Republican senatorial candidate Rand Paul has gotten in hot water recently over his views on the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul, though reiterating his personal hatred of discrimination, expressed skepticism at the anti-segregation law, citing his libertarian belief that government should not tell private businesses how to operate, even if that means allowing those businesses to discriminate. Paul has drawn many comparisons to 1964 Republican president nominee Barry Goldwater, who as a senator used the same argument to vote against the Civil Rights Act. What is Goldwater's legacy? And should Republicans today be following his example?

  • They Face Same Ideological Hurdle  Newsweek's Ben Adler writes, "As Goldwater's heir, it makes a certain intellectually honest sense for Rand Paul to say that while he would not choose to shop at a segregated business, it isn't his role, or that of the federal government, to impose that on others. This is a very extremist view. Civil-rights advocates will, correctly, point out that for someone suffering from discrimination this is a distinction without a difference."
  • The Goldwater Problem  The Washington Post's David Weigel says that as a result of "Barry Goldwater’s vote, on constitutional grounds, against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the albatross of racism was hung around the neck of American conservatism and remained there for decades and even to the present." That's what Rand Paul is struggling against now.
  • Goldwater Conservatism vs Rand Libertarianism  Vololkh Conspiracy's David Bernstein explains the difference. "the result of adopting the Goldwater and certainly the Rehnquist 1950s/60s constitutionalist view is that state-mandated Jim Crow would have continued indefinitely. The result of adopting the libertarian view ...  is that Jim Crow would have been abolished, except that private discrimination would have still been legal."
  • Libertarianism And Segregation  Bruce Bartlett writes, "As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There is no reason to believe that this system wouldn't have perpetuated itself absent outside pressure for change."
  • The 'Basic Contradictions of Republican Libertarianism'  Reproducing an old column, CBS's David Miller laments the "fundamental misunderstanding of Goldwater, in whom the basic contradictions of Republican libertarianism were plainly visible from the start." He cites Goldwater's "appeal to dismantle the federal government" and "numerous dog-whistle appeals to American racists." The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan is more sympathetic: "There was a very solid constitutional case against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was why Goldwater opposed it. But as an empirical matter, I think the history of race in America proves the inadequacy of pure freedom to redress the darkest of human impulses - to own, torture and terrorize an entire race."
  • Makes Sense, But It's Bad Politics  Jason Arvak concedes that "such nuance is lost (and actively sabotaged) in the no-holds-barred political process. The 'Republicans are racists' meme has proven very useful for some Democrats over the past few decades. ... It’s worth remembering that Lyndon Johnson nuked Barry Goldwater with exactly the same blunt-axe distortion that Rachel Maddow deployed against Rand Paul."
Whenever I bring this up, people quickly rush to assure me that Goldwater didn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on the most important political issue of his time out of racism, instead at the decisive moment in his career he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists out of principled constitutional reasoning that made it impossible for him to do otherwise. But this is actually more damning. You could imagine the founder of a movement being afflicted by an unfortunate character flaw that his followers lack. But the argument is that Goldwater didn’t suffer from a character flaw. Instead, having acquired a major party presidential nomination he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on the most important issue of the day because his sincere political ideology led to horribly wrongheaded conclusions.