A Conservative’s Take on Dr. Rand Paul and His Misplaced Conservative Principles

–Richard E. Vatz

Does Dr. Rand Paul, Republican Kentucky U.S. Senatorial candidate, believe, as the Louisville Courier-Journal paraphrases his view, that “…private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people, or gays, or any other minority group?”

There was Dr. Paul, being interviewed by MSNBC liberal provocateur Rachel Maddow, responding to an array of questions on this matter and doing what liberals have made their own rhetorical specialty: dodging questions of policy when a responsive answer likely would be unacceptable to a large majority of their constituents.

You cannot imagine how difficult it is for a conservative to compliment the interviewing doggedness of a generally irresponsible liberal interrogator, but in a 10-minute plus interview Ms. Maddow asked Rand Paul multiple variations, without success, of whether he supported the right of private business to legally exclude categories of people they don’t cotton to (please excuse pun)from being customers of their businesses.

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Over and over and over, Dr. Paul said that he personally finds such racial discrimination abhorrent and that he likes a great majority of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, save, he implied, any Titles of that bill that outlaw discrimination by private businesses, save private clubs. He would not say unambiguously that he supported the right of private business to discriminate against anyone, but it was clear he did.

I like a lot of Dr. Paul’s conservative positions, but I reject his unsophisticated, unnuanced, unthinking supporting of one principle over any other.

People who hold on to a principle, in this case the right of private interests to serve or not serve clients based on their demographic characteristics irrespective of any practical implications, are like those Constitutionalists who believe, in Potter Stewart’s words, that the precepts of that great document should make it a “suicide pact” rather than yield a principled point.

As conservative Richard Weaver, Jr. argued in his Ethics of Rhetoric, principles are the bedrock of conservative thought, while circumstance and consequences characterize liberal thought. But often when a principle appears to be operative in appraising a situation, there is a competing principle to which reasonable people can and should adhere.

The idea in 2010 that a private business could tell customers of any race or religion that they may not enjoy equal treatment violates the great principle of “equal opportunity,” which to reasonable Americans should trump the freedom of a private business to discriminate.

Dr. Rand Paul should know that, and if he doesn’t, this conservative would not support his candidacy to be a United States Senator.

There are other views of Dr. Paul, such as his apparent “caveat emptor” view opposing all government-imposed safety standards, that also violate a wealth of competing principles.

But I can find nothing as abhorrent and indefensible as believing that private business has the right to exclude by race, religion, sexual preference or creed any of my fellow citizens from equal accommodations, rights and opportunities.

I hope I’m in a large majority among conservatives on this matter.

Professor Vatz teaches an advanced Persuasion class and a class in Media Criticism at Towson University

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