If you're following the circus that is the Rand Paul campaign in Kentucky then you're either laughing at every utterance he makes or shaking your head in disbelief...or if you're a Libertarian, you're wondering what the big stink is about. And therein lies the issue: Libertarianism is a simple philosophy in complex times and that simplicity is complicating Paul's run.
It all started when Paul denounced Big Government overreach with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul took great pains to say that while he abhors racism that doesn't mean the government should tell private businesses what they can do and who they should serve. Simple, right? Except that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires, among other things, equal treatment for public accommodation. In other words, if you serve the public in this country you do not get to choose who based on race.
It's the most basic of protections provided under the 14th Amendment and for most people in America it's settled law and right. But Libertarians of a certain ilk still have a problem with government telling anyone anything under any circumstance, which means they must like the theories of the US Constitution, just not the enforcement. Their ideology of a hands-off government requires as much, making the idea of law and order irrelevant.
Oh, but Paul's not so opposed to the Civil Rights Act that he wants to repeal it. No, that's silly. So is Paul for or against government intrusion into private business? Just kind of? Just in theory?
The Civil Rights flap is one thing and poses its own political landmines, but Rand wasn't done. He then had to go and call the President a bully for picking on poor British Petroleum. In a stunning example of political deafness, Paul accused President Obama of "un-American" behavior for insisting BP be held responsible for the disaster they caused on the Atlantic seaboard. Never mind the fact that BP may very well be negligent in their handling of off-shore drilling and their response to the spill that threatens thousands of miles of coastal land and untold miles of ocean water, all of which are public and private resources. In Paul's world "accidents happen" and we should all move on and what business is it of the federal government to meddle in the affairs of industry. Oops, there goes Article One of the US Constitution that provides for the regulation of interstate commerce and you can forget about the management of public resources, that's best left to businesses...like BP.
You know the situation is nuts when Michael Steele is the voice of reason. The GOP Chairman, forced to respond to Paul's seemingly radical views on the role of government in modern America, summed it up on none other than Fox News Sunday.
"I think his philosophy is misplaced in these times ... But I think in this case Rand Paul's philosophy got in the way of reality," Steele said.
Addendum: Great New York Times article on this subject.
Rand Paul and the Perils of Textbook Libertarianism Money quote:
"The foundation of libertarian thinking is private property as a limit on state action," David Bernstein, a libertarian law professor, explained to Talking Points Memo, the popular political blog. "So if a private business chooses to discriminate, a typical libertarian would say that's a business owner's right to do so."