Republican ≠ libertarian

I wrote this when it was topical but forgot to post it.

It seems that Eugene Robinson doesn’t know the difference between a Republican and a libertarian. In this two-weeks-old column discussing the self-inflicted political wounds of Rand Paul, Mr. Robinson lumps these in as a part of Paul’s “Libertarian La-La Land.” This would be a useful approach if a) Rand Paul happened to be a libertarian (or Libertarian) or b) Robinson understood liberty. Regarding Paul’s comments on the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

Actually, there are quite a few direct questions that Paul will be asked. Does he still believe it ought to be permissible to deny Americans access to housing because of the color of their skin, as he argued a few years ago? I have a personal stake in this one, since I live in a neighborhood where a legal covenant once kept African Americans out. Is this sort of thing cool with him?

Inherent in the way Mr. Robinson asked these two questions, he believes they’re related closely enough that Paul’s answer must be the same for both. It’s a “gotcha” question. Say that private-sphere discrimination should be legal and you’re a racist, no thinking necessary. But saying you believe someone has the right to be an asshole doesn’t require you to believe that person should be an asshole, or that such a person shouldn’t be criticized and excluded from polite society. Am I a racist for saying you can be a racist, as much as I despise it?

From the end of his column:

Now that he is running for the Senate as a card-carrying Republican, Paul is going to have to abandon, or pretend to abandon, many of his loopy beliefs. This won’t be easy, as illustrated by the hemming and hawing he did before finally endorsing the Civil Rights Act. Even then, he suggested that the law was justified only by the prevailing situation in the South. As soon as Paul is allowed out of his cave, someone should ask him whether the landmark legislation properly applies to the rest of the country.

As an exercise in critical thinking, did Paul say the Civil Rights Act should only be applied to the South? If he did, he’s an idiot and Robinson should say so directly. If Paul didn’t say that, stating only that the South was the problem that justified a federal (i.e. national) response, is Robinson’s tactic here legitimate?

Next, Robinson highlights Paul’s response to the BP oil spill (emphasis added):

And while we’re at it, what about Paul’s recent analysis of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? The Obama administration faces growing criticism for not being tough enough on BP for its failure to stop the gushing flow of crude that is fouling Louisiana’s ecologically sensitive coastal marshes. Paul, however, sees things differently. “What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’ ” Paul said. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

The “un-American” part is consistent with the campaign by Republican cynics and Tea Party wing nuts to delegitimize Obama’s presidency. But the general idea — that it’s wrong to hold private firms strictly accountable for disasters such as the gulf spill — appears to be something that Paul really believes, since he also dismisses the recent West Virginia mine explosion in which 29 miners were killed.

“We had a mining accident that was very tragic,” he said. “Then we come in, and it’s always someone’s fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

But maybe accidents are less likely to happen when appropriate safety standards are established and enforced. This kind of cause-and-effect reasoning is meaningful only to those who live in the real world, however. From all evidence, Paul lives in Libertarian La-La Land, where a purist philosophy leads people to believe in the purest nonsense.

I’ll speak to general libertarian philosophy, not Rand Paul’s ideas. It’s not wrong to hold private firms strictly accountable for disasters for which they are responsible. That’s what society should do. And to the extent government regulation is justified, a response according to pre-existing rules and procedures is appropriate.

That’s not what happens now. We have public outrage and figurative spankings from our President-as-father. (This is not exclusive to President Obama.) The financial crisis of 2008 shows this, as Obama has repeatedly demonized everyone associated with Wall Street while Congress funneled public money to them and configured new regulations to entrench their businesses against competition. It’s naked populism, not enlightened principle in the face of depraved “Libertarian La-La Land” philosophy.

As for established and enforced safety standards, only the government can be trusted to do that?

I want none of what I’ve written to suggest that I support or seek to defend Rand Paul and his comments. There’s more complexity to the Civil Rights Act and libertarianism, as evidenced by what’s missing from Mr. Robinson’s column and much of most reporting on the story. Anyway, Paul strikes me as a politican at his core, like his father, who is also not a libertarian. No one should act as though he discredits libertarianism.

For example, from Robinson’s column:

I’d also like to know whether Paul really believes in a conspiracy among the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments to turn North America into a “borderless, mass continent” bisected by a 10-lane superhighway. Because that’s what he said in 2008.

“It’s a real thing,” he said of the imaginary threat to U.S. sovereignty, “and when you talk about it, the thing you just have to be aware of is that if you talk about it like it’s a conspiracy, they’ll paint you as a nut.”

Very little paint is needed.

Fair enough that Paul is a nut, but libertarians won’t view “borderless” countries with fear and disdain. Lumping the two together is silly to the point of ignorance (or dishonesty).