Friday, May 28, 2010

Rand Paul and why the Civil Rights Act still matters

Last week Rand Paul won Kentucky's Republican primary for the seat in the US Senate up for grabs this November. Being the candidate widely supported in this race by members of the tea party movement and because he handily beat his opponent the news media gave quite a bit of time to his win as it might signal a shift even further to the right in the Republican Party.

NPR scored an interview with Rand Paul the day after the election and the interviewer brought up a comment he had made in a interview a few weeks earlier to a Kentucky newspaper. In this interview Mr. Paul stated that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was something that he couldn't have supported as it was passed. He said that he agrees with the law in that it ended discrimination by the government but he couldn't agree with a law that forced businesses and private groups to stop discriminating on the basis of race and skin color. His argument, one that is actually not unusual amongst libertarians, is that the government does not have the right to regulate the activities of private groups and businesses. Even though he says he finds racism and racial discrimination deplorable he still believes that in America it is the right of businesses to discriminate if they want to and that we should let the market straighten things out for us.

Since this interview Mr. Paul has given a few others in which he basically repeated what he had said in the NPR and newspaper article, he has given other interviews where he has tried to distance himself from his earlier comments while still not stating they were wrong, and he has done a complete turn around and said that he would have in fact voted for the Civil Rights Act as it was. The interesting thing to me is how many times he has said he was surprised by the uproar his statements created as he didn't think that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was all that important any more. How could one person be so wrong in so many ways.

First of all we should look at his libertarian belief that the government's power should be so limited as to not allow the government to force businesses and private groups that serve the public to serve all persons regardless of race or color. He has stated, and many others share his belief, that the market would favor businesses who didn't discriminate and would bring an end to racial discrimination. There is a small town in Western North Carolina that I visit on a fairly regular basis. It has a population of around 400 people and has only one gas station and one grocery store. If we lived by Mr. Paul's beliefs and the grocery store or the gas station in this town decided to serve whites only then the few minorities that live in this small village would have to drive 30 miles or so to find another gas station or grocery store. Minorities on vacation would have to cross this town off their list, not just as a destination but as a place to pass through as they couldn't purchase gas there and if their son or daughter had to use the bathroom they would have to tell them to just wait, for another hour or so. This town couldn't support another gas station or grocery store, it is just too small. The number of minorities living in this town or passing through are also small enough that not serving these individuals wouldn't create a burden on the businesses great enough to cause them to change their policies. The market wouldn't end discrimination in this case, the market would probably support it. This equation doesn't just hold true in small, remote, towns. Most larger cities are racially segregated to some extent by neighborhoods. What if the African American or Hispanic neighborhoods in your areas started being filled with "No Whites" signs just as the white neighborhoods started filling up with "Whites Only" signs. Can we not all see the return to violence, intolerance, and hatred this would bring? The market is incapable of being an arbitrator of moral issues. The market only understands money, if it understands anything at all. Our recent economic collapse should have shaken our collective faith in the market to the point that we wouldn't have to listen to drivel like Mr. Paul is spewing but the fact that it hasn't shows just one of the reasons the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is still important today, it is important because we, as a society, have a very short memory and could easily fall back into our old practices.

Another reason why the Civil Rights Act is still important became clear to me this week. I was at the main building of the Nashville Public Library looking at photos and documents they have on display as part of an exhibit called "Visions & Voices: The Civil Rights Movement in Nashville and Tennessee, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Nashville Sit-in Movement". The exhibit was very powerful, but one photograph in particular jumped out at me. It showed a young African American woman, Grace McKinley, escorting her daughter, Linda Gail McKinley, to elementary school through an angry crowd who0 appeared to be screaming at the woman and her daughter while holding signs showing their opposition to school desegregation. One of the signs read "God is the author of segregation, Genesis 9: 25-27". The verses quoted had been used many times in the history of our country to justify the keeping of slaves. Apparently the man holding this sign thought that if they were a justification for slavery they would work just as well to justify segregation. This photo, the sign in the photo, they show just how wrong Rand Paul is. If the government hadn't stepped in the school Linda Gail McKinley went to would still be segregated, Mr. Paul says he supports the government taking action to end segregation in that school, but he thinks Linda Gail McKinley didn't have the right, as a human being, to eat at the same lunch counter as the man holding the sign? She didn't have the right as a human being to shop at the same stores as the man holding the sign? She didn't have the right to attend the same church as the man holding the sign? You see, when Rand Paul says that businesses, as a matter of principle, should have the right to discriminate, he is saying that those they discriminate against are lesser people. Statements like the ones made by Mr. Paul make me think he might be a lesser person. He certainly isn't worthy of serving in the US Senate.

One last reason why the Civil Rights Act still matters. Rand Paul may think the Civil Rights Act went to far, but the photo I mentioned above shows that it didn't go far enough. Today individuals are still being discriminated against. They are being discriminated against by businesses, private groups, and even our government. Further more this discrimination is still being wrongly justified by using verses from the Bible just as the man with the sign was trying to do. The Civil Rights Act still matters because America is still a place where discrimination is rampant, people still face discrimination based on their skin color, based on disability, and based on their sexual orientation. The Civil Rights Act matters because it is still a work in progress and until we are all seen and treated as being created equal it will continue to matter.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The state of my State

So, How is Tennessee doing? Well we have just been ranked in a couple of lists and we now know that Tennessee is the 5th most dangerous state in the country according to CQ Press' annual Crime State Rankings for 2010. I suppose we can take some pride we didn't wind up as number one on that list... like we did on The Daily Beast's list of the most corrupt states.

So, if you come to Tennessee you stand a better chance of getting robbed, raped, assaulted, or killed than you do in all but 4 other of the 50 states and the person who attacks you stands a better chance of not paying for their crime because they are more likely to be able to buy their way out of jail time if they have enough cash? Heck, they might even be able to get the state legislature to step in and take action to protect them. If not some local politician is probably related to them and will be able to help.

Why are things so bad in Tennessee? Well our state government and many of our local governments have been taken over by tea party/birther types who seem to not have a speck of common sense bouncing around in their otherwise empty heads like a marble in a vacant warehouse. There might be some sort of connection there. I am willing to vote all of those people out of office and replace them with progressives to see if it solves any of our problems. All in the name of science of course... not that any of the people currently in power think that science is anything more than just a plot to keep prayer out of school, but you know what I mean.