Thursday, May 20, 2010

Easy For You to Say

Adam Serwer at the American Prospect has a typically insightful post on the Rand Paul debate. I think a key paragraph is this one:

Paul would never face the actual "hard part" of his vision of freedom, because it would never interfere with his own life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Rand Paul would not have been turned away from a lunch counter, be refused a home, a job, or denied a loan, or told to sit in the black car of a train because of his skin color, or because of the skin color of his spouse. Paul thinks there is something "hard" about defending the kind of discrimination he would have never, ever faced. Paul's free market fundamentalism is being expressed after decades of social transformation that the Civil Rights Act helped create, and so the hell of segregation is but a mere abstraction, difficult to remember and easy to dismiss as belonging only to its time. It's much easier now to say that "the market would handle it." But it didn't, and it wouldn't.

Exactly. Also, as Serwer notes, Rand Paul kept referring to "institutional racism" in his interview with Rachel Maddow, and I think he's misunderstanding or misstating what "institution" means. As Wikipedia says, it is the "structures and mechanisms of social order" that govern a collectivity. By no means does this only describe government. Whatever channels the dominant individuals in a society communicate through are institutions as well, be it the Elks Lodge or the KKK or the guys who sit at Woolworth's lunch counter.

The point of this distinction is that Rand Paul's exclusion of businesses from the definition of "institutions" allows him to imply that they do not need to governed by things like the Civil Rights Act because they do not have the control over people's lives that the government does. But in the real world, these non-governmental institutions have an enormous amount of power in the daily lives of individuals, and they are quite resistant to change. Presumably free market fairies will fix everything in the long run, but the thing is, that never happened with institutionalized racism.

Meanwhile, Bill O'Reilly unintentionally illustrates pretty well why we need ENDA to pass.

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