As ThinkProgress noted last night, Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul criticized a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal because he doesn’t “like the idea of telling private business owners” that they can’t discriminate. Paul defended his position in subsequent interviews with MSNBC and NPR, admitting that there are sections of the bill he doesn’t “favor.” “When you support nine out of 10 things in a good piece of legislation, do you vote for it or against it?” Paul said to Rachel Maddow. “And I think, sometimes, those are difficult situations.
The conservative media largely stayed silent on Paul’s incendiary position until after he backtracked in a statement declaring that he “will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964″ and an interview with Laura Ingraham in which he said that he would have voted for the law. Fox News, which hosted Paul at least 21 times since last May, didn’t feature a segment on the controversy until this afternoon when Megyn Kelly hosted libertarian John Stossel, who said that he’s “in total agreement” with Paul:
KELLY: He is getting excoriated for suggesting that the Civil Rights Act — what he said was, look, it’s got ten parts essentially. I favor nine. It’s the last part that mandated no discrimination in places of public accommodation that I have a problem with because you should let businesses decide for themselves, you know, whether they’re going to be racist or not racist because once the government gets involved it’s a slippery slope. Do you agree that?
STOSSEL: Totally. I’m in total agreement with Rand Paul. You can call it public accommodation, and it is, but it’s a private business and if a private business wants to say we don’t want any blonde anchorwomen or mustached guys, it ought to be their right.
To her credit, Kelly challenged Stossel aggressively, saying that it was “necessary” to bar private businesses from discriminating in order to guarantee equal rights. But Stossel persisted, saying that he would repeal the section of the Civil Rights Act that covers private businesses:
STOSSEL: And I would go further than he was willing to go, as he just issued the statement and say it’s time now to repeal that part of the law.
STOSSEL: Because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won’t ever go to a place that’s racist. And I will tell everybody else not to and I’ll speak against them, but it should be there right to be racist.
As The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer points out, Paul and Stossel’s “free market fundamentalism is being expressed after decades of social transformation that the Civil Rights Act helped create, and so the hell of segregation is but a mere abstraction, difficult to remember and easy to dismiss as belonging only to its time.” “It’s much easier now to say that ‘the market would handle it.’ But it didn’t, and it wouldn’t,” writes Serwer.
Paul’s campaign has backtracked even more now, with spokesman Jesse Benton issuing a statement that Paul “supports” the power of the federal government “to ensure that private businesses don’t discriminate based on race.” Page One Kentucky notes, however, that in 2002, Paul wrote a letter to the Bowling Green Daily News in opposition to the Federal Fair Housing Act because it prohibited discrimination on private property. “Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate,” wrote Paul.
Bruce Bartlett writes, “as we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. … Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn’t work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.”