Mainstream media—like CBS and the New York Times—have reported that in the days leading up to the Iowa primary, a large number of young adults have flowed into Iowa like this past summer’s floods down the Missouri river. They have arrived with one mission: aid and assist Presidential candidate Ron Paul in winning the Iowa caucuses.

The young are not the only people supporting Paul in droves; independent and Democrat voters are also signing up to vote for Paul in Iowa.

When Paul was considered a fringe candidate, no one cared about him. But now that he is polling near the top in Iowa among people 18 to 35, and gaining independent and Democrat voters, he has become a grave threat to political establishment of both parties. 

Paul’s support among young people has baffled the media, and even the political establishment, who assume that the primary reason why college students would support a 76-year old white man is that he promises to legalize drugs.

Unfortunately, for the Republican and Democrat establishment, drug legalization is not the number one reason, or, even in the top three reasons why young and independent voters find Ron Paul an alluring candidate for 2012. And the three main reasons the young support Paul also happen to be the same reasons that independent and Democrat voters also find him a viable candidate.

So just what are the reasons that Paul has gained an enormous following in Iowa.


It has been over 200 hundred years since the Framers signed the Declaration of Independence arguing for liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, that message—embedded in Americans as deep as their soul—still seems to resonate in 2012. And why shouldn’t it? Up until eleven years ago, America was the bastion of civil liberties and freedom.

Ron Paul’s message of liberty resonates to young people because it is a message they care about. It also might have to do with timing. President Bush is widely considered to be the worst civil liberties president in modern history. From torture to secret wiretaps to indefinite military detention of American citizens, the Bush years were blotched by government abuses. Young people, as a general matter, are usually less tolerant of such abuses and less willing to give up liberty for security than their elder counterparts are.

Many of them voted for Obama in 2008 hoping for change, a “change they could believe in,” I think the signs said. What they got for their vote was a president who is generally considered worse than his predecessor on civil liberties, if that’s even possible. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Glenn Greenwald, a writer at Salon (a liberal/progressive magazine), has said “suffice to say, it is acknowledged across the political spectrum that Barack Obama has continued virtually all of George Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s once controversial terrorism and civil liberties policies.”

Just listen to Greenwald explain what our progressive President has done in his four-year term.

The candidate supported by progressives — President Obama — himself holds heinous views on a slew of critical issues and himself has done heinous things with the power he has been vested. He has slaughtered civilians — Muslim children by the dozens — not once or twice, but continuously in numerous nations with drones, cluster bombs and other forms of attack. He has sought to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs. He has institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield. He has waged an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, the protection of which was once a liberal shibboleth. He rendered permanently irrelevant the War Powers Resolution, a crown jewel in the list of post-Vietnam liberal accomplishments, and thus enshrined the power of Presidents to wage war even in the face of a Congressional vote against it. His obsession with secrecy is so extreme that it has become darkly laughable in its manifestations, and he even worked to amend the Freedom of Information Act (another crown jewel of liberal legislative successes) when compliance became inconvenient.

 He has entrenched for a generation the once-reviled, once-radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism powers of indefinite detention, military commissions, and the state secret privilege as a weapon to immunize political leaders from the rule of law. He has shielded Bush era criminals from every last form of accountability. He has vigorously prosecuted the cruel and supremely racist War on Drugs, including those parts he vowed during the campaign to relinquish — a war which devastates minority communities and encages and converts into felons huge numbers of minority youth for no good reason. He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists. He’s brought the nation to a full-on Cold War and a covert hot war with Iran, on the brink of far greater hostilities. He has made the U.S. as subservient as ever to the destructive agenda of the right-wing Israeli government. His support for some of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes is as strong as ever.

For young people, a vote for Ron Paul represents an unwillingness to forgive Obama of his sins, and a dramatic return of civil liberties and the rule of law.

Paul threatens the Republican establishment because, as crazy as this sounds, his message of protecting civil liberties is anathema to the current neocon wing of the party who run a platform of fear, a fear they use to drive a wedge between conservatives who do value freedom and liberals. The last thing they want is for the Republican party to become the party known for upholding civil liberties because they think that would make them look soft on crime and national security. Basically, they view Ron Paul and his band of liberty lovers as a real threat to what law and order conservatives are meant to stand for.

 The Democrat establishment hates Paul even more for his talk of liberty than Republicans do. Why? Once again the progressive Glenn Greenwald explains:

Paul scrambles the comfortable ideological and partisan categories and forces progressives to confront and account for the policies they are working to protect. His nomination would mean that it is the Republican candidate — not the Democrat — who would be the anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate (which is why some neocons are expressly arguing they’d vote for Obama over Paul). Is it really hard to see why Democrats hate his candidacy and anyone who touts its benefits?

