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Rand Paul and the Short-Circuits of Populism

May 20, 2010

First, apologies to all of my 10 or so readers for the slow down in posts, but I’m finishing an article and getting a new website up and running. Moving on, there has been much ado about the recent comments by the Senate Republican nominee and Tea Party prince, Rand Paul (also son of Ron Paul), regarding the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Fresh on the heels of his Tuesday win in the Republican primary, it has come to light that he has made comments in numerous venues (including this stunning Rachel Maddow interview) to the effect that while he is “in theory” against discrimination or racism, he does not believe the government should enforce equality in society — namely, that a business or institution should not be required “legally” to serve all patrons regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. Since his initial comments, a media firestorm has appeared and subsequently, Paul has been forced to answer numerous questions as to whether supports the Civil Rights Act, civil rights in general, and litany of other related issues. Let’s just say his “backtracking” has not exactly helped him either.

Before we even begin here, it should be noted Paul clearly has no idea what the Civil Rights Act is and/or what it entails. On top of that, he has no idea why it was enacted or what America was like before it existed. The fact that he is spewing comments about bill he’s never read (he admitted so much) and knows nothing about should come as no surprise and also not prevent us from taking a look what these comments mean in a larger sense. It is always important to note what would essentially get you a D on an oral report in a Freshman English class is considered, of course, acceptable intellectual activity for someone running for the most powerful governmental body in the world (but that’s another story).

Back to the comments, what has been most interesting about them has been the reaction to them in the media, by politicians, and especially among Rand followers. The liberal left has reacted as one would expect — pretty much indignant at the fact anyone would even bother touching the Civil Rights Act and it’s hard to criticize them for that. Even the conservatives, including such humanitarians like Senator Mitch “Fuck working people and their mothers” McConnell, who has an awful civil rights voting record, distanced himself from the comments! Yet besides the general distaste towards touching, let alone dissing civil rights, some in the media, politicians, and supporters of Paul are reportedly “confused” by the comments. People on the left and right seem to think it makes little to no sense how you can support “liberty” for all and concurrently condone “blacks only” lunch-counters (or the rationale behind getting rid of the Disabilities Act too…seriously). And it’s not just on this issue that folks are getting a little confused – he wants to demolish the Dept. of Education, yet thinks everyone should have a chance to get a job and make it in America, because, you know, everyone will get a fair chance to succeed in society without free, public education. Or how about the fact he’s fighting for the working class, yet held his post-election party at a ritzy, private country club? And the contradictions don’t just end with Paul – the supposed Tea Party ideals are loaded down with painful incongruities, like concurrently attacking Wall St. and then attacking Obama for limiting the pay of bankers who get tax money and cause economic crashes as an attack on the liberty of hard-working middle class Americans. And there’s always the fun: government should not be involved in our private lives (read: guns), unless it’s about regulating morality (read: jailing homosexuals). The list goes on and on.

Here I would argue the contrary – I think Paul’s highly contradictory comments and post-comment comments, which speak directly to the clusterfuck-esque ideology that drives the Tea Party and much of American populism, for that matter, actually makes plenty of sense. If one understands how and what these people think there is nothing nebulous and incongruous about what is being said. I have been dying to write something about the ideology and mindscape behind the Tea Party populism for some time now, but there more pressing issues, so I’ll only briefly touch on some of those thoughts here.

Paul is confusing everyone because at the root he has a completely insane understanding of state and society – or to put it more succinctly, he’s a libertarian. You see, libertarians hate the government, because they think the government prevents them from becoming even richer and acquiring even hotter Stepford wives (ok, the second part is only assumed, though I’m sure Nozick would support it). Libertarians are middle to upper class white men – without fail. In their very white world, once the government is gone, the magical free market (yes the same free market that just crashed itself for something like 279th time now) will subsume the space and services previously occupied by the gov and help reorganize society to greater prosperity and efficiency. You might wonder how the current existence of gross inequalities in society might be addressed or how the market might ensure that goods and services allocated equally across an unequal society…and if you’re wondering about those things you’re clearly not a libertarian. They believe racism and sexism are things of the past and that once the state is gone, there is no chance they’ll ever return. This mindset explains very clearly why Paul seems almost confused as to why the Civil Rights Act is even a relevant topic anymore (“I mean, shucks, it’s like I’ve ever been a victim of racism” – odd with him being rich and white and all).

