questionable, the good aspects of the brand become contaminated.

That is what Ron Paul did to libertarianism—associating it with anti-immigrant sentiments, neo-Confederate politics, Birch Society conspiracy nonsense, state's rights, and racism, to name a few. Ron Paul has always been a conservative, not a libertarian—as his vote to keep sodomy a crime in D.C., showed. And Rand Paul is more of the same, but worse.

So who gets blamed for Rand Paul's views? Libertarians do. Sam Tanenhaus referred to Rand Paul's controversial statements with a New York Times piece entitled: "Rand Paul and the Perils of Textbook Libertarianism." That would imply that Rand Paul is a textbook libertarian when he is no such thing. He has less right to claim libertarianism than does his father.

So I wanted to clear up a few points. Not only isn't Rand Paul a libertarian, as I have asserted before, but he isn't even named after Ayn Rand—as some of his worshippers and detractors all seem to assume. Paul has clarified it himself but that doesn't stop the morons, on both Left and Right, from saying otherwise. His full name is Randal Paul and Rand is merely an abbreviation of his first name, not homage to Ayn Rand.

And, if it had been homage to Rand, I can assure you she wouldn't have been honored. Rand refused to support candidates if they campaigned against abortion. She refused to support Reagan and stated his opposition to abortion as a reason, and Reagan was much more moderate on the issue than Paul, who wouldn't even allow a woman to abort in order to save her own life. My friend Barbara Branden reports: "When I last saw Rand in 1981, she told me that she was opposed to Reagan because she considered him a typical conservative in his attempt to link politics and religion. About his anti-abortion view, she said: 'A man who does not believe in a woman's right to her own body, does not believe in human rights.'"

Paul, according to his own site, had the endorsement of the far-Right theocratic group, Concerned Women for America, and his site says that his "socially conservative views have earned the respect and trust of church leaders across Kentucky." Consider how Rand saw Reagan and his friendly relations with the Moral Majority:
The appalling disgrace of his administration is his connection with the so-called "Moral Majority" and sundry other TV religionists, who are struggling—apparently with his approval—to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.
Rand said Reagan was trying to "arouse the country by some sort of inspirational appeal. He is right in thinking that the country needs an inspirational element. But he will not find it in the God-Family-Tradition swamp." So while Randal Paul was sucking up to the social conservative religionists, Ayn Rand had called their ideology a "swamp" and wanted nothing to do with them.

Previously I mentioned Rand's views on the issue of state's rights, which is vastly different than Randal Paul's views. While social conservatives like the two Pauls, Wayne Allen Root, Bob Barr and others, argue for state's rights, Ayn Rand said that people don't understand what it means She argued it was merely a "division of power between local and national authorities" and did "not grant to a state government an unlimited arbitrary power over its citizens or the privilege of abrogating the citizens' individual rights." As Rand saw it state's rights would justify the violation of separation of church and state at the state level, as Ron Paul and other conservatives have said.

George Wallace used the state's right mantra to justify his racist campaigns for political office. Rand noted that Wallace was NOT "a defender of individual rights, but merely of state's rights—which is far from being the same thing." She said Wallace's denunciation of big government was one that merely wanted to replace federal tyranny with local tyranny, that all Wallace wanted was "to place the same unlimited, arbitrary power in the hands of many little governments." This is also true of the paleo-conservatives pretending to be libertarians: Randal and Ron Paul being the prime examples.

Libertarian blogger Timothy Lee noticed that Randal Paul's "libertarianism" "is curiously one-sided." Lee notes that Paul's view "is far from uncompromising" and points to Paul's rabid anti-immigration stands, his demand that anyone who is a citizen of a "rogue nation" be denied travel visas and that he supports "holding suspects indefinitely without trial at GITMO," as evidence. He also lists Paul's opposition to marriage equality, his refusal to talk about the war on drugs, or free trade as areas of concern. Lee writes:
Paul is an uncompromising defender of the rights of business owners to decide who will sit at their lunch counters. But Paul apparently sees no problem with deploying the power of the state to stop private business owners from hiring undocumented workers. Nor does he seem to care very much about business owners’ freedom to do business with the millions of non-terrorists who live in “rogue nations.” Or, for that matter, the freedom of a gay business owner to marry the person he loves. There’s a principle at work here, all right, but I don’t think it has very much to do with limited government.
Randal Paul got caught by his own position in defense of private discrimination. And while I agree with freedom of association as a right, it is very difficult, if not impossible to defend those rights if you yourself advocate violating those rights in numerous ways. Social conservatives, like Paul, are not advocates of individual rights, but proponents of social order and state control in the name of God, family, tradition, morality and religion. They are sometimes opponents of state intervention and sometimes advocates of it. Their lack of consistency means it is easy to show them up as hypocrites, advocating one set of laws for one group of people and another set for other, less favored, groups.

