The neo-con blogs were buzzing yesterday with the news that Rand Paul criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the hypocrisy of their criticism is palpable. Grab any conservative off of the street and ask them if opposing the Clean Water Act is synonymous with opposing clean water and they will tell you absolutely not. Criticizing a piece of legislation and criticizing the stated goal of that legislation are two completely different things. Otherwise, if you consider Rand Paul a racist for thinking that the Civil Rights Act was flawed, you must also think that every Republican in congress doesn’t want poor people to have healthcare since they all opposed the “Affordable Health Care for America Act” (i.e. Obamacare). Please. What silliness.
It’s obvious what’s going on. The old guard Republican establishment is terrified of the Tea Partiers and anybody that smacks of libertarianism. That’s why Dick Cheney and Mitch Mconnell came out in support of Rand Paul’s primary opponent, Trey Grayson. Mconnell even went so far as to privately mislead James Dobson about Rand Paul’s views on abortion. Dobson later came out and switched his vote from Grayson to Paul after he learned that he had been mislead. Obviously the GOP elitists hate Rand Paul with a passion. And then, out of nowhere comes this big hubbub about his criticisms of the Civil Rights Act, originating from the neo-con blogosphere.
The dirty little secret of historical fact that they leave out of every story is that the Civil Rights Act was soundly criticized by many people at the time it was being debated, especially libertarians. Their criticism had nothing to do with race. Instead, they were thoroughly disgusted with the amount of power that the legislation gave to the federal government. Even though most of the CRA was justified(specifically titles I and III were long overdue), there were real causes for concern in other parts of the bill when it came to civil liberties of blacks and whites.
Most criticism of the CRA was focused on Title II, which attempted to outlaw discrimination in businesses. I say “attempted” because, as we recently explored, laws can never properly fulfill their stated goals. No law can outlaw racial discrimination. It can ban certain behaviour under threat of punishment, but it can’t ban discrimination itself. That’s impossible. So, what title II did was force people to behave in ways that they weren’t comfortable with. This may have helped blacks get a better table in a restaurant, but I can guarantee you that the cook spit in their food. Why? Because the CRA didn’t change what he actually thought about race. It just told whites and blacks that they had to play ball or else they would be punished. That’s not a solution to racism. It’s a recipe for exacerbating racial hatred.
Title IV was also a focus of criticism by many. The fear was that it would lead to quotas and forced busing. Although the CRA’s proponents routinely denied this, it nevertheless happened:
One of the most “damaging” arguments by the bill’s opponents was that once passed, the bill would require forced busing to achieve certain racial quotas in schools. Proponents of the bill, such as Emanuel Celler and Jacob Javits, said that the bill would not authorize such measures. Leading sponsor Hubert Humphrey wrote two amendments specifically designed to outlaw busing. Humphrey said “if the bill were to compel it, it would be a violation [of the Constitution], because it would be handling the matter on the basis of race and we would be transporting children because of race.” While Javits said any government official who sought to use the bill for busing purposes “would be making a fool of himself,” two years later the Department of Health, Education and Welfare said that Southern school districts would be required to meet mathematical ratios of students by busing.
This forced desegregation by forcibly transporting black children across town to white schools was a clear violation of black people’s civil liberties. It opened up black school children to being beaten by white kids and being shunned by white teachers who were being forced out of their comfort zone too fast. That’s the danger of omnipotent legislation. The natural flow of society is jolted. Racism is a mental scar that needs a lot of time to correct itself in the hearts of men. Rushing the process by threat of force might speed it up, but at the cost of large short-term harm to the very people it’s aimed at helping.
One of the persistent critics of forced school desegregation was black author Zora Neal Hurston – author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Although she totally opposed segregation on moral grounds, she feared that such things as the court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education set a dangerous precedent of encroaching on civil liberties. Although she died in 1960, it’s clear that the portions of the CRA that expanded the size and power of the federal state would have troubled her greatly. Her famous letter to the Orlando Sentinel is a fantastic read. Please go read it before it goes down the collective memory hole.
On a personal note, I find racism abhorrent, as I’ve posted before. But, what I find equally abhorrent are demigod politicians and black robed dieties forcing society to conform to their image by threat of physical and financial harm. Racism itself is idiotic. It makes no financial sense to restrict trade because of the color of a man’s skin. As people come to realize this, racism naturally falls by the wayside as an artifact of history. A black man’s money is the same as a white’s. A black man’s labour is the same as a white’s. This fact alone would have driven racism out of our culture as people began to see, more and more that racism itself is foolishness. Opposition to title II and title IV of the CRA isn’t an endorsement of racism. It’s a principled opposition to a piece of far-reaching legislation motivated by an equally strong commitment to the preservation of personal liberty.
Sometimes a love of liberty and a love for people come down on different sides of an issue and it’s hard to make a decision between the two. If I saw a restaurant owner turn away a black man for being black I would probably go over and punch him in the nose. But, that doesn’t mean that I think title II of the CRA was appropriate. Personal liberty is too fragile and too easily discarded. It must be protected. Maybe I’m naive, but I think racism in the U.S. was destined to be eradicated by society itself, without the help of legislation; except such legislation that was necessary to correct racist laws that our government had already passed.