In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller was defeated by Barry Goldwater for the Republican Party nomination. Both prior to and during his time as Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller consistently favored racial equality and supported the Civil Rights Movement.
Senator Barry Goldwater had supported some state and local civil rights reforms and even some federal civil rights legislation. He was not a segregationist in the manner of Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond, Richard B. Russell, J. William Fulbright, James Eastland, and John C. Stennis. However, he was one of just six Republicans Senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (twenty-one Senate Democrats voted against it) and stated that if private businesses wished to discriminate against blacks, it was not the role of the federal government to stop them. For the last fifty years, Goldwater has been portrayed as a principled libertarian free of racial bigotry but also bound by conviction to oppose federal bans on private sector discrimination. The time would indeed come when an aging Barry Goldwater embraced libertarianism, skewering the Religious Right, endorsing the legalization of medical marijuana, and calling for a full repeal of the military’s ban on gay and lesbian soldiers. Interestingly, according to Goldwater family friend John Dean, the Arizona Senator also eventually expressed regret for voting against the Civil Rights Act. However, in the 1960s, Goldwater was still a conservative with a bit of libertarian flavor, rather than a true libertarian. A good analogy is that Russ Feingold is a liberal with a bit of libertarian flavor. (Full disclosure: Russ Feingold is a political hero of mine, even though I don’t agree with all of his stances.) Goldwater was also, in the 1960s, a very mild, moderate, conflicted racist. In 1964, Goldwater tried to paint his opposition to the Civil Rights Act in libertarian terms by saying that the federal government only had the right to ban government discrimination. Yet just four years earlier, he had written that the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court, a firmly libertarian decision that only prohibited discrimination in government-run schools, had been an overreach of federal power. This is totally contrary to true libertarianism, which holds that the government must not use the force of law to brand some citizens as inferior and others as superior. Five years after voting against the Civil Rights Act, he would support federal anti-pornography legislation. Thus, the 1960s Goldwater was neither a consistent opponent of government discrimination nor consistently devoted to restraining federal power. With these facts in mind, Goldwater’s claim that his motivations for opposing the Civil Rights Act had nothing to do with racism rings hollow. Yet his time as a presidential candidate made him a libertarian icon thanks to his commendable opposition to the military draft and strong support for fiscal conservatism. At the same time, his candidacy not only marked the end of the GOP’s days as the less racist of the two parties but also had the side-effect of promoting the idea that libertarianism is hostile or callous to the needs of minorities, despite the fact that a libertarian lawyer named Moorfield Storey served as president of the NAACP for twenty years and persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down laws mandating residential segregation. Which brings me to Rand Paul.
Like Barry Goldwater and Ron Paul, Rand Paul has become popular with many libertarians. I myself believe that Rand Paul is one of the best politicians when it comes to issues such as fiscal responsibility and ending government violations of privacy and due process. There is some talk of him being the Republican Party candidate for president in 2016. However, I have to say that I am not even open to voting for Rand Paul and that although I have written before of my hope that Hilary Clinton will not be the Democratic Party nominee, I would vote for her over Rand Paul in a heartbeat. As I said earlier, Paul has better policies than Clinton in many areas. Unfortunately, he is also a bigot in libertarian clothing. In 2010, Rand Paul echoed Barry Goldwater’s view that if a business wants to discriminate based on race, the government should not prevent them from doing so. Unfortunately, just like his father, Rand is only a libertarian when it suits him. At the same time that he was defending the right of Lester Maddox to keep black people out of his restaurant, Rand Paul thumbed his nose at the right of Lieutenant Dan Choi to serve his country without remaining in the closet. When asked in 2010 about Paul’s view on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Paul’s campaign spokesman stated that, “Dr. Paul believes this is a matter that should be decided by the leadership of the military, not through political posturing.” In other words, if the generals wanted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to stay, Paul wanted it to stay. It should be noted that at this point, even libertarians like John Stossel and Andrew Napolitano, who were working for Fox News, were already eviscerating the military ban on openly gay soldiers. More recently, Rand Paul’s position on gay marriage has been hardly libertarian. While he has indicated support for privatizing marriage, he has also made it clear that if civil marriage exists, he would prefer it be denied to gays–again, a violation of the libertarian principle that government has no right to discriminate arbitrarily. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Paul opined, “I think right now if we say we’re only going to [have] a federally mandated one man, one woman marriage, we’re going to lose that battle because the country is going the other way right now. If we’re to say each state can decide, I think a good 25, 30 states still do believe in traditional marriage, and maybe we allow that debate to go on for another couple of decades and see if we can still win back the hearts and minds of the people.” Essentially, Paul wants to leave the gay marriage issue to the states in order to keep gay marriage illegal in much of the country.
Rand Paul is fine with government discriminating against gay people, but when it comes to the government protecting blacks from getting discriminated against, he starts using libertarian rhetoric. I believe in federal anti-discrimination laws that apply to the private sector as well as the government. In fact, I support affirmative action, which is probably enough to keep me from being considered a full libertarian. However, I absolutely acknowledge that there are non-racist people who are consistent libertarians and believe that while the government must not discriminate, the government also cannot force private institutions to stop discriminating. Rand Paul is not one of these people. And just as I would have identified as a “Rockefeller Republican” in the 1950s and 196os based on the Rockefeller Republicans’ support for equal rights, even though my fiscal views are much more Goldwater-esque, I now identify as a Democrat based on the party’s support for equal rights. And just as I would have voted for Lyndon Johnson over Goldwater in the 1964 general election based on the issue of racial justice, I would vote for Hilary Clinton over Rand Paul, because I cannot vote for a candidate who displays racism and homophobia. And while my concern here is moral, not pragmatic, I should state my belief that if a racist homophobe becomes the standard bearer of libertarianism, it will damage the movement greatly by turning off young people, women, gays, and racial minorities. There is already an unfortunate perception among some people, aided by the Libertarian Party’s nomination of Bob Barr back in 2008, that “libertarian” is simply another word for right-wingers who think the Republican Party is not fiscally conservative or anti-gun control enough. I, for one, will never “stand with Rand.”