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Political Climate Change: Ron Paul on the College Campus Circuit
April 19, 2012
First, the video of his recent UCLA rally.
Second, a personal reminiscence. This video was a revelation to me. Half a century ago, I was briefly an undergraduate at UCLA. Twenty-five years earlier, my parents had been undergraduates at UCLA. The political outlook of the vast majority of students at UCLA 50 years ago was standard liberalism. The conservative student movement at that time was close to nonexistent. It was not as small as it had been in 1945, but it was still exceedingly small.
There were really only two student organizations in the conservative camp. One of them was the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which back then was called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. The other was Young Americans for Freedom. The first organization has always been primarily academic. The second organization was more geared towards political activism. Both had been co-founded by William F. Buckley, the editor of National Review magazine.
I attended a summer seminar in 1962 that was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. It was a two-week seminar. As I recall, there were no more than three dozen students. These students came from all over the west coast. To say that the conservative movement was a fringe movement in 1962 does not really get the idea across of just how tiny it was.
There was a libertarian faction in both organizations. The original co-founder of the ISI was Frank Choderov. He was a minimal government advocate. He soon dropped out of the organization, just as he had dropped out of all other organizations. He was a true individualist. The two other co-founders were conservatives, but they were both Roman Catholics. So, from the beginning, a Catholic-influenced conservatism and a Jewish-atheist-libertarian outlook coexisted in the same organization. The same was true of Young Americans for Freedom. Protestants were in the back of the minibus.
I do not think it would have been possible to assemble half of the crowd that saw Ron Paul. Even if the organization could have raised enough money to finance 3500 students from across the nation to come to a central location for a political rally, which would have cost fortune, it would not have been possible for the organization to bring that many students in. The idea that there would be that many students who would show up at UCLA at a political rally to hear Ron Paul would have been inconceivable as recently as 2008. The difference between 1962 and 2008 was enormous. But that difference is dwarfed by what has taken place in the last four years.
People who got into the conservative movement after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 did not really understand what it was like to be in the movement 15 years earlier. The difference was enormous. Reagan's presidency was a turning point, not because of any success on his part to shrink the federal government, but because of his rhetoric. Rhetoric is very important. It sets the agenda. Yet Reagan was elected four years after Ron Paul was first elected to Congress. Reagan did make an attempt to get the Republican nomination in 1976, but it failed. President Ford was able to get the nomination. But with his defeat to Jimmy Carter, the door was opened to Reagan. Reagan's electoral victory was overwhelming in 1980. The political landscape had changed. It has never changed back.
When I joined Paul's staff in June of 1976, I had no idea that anything like what has been happening this year would have been possible. He was sometimes the only Congressman to vote against some multimillion-dollar boondoggle. There was no one in Congress who shared his perspective. There still isn't. Yet he draws huge crowds of students. They are not there because they think Congress will change in 2013. They are there to participate in the formation of a grass-roots movement. They sense the change.
The difference between the landscape in 1980 and today, with respect to Reagan's rhetoric rather than his actions, now offers the possibility of serious political change. It is going to take time. Students under the age of 25 are the bedrock support of Ron Paul's campaign. They do not supply the money, but they supply the cheering. They supply the bodies. There are a lot of bodies.
No other candidate this year has successfully drawn crowds of students as large as Ron Paul's crowds. Obama had this advantage in 2008. I do not think he is going to enjoy that advantage this year. He has been revealed as an Establishment figure. This is not surprising; the Establishment always vets the two presidential nominees. Nobody deviates very far from the party line. Ron Paul does. This is why there was no possibility that he was going to get the nomination. But that does not detract from the fact that he is building a constituency for his ideas, and possibly for his son in 2016. These students are unlikely to go away soon.
The reason why they are unlikely to go away is because of the highly focused ideological message that Ron Paul brings. It is a message of nonintervention. It applies across the board, domestically and internationally. The Republican Party has not seen anyone like him since Robert A. Taft, and Taft was nowhere near as consistent as Ron Paul has been. Taft compromised on many issues, including federal funding of housing. It is not conceivable that Ron Paul would have compromised on that issue.
These students do not want to hear about compromise. They want to hear about the possibility of rolling back the welfare state and rolling back the warfare state. The conservative movement has always been divided on this two-part issue. The libertarians wanted to roll back both, but conservatives wanted to roll back only the welfare state, and not very far. Reagan was representative of that wing of the movement.
If these students continue to read, which I expect, and if they continue to participate on Facebook with students who share their opinions, this wing of the Republican Party is going to grow. As it becomes more obvious that the federal government is heading toward bankruptcy, the future will be obvious to young people that they will be the sacrificial lambs of Republican fiscal policies. There is no question in my mind that these students are going to pull the plug when they are 40 years old if they get an opportunity to roll back Social Security and Medicare.
They will also be willing to vote no on every bond issue that is presented locally to the voters. They are sufficiently well-organized, as far as I can see, to be able to defeat bond issues across the United States. If they can do this, they will fundamentally restructure local politics. Not many people show up at bond elections, but I think the kind of committed student who is willing to show up at a Ron Paul rally is likely to be willing to show up at the polling booth to vote against an expansion of local debt.
Rhetoric is important because it sets the agenda. Ron Paul's rhetoric is the most anti-state rhetoric from any nationally known politician in the history of the country. Grover Cleveland may have been equally opposed to the expansion of the state, but the electronic media did not exist in his day. Ron Paul will get his message in front of hundreds of thousands of students over the next 20 years, whether he lives or dies. This makes a big difference.
The fact that he had a voting record to support his rhetoric makes him unique in American political history. Only Grover Cleveland could match him. It is true that Warren Buffett's father, Howard Buffett, had a similar voting record, but he was not a nationally known figure. No other politician in the 20th century matched Ron Paul's commitment to shrinking the state.
This is why I think we are at a turning point politically. Is going to take time. The aftermath of a federal financial crisis will make it clear to historians that 2012 was a turning point. Ron Paul will be seen as the fulcrum that gave the leverage to a new generation of voters who were opposed to the welfare-warfare state.