Sunday, June 6, 2010

Defending Rand Paul (II) D.T. Strain

by George J. Dance

Rand Paul's views on Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act have been widely and fiercely condemned. Paul himself has been smeared as everything from a racist to a moron. However (as I noted yesterday) a few voices can be found defending him, if one looks for them, often from the most unlikely sources.

One of the most unlikely is D.T. Strain, a humanist minister from Texas and a writer for As Strain himself writes, "I am about the last person on the planet you might expect to defend Rand Paul, Libertarians, or Republican candidates... I am socially liberal....  I also view the kind of complete laissez-faire capitalism espoused by Libertarianism as unrealistic, logically misguided, and morally deficient as well."

Nevertheless, Strain adds, "above all of that I am firstly concerned with truth and its offspring: honesty, fairness, and accuracy."And he sees little of that in the depictions of Paul as a racist: "when you look more closely at what he's said, there isn't even good reason to suspect it.... Racism is a powerful charge to throw around and no thoughtful and moral person should do so lightly."

Rather, Strain sees Paul's objections to the act as being not racist but libertarian. "He is opposed to limiting individual freedoms, even if that means people will sometimes be bad to one another." He adds: "Paul is thinking of a private business like a home. A person owns a building and whether they live in it or decide to sell bread out of it, it's their property - and an individual should have the right to say who comes onto their property or who they do business with for any reason."

For those who don't understand how one can condemn both discrimination and laws against it (as libertarians do), Strain adds a helpful analogy:
Should lying be illegal? Given that enforcement would require a huge bureaucracy and expense, and that it would create a veritable police state given the amount of oversight and intrusion necessary to police it, most people would agree it should not be illegal. But does that mean those people are liars or that they condone lying? Certainly not. Many of them are honest people who abhor deceptive behavior, and yet they believe these things are better handled through social pressures and the like, rather than through law enforcement.
Strain's conclusion: "Those who are distorting [Rand Paul's] words, or framing his position to sound as though he is a racist or in favor of racism are acting immorally. Either they are reacting out of a well justified but misplaced anger regarding racism, or they are cunningly using the event for political gain."

Strain, who as he says is no libertarian, goes on to argue against that libertarian position. And here, of course, is where I disagree with him. For example, he undercuts his earlier analogy by saying that "Enforcing non-discrimination in places of business does not, in fact, require the same level of intrusiveness and bureaucracy as would laws against everyday lying." However, that is not true, not just in regard to Section II but even more so to Section VII of the CRA (which bans discrimination by race or sex in hiring). Precisely because dishonesty and racism are mental states, they cannot be seen but only inferred from objective conditions; and the bureaucracy that investigates the latter conditions has become large and intrusive indeed -- much larger than the average American (or Canadian) may think.

But refuting Strain's argument is not my objective here. In fact, I'd encourage readers to read his arguments against the libertarian view, and think it through for themselves. Giving a hearing to opposing views (even those we find repugnant), and the arguments for them, does not endanger our own views -- provided we have thought our own views through in the first place. It is indeed a pity that the voices mocking and distorting Rand Paul's coments do not understood that.

DT Strain, "In defense of Rand Paul,", June 2, 2010.

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