He thinks government-run institutions shouldn’t discriminate, that private ones morally shouldn’t but legally should be allowed to, and that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was, on balance, good and necessary but shouldn’t now apply to private property. That’s pretty much the standard libertarian position (though he is not an across-the-board standard libertarian).
He could easily have stuck to the points of all this on which he and Maddow — and most Americans — agree but was honest enough to jump to the crux of the disagreement Maddow was driving at. At the end of the day, she didn’t care about 1964, much as liberals enjoy refighting the battles of that decade, but about the question “Should a property owner be legally able to exclude people for racist reasons?” The consistent, coherent, libertarian answer is yes.
Far less coherent, far more evasive, and far less libertarian are responses like this one from tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal. Everything they say about history is correct — and that’s why even people like Paul think the 1964 Civil Rights Act was on balance correct — but nothing they say adds up to evidence that Paul has been contradicting his own principles. The Journal’s essay amounts to saying that given the baggage of history, one shouldn’t answer hypothetical questions as forthrightly as Paul did.
People often accuse others of hypocrisy or internal contradiction when the accusers themselves don’t want to answer the real question, which makes me wonder whether a lot of Paul’s critics, forced to answer the question “Can property owners exclude whoever they want?” would sound even more evasive and mealy-mouthed than Paul — but in a way, that’s encouraging. It means people may not be as quick to give confident anti-property answers as I might have feared.