It’s not just ’40-year old legislation’

IT’S NOT JUST ’40-YEAR OLD LEGISLATION’…. On “Good Morning America,” Republican Senate candidate and right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul dismissed questions about his opposition to the Civil Rights Act by suggesting his views on the matter are irrelevant. To hear him tell it, there’s no point in “bringing up 40-year-old legislation.”

I’ve seen some Paul defenders make the same point — unless Congress is planning to actually vote on repealing the Fair Housing Act or related laws, which isn’t going to happen, what difference does Rand Paul’s hypothetical opposition really make? It’s not like eliminating child-labor laws will work its way to the Senate floor anytime soon. Settled law, the argument goes, is settled law.

It’s hard to overstate how mistaken this is.

We’re not only getting a closer look at the twisted worldview of a bizarre political movement, but we’re learning that a man who may very well be a U.S. senator in January doesn’t believe the federal government has the authority to interfere with private enterprise at all — not even to end racial segregation.

As Ezra noted yesterday, it’s hardly a stretch to think this might have public policy implications.

For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector’s minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now, because the issue is not “area politician believes kooky but harmless thing.” It’s “area politician espouses extremist philosophy on issue he will be voting on constantly.”

“Constantly” is not an exaggeration. Legislation related to private enterprise is a fixture of federal policymaking. Rand won’t be in a position to evaluate proposals on the merits, because he’s already decided that the underlying efforts have no merit — if the government is considering a measure that interferes with the practices of a private entity, it’s necessarily unacceptable.

(Unless, of course, we’re talking about a woman’s uterus or a gay couple’s bedroom, which Rand Paul defines as public entities.)

If the federal government can’t tell businesses what they can and cannot do, monopolies are fine, as is price-fixing. Food-safety regulations are objectionable, as are home-safety building codes. Where does Paul draw the lines drawn, exactly? It’s hard to say — the Kentucky Republican has drawn them in a radical way when it comes to racial discrimination and Americans with disabilities, and now he no longer wants to talk about the scope of his strange worldview.

A voter may or may not find all of this scary, but to dismiss a radical worldview as irrelevant because the Civil Rights Act is “40-year-old legislation” is a mistake.