One poor schmuck on Hardball today tried to explain that this current debacle is at its heart a theoretical discussion of private property and government intervention, which Rand failed to articulate properly (implying that if he did explain it on a theoretical level he’d have saved himself from castigation). He’s right, but for the wrong reasons – this is very much a theoretical issue! At the most base level, libertarians believe in liberty (see the word “libert” part of libertarian), but not equality. The only reason they even pay credence at all to equality is because it’s politically prudent to do so. They then bank on personal liberty somehow effecting equality somewhere down the line in their utopia of well-intentioned capitalists and unicorns, which is at best a naïve manner of thinking, at worst, just plain dangerous. It’s up for debate as to whether they actually believe this utopia will occur or whether this is a completely disingenuous ploy for unfettered white hegemony and power. When they are shown evidence that the current political-economic system (liberal democratic capitalism) does very little promote liberty, let alone equality, they hedge their bets on the patently insane of dismantling the state altogether. They say, “Trust us – when the state is gone, there will be more ghettos in the inner city or starving children in America. We can all count on the good will of the ruling elite and logic of self-interest to provide for all.” The problem is no one actually believes this except a few crazy people, therefore they need to code their philosophy in political speak to get elected. When asked about an act ratified by the US government to fight racism and inequality – there is no viable answer for them. The idea that the state can help fight inequality is completely non-sensical in their world – hence the confusion in Paul’s “answers.” So yes, he could have explained it theoretically, but the results would have been even worse politically had he been even more honest about libertarianism.

In the event you don’t belive libertarians actually think like this, look at how the Heritage Foundation (otherwise known as the institution with the ethical credibility of NAMBLA) responded to the current affair:

“He’s saying that private business should be able to make decisions on their own without the federal government telling them what they cannot do, and he believes that the Constitution mandates that the federal government has very limited powers, and he doesn’t believe that the government should be telling private business what it should do.”

Right, so if a business wants to deny service to blacks or Jews or women they should be allowed to do so, because as we know a business is a “person” and that person has liberties and those liberties shouldn’t be impinged upon by the government in any way. And, of course, somehow the market will fix this little racist kink along the way. It makes you wonder libertarians get so much time in the mainstream media. When’s the last time you saw an anarchist cited in a New York Times article? At least anarchists have a reality-based understanding of human behavior. Why are these people even taken seriously? Why don’t they interview people who believe in fairies and gnomes as well?

In the end, you might say, “Well, how does having a penchant for mendacity and a contradictory rationale on how the world runs make Paul and the Tea Party loonies any different from other politicians?” Good question (thanks). While all American politicians, liberals included, are consistently caught in never-ending feedbacks loops of contradictory bullshit, the difference is even conservatives are not as crazy or stupid enough to believe that society would function without a state. They may be as mean-spirited and violent as the libertarians, but they, at least, are not willing touch the issue of the raw, naked class domination that would ensue without the state. In one sense, it seems most conservatives know it’s in their best interests to keep at least a modicum of social support and state power around and not turn the clock back to things 15th century-style, because even if they may have a lot to gain by dismantling all regulation and social welfare, they fear the backlash that could occur from the plebs in such a predicament (pitchforks and all).

In short, the problem with the Tea Party, Rand Paul, and vast majority of populist thought, is that the ideas are based on a faulty circuitry. When you try to turn the device on, you realize that the wires (the political, economic, ideological) are all touching and you get nothing but a short-circuited mess. What you’re seeing in Rand Paul’s bewildered face over the last few days is the failure of libertarianism and populism in all its grandeur and horror. In the coming weeks, he’ll begin acting more like a politician and patch over his faux pas with verbage about how he really supports equality, likes blacks, and thinks the handicapped are humans. But you and I should not be confused, nor should anyone else, contradiction is the logical result of what happens when you try to rationalize and humanize a failed, incoherent and awful ideology — how scary is it think of what would happen when and if it actually gets put into practice.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 20, 2010 10:20 pm

    You’re quite correct.
    The Tea Party, for all it’s wonderful populist rhetoric, is based on flawed logic.

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