I’m a little late on the Rand Paul controversy, but since I’ve finished up the last of my work for college and finally have a bit of free time, I’ll give my brief take on the matter.

Rand Paul, the Tea Party-affiliated Republican nominee for one of Kentucky’s US Senate seats, has come under fire for declaring his opposition to the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits  business owners from turning away customers based on race:

I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners [what to do].  I abhor racism… but at the same time I do believe in private ownership.

After an ugly session with Rachel Maddow, Paul’s alleged racism became a national story.  This is clearly a political disaster for Paul; you know a politician is in trouble when he has to issue a statement saying that he won’t try to overturn the Civil Rights Act.

Some libertarians came to Paul’s defense.  In response to Paul’s assurance that he would not try to repeal the Civil Rights Act, John Stossel wrote, “None of it?  How about the part that denies private citizens the right of free association? I hope Paul stands up to the pressure.  If not, freedom of association is in trouble.”

This position is seriously misguided.  Of course, all else equal, private businesses should be able to discriminate between potential customers.  But in 1964, all else was definitely not equal.  The south had, for hundreds of years, state-sponsored, institutionalized racism.  There’s a difference between uncoordinated, free individuals choosing whom to associate with and an entire culture and social system based on racial oppression.

The principle of free association is a good one, but that doesn’t mean that it should never be violated, if its violation is necessary to combat some greater evil.

Will informed me the other day that John Stossel is leaving his long time home at ABC to join FOX. The NY times reports:

Mr. Stossel will start work in October, and his weekly program, named “Stossel,” will begin someti me in the fourth quarter. Fox said “Stossel” would include news segments and conversations about “libertarian issues in the United States and abroad,” including free-market economics and civil liberties.

In a post on his ABC blog, Mr. Stossel said he wanted to “dig into the meaning of the words ‘liberty’ and ‘limited government’ ” on the program.

“ABC enabled me to do some of that, but Fox offers me more air time and a new challenge,” he added.

…Mr. Stossel publicly fumed after ABC chose to run a report in late June about Michael Jackson’s death instead of a segment he had prepared about the dangers of government-run health care systems. “I am sick of the coverage of Michael Jackson,” he wrote in a blog post. The segment was eventually shown four weeks later.

Stossel has been the most articulate free market advocate on TV for a long time (here’s the first part of one of my favorite old Stossel classics on greed). I’m afraid, though, that the move to FOX is going to seriously undermine his credibility. On ABC, he was a libertarian voice questioning the conventional wisdom of the mainstream television pundits. On FOX, he becomes part of the tea-bagger echo chamber. I don’t agree with Stossel on everything, but I think he’s far better than any part of the supposedly free-market oriented Hannity-Cavuto-Beck-O’Reilly team of right wing stooges. I cringe every time I hear Glenn Beck call himself a libertarian (this is actually a big part of my reluctance to apply the term to myself), and I think it’ll be hard for Stossel to distinguish himself in the minds of most viewers from the nationalist, collectivist, flag-fetishizing anti-intellectualism espoused by most of his new colleagues.