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In Defense of Rand Paul

Okay, so this will actually be more of an attack on the media than a defense of Rand Paul, who seems to be growing less defensible by the minute. I just read that he cancelled an appearance on Meet the Press…What are you doing, Rand? A little bit of rough treatment from the media and you go running for the hills? Stick to your guns, man. I was on your side when this frenzy began, even though I disagree with the position that put you in hot water. So at the risk of writing some things I’ll later regret once I get to know more about you, I’ll explain why I think the attacks on you have been unfair.

Let me start by addressing Rachel Maddow, who conducted the interview which sparked the whole controversy. Rachel, I’m deeply disappointed in you. Just last week I was defending you against a commenter on my blog, saying that for the most part you rise above the typical sound-byte “gotcha” journalism that the rest of the cable-news hosts can’t help themselves but to sink into. Yet when you interviewed Rand Paul, you went at him for a solid fifteen minutes on this one little issue—a controversial statement he made on NPR regarding the Civil Rights Act.

You pointed out the implications of his libertarian worldview in regards to civil rights. He doesn’t believe that the government should have the power to force private businesses to serve minorities. He’s not in favor of segregation and he finds racism abhorrent—a point he went to great lengths to hammer home. But he is a libertarian, and his political philosophy is that the government should have as little power as possible. That means that it can’t tell the owner of a private business that he can’t hang a “whites only” sign on his door. If you accept the libertarian worldview, then you have to live with a few ugly consequences. Giving people as much freedom as possible means that some people are going to abuse that freedom.

Rand Paul stood by his principles. And you just kept hounding him, asking the same question over and over again in pursuit of that one precious sound-byte of Paul saying, “I believe businesses should have the right to segregate.” Paul, who understands politics, refused to give you that sound-byte because he knew it would be played over and over again in the news and in attack ads by his opponent. I would have had a lot more respect for him if he didn’t dodge the question and just came right out and said what he believes, but I understand why he felt it was politically necessary to dodge it.

But the thing is, he didn’t even really dodge it. He defended his views. He said that the Civil Rights Act was, for the most part, a good thing. He simply believes that it went too far by giving the government the power to prohibit private business owners from segregating their business.

Do I agree with this position? No, but I understand it. I may be a flaming liberal on most issues, but I think the government should have limited power when it comes to private businesses—particularly small businesses which don’t constitute major segments of the national economy like big corporations do. I happen to believe that the government should have the power to force small business owners to serve minorities, but I understand the argument for why it shouldn’t. It’s a free speech issue, and even if we deplore racism we have to tolerate it. If you’re a black man and see a “whites only” sign on a restaurant, don’t eat there. And anyone else who hates racism won’t eat there either. In a perfect world, all segregated businesses would fail because no one would want to give them their business.

Unfortunately, there is still too much racism in this country for that to work, and if you did allow business-owners to hang “whites only” signs on the door, you’d have tens of thousands of businesses refusing to serve minorities and they would have a much harder time finding places that welcome them. It would probably lead to an almost completely re-segregated South where blacks and minorities would once again be second-class citizens due to all of the businesses given free reign to turn them away. This is why I believe the government should have the right to force integration.

I never would have even considered this issue if it hadn’t been for the Rand Paul interview. That’s the value of hearing opposing points of view—you get to consider them and refine your own opinion. This is enormously valuable in a free and democratic society.

But is that how the mainstream media treated it? Not even close! At the slightest whiff of racial controversy, the entire cable news world erupted in a simultaneous ejaculation of righteous indignation. “Did you hear what Rand Paul said? He thinks white people should be allowed to discriminate against minorities! I told you the Tea Party was full of racists!”

Now I don’t actually believe in the myth of the “liberal media” but I could see how anyone watching the reaction to Rand Paul might have got that impression. The guy was beaten, flogged, and crucified just for having an unorthodox opinion. I normally enjoy Keith Olbermann’s program but watching his show on the day after the Maddow interview I wanted to grab him and shake him and scream, “Get ahold of yourself, man! Calm the fuck down, okay? The man has an opinion you don’t agree with—that doesn’t mean he’s the second coming of George Wallace!” He even floated the idea that Rand Paul should withdraw his nomination.

Are you fucking kidding me? He should drop out of the senate race because he’s consistent to his libertarian political philosophy? Congress is full of hypocrites and flip-floppers, and one guy who actually stands by his principles should step down?

I might disagree with Rand Paul on just about everything, but I have to respect a guy who has a genuine political philosophy that he adheres to and stands by. Unlike most republicans (and probably most democrats), Rand Paul seems to actually believe in what he says, otherwise he would have flip-flopped on this issue right away. But instead he defended his position in spite of the political cost, and in return he’s been devoured for it. Contrast that with republicans like Eric Cantor who wouldn’t even go near the question with a ten-foot pole. Who do you have more respect for—the guy who will take an unpopular position or the guy who won’t take any position at all?

I can’t help but suspect that the media is being so hard on Paul because he’s not a part of the establishment. Republicans say ridiculous, radical, racist things all the time, but nobody calls for them to step down. But Paul, whose father Ron Paul was also repeatedly criticized and lambasted from all sides during the 2008 republican presidential primary, is not a Washington insider so that makes him the fairest of fair game. Whatever you do, don’t focus on his actual campaign platform or what he might actually do as a senator—just keep pressing him on this one controversial statement from an NPR interview.

The guy is not running on a platform of repealing the Civil Rights Act. If he becomes a senator, he’s not going to push to reinstate the right of business owners to discriminate against minorities. I don’t actually know what the hell he’s running on or what he intends to do as a senator because everyone just keeps talking about the segregation thing. This is typical media bullshit—it’s infuriating—and this time it’s coming from those in the media that I actually like.

Here’s an idea—let the voters decide. Let Rand Paul have his political philosophy, let him articulate it, and let the voters decide whether they want him to be their representative. It’s called democracy, for fuck’s sake. If the media weren’t so quick to pounce all over anything a politician says that may be even slightly controversial, politicians might actually open up and tell us what they really believe sometimes. We might actually be able to have honest, rational discussion amongst ourselves and find common ground with one another. America might actually work the way it’s supposed to work, with a well-informed populace choosing as representatives those who best represent them. If America were that country instead of the hyper-polarized ideological battlefield the corporate media has made us, it would be a hell of a country indeed.

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