BERKELEY — Nobody should be surprised that Rand Paul got so warm a welcome Wednesday, even in a city whose name is often preceded in conversation by “The People’s Republic of…”
After all, the junior U.S. Senator from Kentucky and likely contender for 2016′s Republican presidential nomination is following in his father’s footsteps by drawing crowds of enthusiastic young followers, particularly on college campuses, wherever he goes.
And his policies — particularly criticizing government surveillance programs, avoiding military actions that aren’t vital to national security, and rethinking the war on drugs — draw voters from across the spectrum, including some of Berkeley’s famed lefties.
A tidal wave of Millennials voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and a somewhat smaller wave did likewise in 2012. The general assumption of most observers was that this validated the notion that this generation, like all younger generations, slanted strongly liberal.
So how could a “liberal” generation end up falling in love with a “conservative Tea Party favorite” like Rand Paul?
Well, for one thing, traditional observers have always had trouble dealing with libertarians. It’s the only blind men and elephant problem. One blind man touches the trunk of the beast, and describes an elephant as “long and wormlike.” Another touches a leg, and describes as elephant like a tree trunk. A third touches the elephant’s side, and says the animal is like a great wall.
So these folks see attributes of libertarians that comport with traditional leftist positions like drug legalization, open immigration, sexual freedom, and individual rights, and decide that libertarians are leftists at heart.
Yet libertarians even more strongly support smaller government, less government power, less government spending, and a long laundry list of state activities beloved on the left, but generally despised by libertarians. Other observers see this aspect, and decide that libertarians are conservatives at heart.
The notion that libertarians could be both – and, in fact, are neither – is very difficult for traditional bipolar political analysis to digest. When this is pointed out, the response often is that such a stance is ideologically inconsistent and, hence, impossible.
But there is no inconsistency in an ideology that can be summed up rather neatly as, Government out of my bedroom and my wallet! That notion is perfectly consistent with an ideology that places individual liberty as the highest standard, and regards government intrustions on individual liberty as the greatest enemy of freedom.
For a hundred years, America has fought its political battles over the bloody ground of the left-right split. Maybe the Millennials are moving the fight to an entirely new, and different battlefield – away from the statists of the left and the right to the war between the statists and the free.