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When Rand Paul won a primary last Tuesday, becoming Kentucky’s Republican nominee for the Senate, he declared himself a national leader of the Tea Party movement. It was an important moment for the movement as it, coming on the heels of the election of Scott Brown to the Senate, served as another step in its potential transformation from a loosely confederated group of grassroots groups into national level political force. But, as Dr. Paul’s attacks on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 just two days later highlighted, the true implications of the movement’s ideology are chilling to say the least.
The point that Dr. Paul made—the landmark anti-discrimination bill should only have applied to government entities, not private businesses—is consistent with his libertarian ideology of non-interference in the markets. But, it also demonstrates how that ideology breaks down when applied dogmatically to the complexities of the real world. In Paul’s view, the right of equal treatment by businesses must be relitigated over and over again, through boycotts and sit-ins at every single establishment. As Adam Serwer at TAPPED points out, this may not be explicit racism on Dr. Paul’s part, but it does display a stunning inability to imagine the life experience of another person. Because Rand Paul would never be subjected to this type of discrimination, he seems incapable of understanding why the need to explicitly outlaw it trumps his selfish and, frankly, childish, desire to not have anyone telling him what he can and cannot do.
Never mind that this ideology, which sees little to no role for government action to prevent lenders from exploiting the public, was a major cause of the current economic downturn. And never mind that this ideology, which sees no government role in forcing oil companies to make modest short-term investments in preventing wide scale ecological calamity, allowed BP to build its rigs on the cheap and would allow them to avoid paying for the consequences of the spill. These things don’t matter because Dr. Paul, and the Tea Party that has pushed him to national prominence, believes that they will just work themselves out.
The Tea Party claims to be a populist movement, speaking out for the members of the American public who don’t have a voice in Washington. But Americans, at least the ones I know, value our communities, and believe that we can and should band together to make them fairer and more just places to live. If Dr. Paul truly wants to be a national leader of the Tea Party, and the Tea Party truly wants to be a national political force, they might want to remember that, every time we’ve truly risen to a national challenge, it was because we were all in it together.
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The Opportunity Agenda is a project of Tides Center