Thursday, May 20, 2010

Odds and ends: Progressives and Texas Textbooks, plus, is Rand Paul racist?

Think Progress interviewed two progressive candidates for the Texas state school board in the fall and plumbs their opinions on the current controversy. They seem eager to reverse conservatives' attacks on expertise, which I discussed yesterday:

– BELL-METEREAU: It’s turned into a battle against teachers, scholars, and experts in the field, which is just absurd. We should let the experts do the curriculum formation, and the board should have oversight and be looking at some broad general goals, rather than doing hundreds of line-by-line educations.
– JENNINGS: I have a PhD in education, and I know I shouldn’t be writing curriculum for 4.7 million children. So why, people who aren’t even educators, think that they’re qualified to write curriculum is beyond me.  (bold in original)

It's not nice to fool mother nature, and it's not smart to fool with Rachael Maddow. I watched her beat-down of Rand Paul this morning (is this guy named after Ayn Rand? That's really sad if yes), which really blew the lid off the story that Paul doesn't like "parts" of the Civil Rights Act. When Jim DeMint has to walk you back from your own conservatism you know you've done something wrong.

But is Paul Kentucky's answer to David Duke? He seemed genuine in his insistence that he likes the idea of racial equality. But his libertarianism elevates other values ahead of those most of us care more about -- like desegregated lunch counters. His answers to Maddow I don't think demonstrate racism; but they do get at the crux of why libertarian ideas about citizenship and individual rights have no usefulness in the real world. Almost anyone who takes political philosophy seriously understands that rights do not exist as absolute standards, but flex in relation to other sets of rights and interests within society. If you watch the interview, Paul's reason for objecting to the portion of the Civil Rights Act that guarantees equal accommodation at private businesses is not that he prefers to dine in a white-only environment, but that the First Amendment rights of business owners are violated by the law. How segregating one's business is speech is a bit beyond me, but if he has to choose between one set of rights and another, he's going with the ones laid out in the Constitution. Free speech and equal protection fight it out in his mind, and free speech wins. I read the way he squirmed through the Maddow interview as "sorry, black people, but that's the way the chips fall. I feel real bad that there are racists out there, but what ya gonna do?"

This is not only the opposite of how most Americans think about Civil Rights, but the opposite of how we think about governance. Leaders have to balance competing principles all of the time. This case is just especially peculiar because, honestly, who really cares at this day in age about the rights of segregationist business owners. If you're Paul, why even go here? Well, it's the way libertarians approach all policy questions. Consequences do not matter. The impact on human lives of policy is irrelevant.

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