Given Paul’s threat to the political establishment, if he wins Iowa, I expect both parties to come after him—hard. They don’t have much choice but to, before Paul converts any of the conservatives/liberals from other parts of the country.

In fact, several attacks have already begun, mostly by liberals who don’t understand the platform of libertarianism and assume that since Paul is a Christian and is running as a Republican, he is not actually a better civil liberties candidate than President Obama. (Sadly for the country, no one disputes that Paul is the only civil libertarian out of the Republican nominees). 

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Paul is such a better defender of civil liberties that it’s getting harder and harder for anyone to argue otherwise. Take, for example, executive power. On Saturday President Obama quietly signed the National Defense Authorization Act (he signed it on New Year’s eve to no doubt lessen the amount of attention), which includes the indefinite military detention provision that can be used against American citizens. Ron Paul opposed this provision in no uncertain terms, stating that “this step where they can literally arrest American citizens and put them away without trial . . . is arrogant and bold and dangerous.”

Earlier this year the President authorized the military to murder a U.S. citizen because the government believed the citizen was a terrorist. The order was carried out and Anwar Awlaki, his 16-year old son, and seven other people were killed by a drone attack. Oh, and when asked why the Obama Administration had legal authority to do so, the President responded that the legal memos prepared in support of their legal position of murder was too secret to release.

The New York Times recently noted Ron Paul’s views on executive power. “Mr. Paul, by contrast, described the circumstances in which a president could order the extrajudicial killing of a citizen in one word: ‘None.’”

Young people are nervous, and rightfully so, that an executive branch with this kind of power will undoubtedly use it against more than terrorist—perhaps protestors are next. The fears are not unfounded given what we’ve seen in 2011 with the Occupy and UC Davis protests.

Paul is also a greater civil libertarian than Obama on social issues such as gay rights. Paul has consistently stated his position that the “government has no business in your private life, you know, so if one person is allowed to do something, so should everyone else. The whole gay marriage issue is a private affair, and the federal government has no say.” This is the standard libertarianism ethos—let me make personal choices free from government interference. And unlike Obama, whose support for gay marriage is evolving, Paul has a long pro-gay rights record. Also, unlike Obama, people don’t believe Paul will be a flip-flop as soon as he reaches the oval office. He already voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment and for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, so there is little reason to believe his would change his consistent pattern.

Democrats are so upset by the fact that Paul has a better gay rights record than Obama that they leveled this attack against Paul over the weekend. Apparently, Paul’s campaign touted the support of a Pastor Phillip Kayser, only to find out Kayser had previously supported the death penalty for homosexual conduct. When the Paul campaign found out about Kayser previous positions, they pulled his endorsement from their website.

So the argument goes that since Paul deliberately sought the endorsement of an insane person that believes homosexuality deserves the death penalty, then Paul hates gay people, even though there is no proof that Paul knew about this guy’s wacko views.

What goes unsaid, by the hypocrite Democrat establishment that started these attacks, is that when people run a campaign to attract voters they sometimes attract crazy people, especially when courting the religious right. Obama too courted that demographic in 2008. Lest anyone forget, Obama asked Pastor Rick Warren to give an invocation that drew the ire of pro-choice and gay rights leaders because of Pastor Warren’s pro-life and homosexuality as sin beliefs.   

Some liberals claim that Ron Paul would be worse than President Obama on reproductive rights because Paul has said that he is pro-life. What they forget to say is that Paul doesn’t favor a lot of things (like drug use), yet he wouldn’t necessarily vote to impose his moral views on others. He has consistently maintained that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments “do not grant the federal government any authority to legalize or ban abortion.” In other words, he does not believe Roe v. Wade was correctly decided and that the abortion issue should be decided by the states.

So the question remains whether or not a Paul presidency would be worse for protecting reproductive rights than an Obama administration. The answer to that question is not as apparent as some claim it to be. For one, it is unclear whether Roe really matters anymore, given that, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick (herself a reproductive rights backer) acknowledges, “opponents and supporters of abortion appear to have taken the position that Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land.” Roe is trivial because few federal judges throw out almost all abortion restrictions, and if Roe was overruled tomorrow, the access to abortion in this country would go largely unchanged—it’s not as if New Yorkers or Californians are suddenly going to vote to make abortion illegal even if Roe was no longer good law. In addition, a President Paul could not reverse Roe; only the Supreme Court can. And it is unlikely that he would appoint Supreme Court justices by using abortion as a litmus test. Second, it is not as if President Obama has the greatest record on reproductive rights, himself. As Jodi Jacobson of Catholics for Choice noted last year, “the president has presided over the greatest erosion to women’s reproductive health and rights in the past 30 years, and a continuing degradation of our rights at the state level. Yet still he remains silent. Is Obama prochoice? Not by my definition.”

