In 1964, the United States enacted the Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination in all public facilities, whether privately owned or public. Kudos to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for displaying the language of Title II, which establishes as the law of this land, enforceable by injunction, the following fundamental human rights:

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities and privileges, advantages and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion or national origin.

Notwithstanding the members of the Texas School Board and the sensibilities of libertarians, every American should read, understand and cherish these words. They establish the basic democratic principle — still not complete — that America will demand our businesses and government institutions treat all of us fairly. I don’t know how you can have a democracy worth defending without that principle.

Despite claims of principle, Rand Paul does not appear to accept this core American value. His opposition is not principled, though he would have you believe so. When pushed to explain his real beliefs, whether with local press, CNN, or Maddow’s show, or even in politically dictated clarifying statements, he has repeatedly evaded the central question, changed the subject or distracted the questioner with some irrelevant point that just so happened to be more dog whistles to his fanatical supporters.

Paul has been asked at least a dozen times whether he agrees with the core principle that America’s businesses should not be allowed to discriminate. But instead of saying "yes," he’s told us he’s not racist himself, though no interviewer has made that charge. He’s said he doesn’t approve of discrimination and wouldn’t join a private club that discriminated, but that was never the issue. He’s said we should worry about gun rights, though no interviewer made any connection between the 2nd Amendment and the core principle of non-discrimination. And he’s tried to go off on free speech, when that has nothing to do with whether or not he supports using government to end discrimination in accommodations.

It’s appalling enough that Rand and his supporters would reopen an issue whose history of violence and inhuman treatment remains an indelible stain on who we’ve been, and who some would remain. But Paul’s views are not merely unAmerican and dangerous for that reason.

I don’t know and don’t care whether Rand Paul thinks of himself as racist or favors discrimination. The danger he represents is that in legitimizing governance views that should have been buried with Jim Crow, he’s trying to fool everyone about who he is. He apparently doesn’t have the integrity to explain clearly what he believes. Perhaps he only wants to keep signaling to his Tea Party fans that he’s one of them, while hiding the implications from everyone else.

As others have noted, there is more here than the philosophical libertarian view that government should not impose even a collective American value about non-discrimination upon private businesses, which after all, are created — licensed — by the state, not handed down from the gods. The larger principle is whether American government can insist privately owned businesses meet standards of acceptable conduct, deemed reasonable and necessary for the public welfare, as we the people define it through our chosen governments. That’s as American as apple pie.

So if Rand believes the answer is "no," then let him stand before the voters of Kentucky, with his Republican Party behind him, and explain to them why not just the corner drug store but major pharmaceutical and chemical corporations should be set free to harm people and damage the environment merely because they’re private businesses.

Because that’s the de facto operating principle we’re seeing on our Gulf and in our coal mines and on Wall Street and the executive suites of our health insurance companies and mega-media monopolies. It’s the belief that government should minimize its interference in how businesses behave even where their activities can cause great harm.

That view is strangling America, though don’t expect Paul to explain that to his Tea Party followers or Paul’s critics to apply that to their ongoing tolerance of corporate America’s capture of too much of our government.

Added/edits Friday a.m.

Update: More wisdom from Dr. Paul:

"What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’" Rand said in an interview with ABC’s "Good Morning America." ”I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."

Other views:
Salon/Joan Walsh, Rachel Maddow demolishes Rand Paul
Digby, Who’s his daddy?
IVB/Chad Peace: Rand Paul toasted by even-handed Maddow
Ezra Klein: Rand Paul may not be a racist, but he is an extremist
Crooks & Liars/Dave Neiwert, Paul hurriedly tries to back away . . .



John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley