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It had already been clear enough from reports coming out of Kentucky prior to Tuesday's primary, but any lingering questions were put to rest earlier tonight on the Rachel Maddow Show: Dr. Rand Paul, Republican nominee for US Senate in Kentucky, disapproves of the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is to say, he believes that private business owners should be free to refuse service to customers on the basis of race.
This is a disaster in the making for the Republican Party nationally, and they had better realize it. National party leaders need to publicly denounce him, ask for him to withdraw from the race, and, if he stays in, withhold all support from him.
Perhaps I'll be proven wrong on the impact of this, but my initial political instinct is that it is absolutely untenable for the GOP to have someone holding this view in their party.
There is nothing new about Paul's argument -- it was the exact argument used in the 1950s and 1960s against public accomodation laws, at state, local, and eventually national levels. (Used, incidentally, by future Chief Justice William Rehnquist in my hometown, as I wrote about here.) I think that Dr. Paul truly does come to his view from a purely libertarian perspective, and is not merely using that as a cover for racism (although his naivete about racism, demonstrated in the interview, is stunning, as he blithely dismisses the issue as "hypothetical" and purely philosophical). I don't think the genuineness of his libertarianism helps.
In fact, racism would be easier for the party to deal with; this, frankly, sounds like a natural extension of the new libertarian conservatism, and thus something that people will easily be able to imagine Jim DeMint, or Mike Pence, or Pat Toomey or others nodding their heads to. Which means that every one of them, up and down the ticket, coast to coast, is going to be asked about. And some of them are going to fumble the answer. And some conservative organizations, or some ratings-starved talkmeister (Glenn? oh Glenn?) is going to flat-out agree with Paul. And then... and then... and then...
Never mind what this could do to voter turnout among minorities in 2010 and beyond; the truth is that mainstream white America feels really, really good about the fact that their government stopped all of that discrimination. I mean, on a fundamental, deep level, it's really, really important to mainstream white Americans that everyone understands that we're all against that kind of thing. That once upon a time there was this bad thing about America, where Willie Mays had to wait on the bus while the rest of his team went into the restaurant for dinner, and he had to wait and hope that one of them would sneak him out a sandwich. And that, plus a thousand other examples, makes us mainstream white Americans really, really, embarrassed and uncomfortable, and thankful that we finally put an end to it.
You can't go back and re-open that -- especially when you're the party with a highly dubious reputation on diversity and tolerance already. It's a potential disaster, and the party needs to contain it by quarantining themselves from Dr. Paul.