Civil rights, the American Tea Party movement and Rand Paul

I keep meaning to get on to this topic.

Last month, Kentucky Republican U.S. senatorial candidate Rand Paul caused a big stir on the Rachel Maddow show, because he refused to answer whether he supported a certain part of the 1964 Civil Rights act. This part had to do with discrimination in a “public accommodation”. A public accommodation is a business that opens itself out to the public, and can be everything from a service company of a certain size, to a restaurant, hotel or gas station.

In New Jersey, a public accommodation is broadly defined. I remember working in Princeton and my company had in its cafeteria the usual federal and state civil rights notices, including one saying something in bold type to the effect: THIS ESTABLISHMENT IS A PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION UNDER NEW JERSEY STATE LAW. People would debate whether this meant that anyone off the street could come in and enjoy our tiny company kitchen/cafeteria. (Some of the food in the refrigerator was two years old when it got cleaned out, so maybe they would not want to.) But I understood it, properly, to mean that the company was covered under New Jersey’s 1945 Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and could discriminate based on the protected classes within that law.
New Jersey’s law is very broad; it covers damn near about any condition.

Kentucky candidate Rand Paul suggested that the federal 1964 Civil Rights act was unconstitutional in that it forced private businesses, like a hotel, a department store, or a gas station to take all customers regardless. As one of these self-styled “libertarians” with the “Tea Party Movement”, Paul apparently feels that civil rights protection is some sort of government intrusion on private business. The read-between-the-lines is that Paul was suggesting that if a business owner did not want to serve black patrons, he/she didn’t have to.

I’d hate to think that America would ever descend back into the sorrowful practices of Jim Crow, that were finally defeated by the ’64 act. So maybe some nutty candidate opening up the debate is a bit of healthy thing. But I think the fact that needs to be pointed out is that the Civil Rights Act protects everybody!

Before 1964, you had to live in a state that took civil rights seriously. As I mentioned, New Jersey had a modern civil rights act in 1945, and a fairly strong one even before that. (It’s since been amended to include categories like age or sexual orientation.) The 1947 state Constitution repeated many of the original protections.

Ironically, in 1974, the women’s movement tried to have the Constitution further “amended” to include sex (gender) as a protected category, but the amendment was defeated because it was ruled that the 1947 document already contained these protections!

Unlike New Jersey, though, some states to this day do not have a state civil rights law. And so the federal Civil Rights Act is the only protection that the people there have from discrimination by powerful or unscrupulous people. In these states (mostly in the American South) are the people that Rand Paul’s language was was to appeal to.

I myself am a civil rights purist. It’s regrettable that there even has to be laws to protect people from having their civil rights violated, but we don’t live in a perfect world or in perfect harmony. So some times, in some places, people are going to get the wrong ideas in their heads and mistreat people just because of who they are. The law is meant to be a remedy. It is not an imposition.

I think there are some people who think that the civil rights acts are primarily to protect black people, or women. This also is categorically false. The civil rights acts are meant to protect everybody. All are equal before the law, and all are entitled to equal protection of the laws. Why, just the other day, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website published a notice about a big win the Commission had against an employer who was alleged to have discriminated against the employee because she was white.

The Tea Party’s problem is that the people in it are quickly becoming ones who we understand to be implying something else whenever they say something explicitly. For example, they say that “America is losing its way!” when in fact what they mean is that their voters lost the last election. Boo-hooing about losing makes someone look like a sore losing, so they twist it into “losing our way”. They have a fear that civil rights acts are being used to create special preferences for minorities, so they twist an argument about how its unfair for the government to tell a private businessman who or who not he should serve.

They have their great retiree medical care, but are concerned the money won’t be there in the future for them to grab for their own thing, so they cry about “socialized medicine”.

I feel these people have crossed the line, and if you don’t think so, hopefully if they keep it up you will soon.

As I say, I am a civil rights purist—so I don’t think that the civil rights legislation was meant to create “special rights for minorities” but rather to protect us all. And I’ve been the victim of “multicultural” whatever-ism as a young man growing up in East Coast university environments in the 1980’s and ’90’s, so, yes, I do know the games that the far left can play, too. I just don’t think it cancels out the need to have laws to right wrongs. I dunno–call me a moderate. (It seems to be a real term of insult nowadays.)