I think the Rand Paul/Civil Rights Act episode might be the real beginning of the end. Here is why.
The only real opposition to the growth of the federal government in the last quarter-century has been the recent Tea Party movement. It may be too late to make any real difference, but it was a slender hope, a spark of life, a sign that perhaps there was still some fight left in the spirit of American liberty and independence. Then its numbers got bigger, its rallies got bigger, and, in a spectacular victory, it got one of its people—Rand Paul—the Republican nomination for senate. Wow!
The mainstream media, and the people defending and even desiring the expansion of the federal government, have correctly viewed the Tea Party movement as a threat, and they have worked hard to suppress it. One main strategy has been to dismiss them on the grounds that they are all really just special-pleading racists. Deep down, their real objection was to President Obama’s race or to the fact that people of color are now rising up and threatening their privilege. The media have tried very hard to find evidence of this racism, but, despite some initially promising attempts, they had had only limited success. But they still knew somehow that all those arguments about constitutionality and liberty were really rationalizations masking the true, ugly motives underneath.
And then . . . Rand Paul said that he wasn’t too sure about that 1964 Civil Rights Act. Maybe it violated business owners’ private property rights and thus constituted an unjust governmental incursion, he suggested. Ahh, just exactly what was wanted: proof—absolute, uncontrovertible, indisputable proof—that (a) he is a racist and therefore can be dismissed; that (b) therefore the movement supporting him is racist and can be similarly dismissed; and that (c) therefore everything he and his movement supported arose out of racism and can also be dismissed. Just to be sure, before pronouncing the final verdict, media members asked some prominent “libertarians” whether they too were against the Civil Rights Act. And they all duly said no, no, of course not: Paul is “wrong,” he’s “brain-dead,” etc.
Well, that’s that, isn’t it? The whole Tea Party movement can now finally be safely disregarded as a racist rabble, unworthy of serious consideration. And all those people who have been arguing in support of the “free market,” “limited government,” “constitutional limits,” “individual liberty”? Well, they must be racists too, and we now know for sure those phrases are really just code words for racism.
Therefore, all the opposition to increasing federal debt, to increasing federal centralization, to government takeover of various industries, to increasing federal management and nudging of the markets by enlightened and benevolent philosopher-kings is just so much racist special-pleading. We are now safe to proceed apace, psychologically secure and confident in the purity of our motives and no longer needing to feel any guilt for not paying attention to those people “on the right.”
One might have thought that the Rand Paul affair is, in the grand scheme of things, just a small blip. How many politicians, after all, have said things that got them into hot water, even sometimes ending their political careers? But I fear this one is different because the stakes are so much higher. Although many of us prefer not to think about it, Europe is right on the precipice of a fiscal collapse, and the United States is hurtling in exactly the same direction. If the Tea Party movement—and all those who, though not exactly members, were cheering them along—are discredited and defeated, then there is no real opposition, no real brakes on our accelerating progress toward what now seems might be an inevitable end.
Perhaps my pessimism is getting the best of me; time will tell. But if one thinks that Europe does not have the will to solve its debt crisis, and if one thinks that the only way the United States will be able to weather that coming global fiscal storm is if we were to get our own house in order first, then Americans would need to make difficult and painful political and economic decisions very quickly. Perhaps the Rand Paul Affair will pass, without the significance I suggest here; indeed, I hope I am wrong. But if it does turn out to have simultaneously crippled those who are pushing for those difficult fiscal decisions and comforted those opposing them, then it may become a pivotal event sealing our fate.