In any event, if you’re a civil libertarian, Paul’s little more than slight difference on reproductive rights in comparison to Obama cannot overcome Obama’s abhorrent record on every other civil liberty issue.

If you include religious freedom, criminal justice issues (such as the racial War on Drugs), and the death penalty, Paul is far better on civil liberties than President Obama.

And this is, if not the primary, one of the main reasons why young people believe in Ron Paul.  

(Don’t believe me about which presidential candidate is the best on civil liberties, then visit the ACLU report card that just came out today, which ranks libertarian Gary Johnson first, Ron Paul second, and President Obama third. As noted above, if they had added religious freedom, the drug war and the death penalty to the list Paul would beat Obama by even more. You can read the report card here).

The War Machine

Many independent and Democrat voters love Ron Paul’s message of non-interventionism. In fact, a recent CNN/ORC survey showed that 73% of Democrats and 70% of independents now oppose the war in Afghanistan.

Young people are also fed up with the endless wars, deaths, and tax dollars spent on misguided nation building and preemptive strikes around the world. Plus, they are the most likely candidates for the draft if Newt or Bachmann were elected president and decided to bomb Iran their second day in office.

The Republican establishment is unabashedly afraid of Paul’s foreign policy. And why wouldn’t they be? The Republicans have been funded, and heavily so, by the military complex for the past three decades. Is it any wonder then that they prefer to go to war?

There is also little doubt that the Republican establishment will go bigger and bigger with its criticisms of Paul’s foreign policy, especially if Paul runs one or two in Iowa and New Hampshire. It has already begun some. But watch what happens if the neocons really believe Paul has a chance to win the nomination; they may even try to jettison Paul and vote in favor of (gasp!) President Obama.

As one commenter put it: “The response to Ron Paul’s foreign policy views raises the question: Can the Republican Party any longer be taken seriously on national security issues? Over the last decade the GOP has needlessly sacrificed Americans’ lives, wasted Americans’ wealth, overextended America’s military, violated Americans’ liberties, and trashed America’s reputation. As a result, we are less prosperous, free, and secure. If the Republican Party refuses to learn from Rep. Paul, it does not deserve the public’s trust.”

The fact that Paul’s foreign policy is attracting such a large following would be a Godsend to the Democrats, if only their current administration wasn’t following down the same war path as Bush.

Corporatism and the Occupy Movement

The Occupy movement has come at a good time for Congressman Paul. Dissatisfaction amongst young people and the so-called 99% are at an all-time high. The root of their dissatisfaction: corporatism and greed.

Ron Paul is the only GOP candidate addressing the issue. Last Thursday he remarked that “wealth is being accumulated into smaller and smaller hands. Right now, Big Business makes more money paying high-paid lobbyists going to Washington to get a good deal than trying to satisfy you, the customer. And that needs to be reversed.”

You won’t hear that from another Republican candidate!

College students are, well, they are smart, and they realize they are getting the short end of the stick on just about every current financial policy. They understand, much more than their parents, that the costs of education has skyrocketed in the last decade (college tuition costs have gone up 23% since 2000, while the real earning of graduates has gone down 11%). Already people are predicting that higher education, like the housing market in 2008, is the next big bubble ready to burst because total American student loan debt exceeds total credit card debt.

Well why did the housing bubble burst and which politician predicted it before any others? One guess . . . Ron Paul (here and here).

The message about government interference with the economy and its drastic consequences has not gone unnoticed by young people. If you attended any of the Occupy Wall Street protests this summer and fall, you likely saw tons of Ron Paul signs.  

College students are also realizing that the rate of our federal debt will likely mean that they will be lucky to receive Social Security funds back from the government. And that is why more young people are on board with Paul’s railings against the Federal Bank and its monetary policies.

Even if Ron Paul doesn’t win the Republican nomination, he will have caused more real discussion of policy than any presidential candidate in my lifetime. Republicans and Democrats would both be wise to hear and consider his message.




[1] Ron Paul is not a savior, and I have a few reservations about his candidacy, including his disagreement with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I also think he needs to explain why the racists, bigoted newsletters from 20 years ago that beared his name. Yet, Paul is right on so many things, including so many issues affecting minorities, and Obama and the remaining GOP field are wrong on so many others, that I end up cheering for Ron Paul to stay in the race and win. In this way, my views are almost identical to those expressed by Conor Friedersdorf in this Atlantic piece.