The “respectable” thing to say about people like Paul or the late Barry Goldwater, I suppose, is simply that they are ideologues rather than people driven by some kind of racial animosity. But I think it’s selling free market ideology short to suggest that government regulations meant to undue the outcome of a century long campaign of terrorist violence is just a straightforward consequence of a general support for free enterprise. You need to combine that ideology with a sincere indifference to black people’s welfare to reach that conclusion, just as you need to combine Paul’s ideology with genuine indifference to the history of race in America to reach Paul’s conclusion about democracy’s relationship to Jim Crow.
Matt Yglesias wrote an excellent post last month about Rand Paul’s foot-in-mouth statements opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Jonathan Chait covered similar ground in a 2012 post about Rand’s father, Ron Paul.
Ron and Rand Paul are beloved libertarian figures on the internet because they follow libertarian philosophy to some of its more progressive conclusions, like reducing defense spending and decriminalizing drugs. In this and a few other areas, they give loud and passionate voice to sensible solutions drowned out by mainstream politics.
But it’s worth remembering that libertarianism in this country has often been driven by racism rather than ideology. This is not to say that all libertarians are racists or that libertarianism is an inherently racist philosophy, but when I read about Ron Paul’s racist 1990s newsletters and Rand Paul’s aide’s racist, secessionist writings, it becomes harder and harder to square the internet’s hero worship of these men with the actual motivations guiding them.