As a libertarian I would say this lack of consistency plagues both Progressives and Conservatives. Which is why libertarians are neither, but hold the radical middle ground where rights are applied consistently. Randal Paul, like his father doesn't support equality of rights for gay people. So that meant he could not answer Rachel Maddow well when she nailed him on discrimination. He stuttered, stumbled, tried to evade, and basically made his position look bad. He tried to claim libertarian principles, but not being a consistent libertarian made that difficult. So how would I have responded to Maddow, in the same circumstances? Here is my answer:
Rachel, that's a good question and is the answer is more complex that a lot of people want to believe. For instance, why shouldn't a "black student's union" have the right to admit only black students? And doesn't it make sense that with the sort of sexual harassment that many women have experienced that a lesbian bar might rationally want to exclude straight men as patrons or employees?

Much of the struggle for human rights, especially for those oppressed and discriminated against, has revolved around the freedom to associate. With the right to freely associate comes the right to not associate, which is what that lesbian bar would be doing. Government is a very blunt tool, and when the law applies to private associations it does so without taking into account, nor can it take into account, the nuances which may well justify the reluctance for some people to associate with others.

Where there is private discrimination, that is irrational and prejudicial, such as the refusal of some restaurants to serve black patrons, I think it important that community leaders, people like yourself, all decent people, stand up and protest, boycott, picket, leaflet and force a change in policy. And there are many examples of that happening.

Government is such a blunt tool to use that it can't distinguish between the first kind of discrimination and the second kind. It destroys both with the same law. Thus we could get bizarre things like a gay resort, with somewhat liberal standards on nudity or public displays of sexuality, being sued for discriminating against heterosexual families with children. Government does a bad job of telling the differences and thus tends to ban both.

Most people, like yourself, clearly can see the differences. A Christian church that refused to perform Jewish weddings doesn't bother most people. A restaurant that refuses to serve black customers does. The church is only exempt because of the First Amendment, and thus safe from such laws. But the lesbian bar I mentioned is not. The community is free to distinguish between these different forms of discrimination and routinely does so. They will boycott and protest against the restaurant but no one bats an eye at religious discrimination by churches.

What is critical to remember is that state power has more often been used to force discrimination than to forbid it. The South was not a free society and had legislation mandating bigotry and prejudicial policies. When local government violates the rights of people, it is fit and proper for federal legislation to prevent that. Government is a dangerous weapon and is more likely to be used to suppress rights.

The great civil rights battle of today, Rachel, is that of marriage equality.
Look at the battle line. All across the country private businesses treat their gay employees and customers with respect, sure some don't, but they are not the dominant trend by any means, but the exception. As a gay woman you surely know this.

Gay relationships are recognized by employers who grant their gay employees the same rights as other employees. Where is the problem? Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- government mandated discrimination. The Defense of Marriage Act -- government mandated discrimination. Immigration laws exist that refuse to recognize gay couples. That is state bigotry, not private. We have state mandated discrimination in the tax codes, marriage laws, custody laws, even in hospital visitation rights.

So, Rachel, here is my offer, based on my principles. Let us abolish all government mandated discrimination, abolish those laws, reform the system to see full equality of rights for all. Compared to the nationwide massive violations of rights that government is doing today, the issue of private discrimination is tiny. Not only is the impact of state discrimination far more destructive but it is much harder to change. Many a business has suddenly switched sides due to a boycott, but you can't boycott government. In addition, much of the private prejudices collapse when government-sanctioned bigotry is abolished.

So, when it comes to my preferences, I prefer the private versus governmental approach. It is easier to wipe out bigotry when privately practiced then when enforced by law. Even with a so-called "friend" in the White House look at the meager progress gay and lesbian people have made with their just demands. It is far easier to end private discrimination than state-enforced bigotry.

A government that routinely discriminates against tens of millions of Americans, due to their sexual orientation, or gender identity, is not a trust-worthy advocate for individual rights. I would rather leave this to the common sense of the people, using proven strategies like boycotts and picket lines, to eradicate irrational prejudice while leaving the woman's bar alone, as I suspect the case would be.
My answer may not entirely satisfy Maddow, but it would go a long way toward addressing her concerns and showing the good intentions of libertarians toward minorities. So why didn't Randall Paul say this? Why didn't he defend well the libertarian position? Because he couldn't, he doesn't believe in it.

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