Republican Senator Rand Paul has been making a big play for millennials lately, most notably by taking his civil liberties pitch to colleges around the country. Paul has got the right idea when he says his party must “evolve, adapt or die” (although I think the first two are virtually the same thing). Katie Glueck of Politico wrote that “The Kentucky senator drew a largely friendly reception at the University of California-Berkeley as he skewered the intelligence community.”
Sen. Paul spoke of “dystopian nightmares” and added that “your rights, especially your right to privacy, are under assault.” Paul also said he perceives “fear of an intelligence community that’s drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power.”
Virtually all of the other politicians taking that stand come from the left side of the political spectrum. They include figures like independent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. Rand Paul is not like these other defenders of civil liberties.
Rand Paul, like his father, prefers to package his fairly old-school brand of economic conservatism under the trendier name of “libertarianism.” That’s not just a labeling change. It also means Paul has paired his retrograde economic ideas with a very outspoken stance against militarism and the espionage state. It’s a mixture that Paul hopes can make inroads with groups that are not traditionally Republican voters.
Paul’s play for millennials was almost inevitable. As a recent Pew study reported, that generation’s disaffection with the two-party system appears to be at record levels. Fifty percent of millennials polled said that they do not associate themselves with either party, which is the highest percentage recorded thus far. It’s also a 10 point jump from their equivalent age group’s level of political affiliation only seven years ago.
But Rand Paul gravely misunderstands the nature of that political disaffection. Yes, millennials feel alienated toward political and other institutions. They have a right to feel that way. As Joshua Holland says, millennials didn’t abandon these institutions. The institutions abandoned them.
But Rand Paul and libertarianism are not the answer. His economic strategy can be summed up in a quota used for one of his bills: “remove the shackles of big government by reducing taxes, regulations, and burdensome union work requirements.”
In other words, more of the same conservative philosophy that got us in this mess in the first place. Here are 10 reasons why millennials should be extremely wary of the senator from Kentucky.
1. His philosophy of deregulation created your jobs problem.
Rand Paul loved to preach the gospel of deregulation. He went so far as to proclaim that Obama was putting his “boot heel” on the neck of—get this—British Petroleum. Why? Because BP was being asked to bear part of the cost for the oil spill it created.
That’s right. Rand Paul believes “regulation” is evil, even when it’s only asking a reckless private corporation to clean up its own messes.
Wall Street deregulation crashed the economy in 2008. As a result, the millennial generation is entering the job market at the worst time in modern history. Millennials are facing record levels of unemployment and under-employment. What’s Rand Paul’s solution? More of the same.
2. He doesn’t believe in jobs programs.
Those of us who are fighting for jobs programs and infrastructure investment—two things that would help the millennial generation significantly—have a fierce opponent in Rand Paul. Paul believes government spending is inherently bad, and tax cuts are inherently good. There are jobs proposals that target millennials for assistance. Rand Paul is against them.
3. He thinks “tax cuts” create jobs.
There’s a simple answer to that, once we remember that the wealthy and corporations are paying lower taxes than at any time in modern history.
So where are the jobs?
Rand Paul’s solution is to eliminate the income tax altogether. That would be a red letter day for billionaires, millionaires and corporations. It would spell the end of vital services for the rest of us, in everything from public health to military defense.
Create jobs? Not so much.
4. Those “burdensome union work requirements” gave us Saturdays and Sundays off.
Without unions we would still be working six or seven days a week with no overtime pay. The weekend as we know it wouldn’t exist if we lived in Rand’s world.
Neither would paid vacations, the minimum wage, health and disability benefits, and quite a few other things a lot of working people count on to help them get by.
5. Civil rights for African Americans and other minorities wouldn’t exist.
Rand Paul believes businesses have the right to discriminate against minorities, or against pretty much anybody, because he thinks that’s part of their First Amendment rights.
The First Amendment, as most of you may know, reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
There’s nothing in there about “businesses that want to force women like Rosa Parks to stand at the back of the bus when there are empty seats in the front of the bus,” or “lunch counters that won’t serve black folks.”
No, the First Amendment doesn’t say that. But Rand Paul thinks it does. He also says he would’ve voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here’s a newsflash for Sen. Paul: Millennials come in all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations. They value their rights just as much as Americans of other generations do.
6. He wants to eliminate Social Security.
Because, you know, the “free market” has done so well in protecting Americans’ financial security when they’re disabled or elderly.
Many millennials are collecting Social Security survivor benefits, like Rand Paul compatriot Paul Ryan did. Or disability benefits. Or they have parents and grandparents who are collecting retirement benefits.
Most millennials will live to collect those benefits themselves—if Rand Paul doesn’t get to them first.
7. He wants to eliminate Medicare, Obamacare, and even the private insurance you get through your employer.
“The fundamental reason why Medicare is failing is why the Soviet Union failed,” said Sen. Paul. “Socialism doesn’t work.”
Unfortunately for Paul, Medicare is not failing. It has lower overhead than private insurance, lower cost than private insurance, and a lower rate of inflation than private insurance. It is the most successful, and the most popular insurance program in the country.
But as flawed as it is, private health insurance is critical to a lot of people’s physical and financial health. Rand Paul’s so right wing he doesn’t even like that. “We need to get insurance out of the way and let the consumer interact with their doctor the way they did basically before World War II,” said Paul. (A lot of people didn’t interact with doctors at all before World War II; the morbidity and mortality statistics show it.)
Speaking as an ophthalmologist, which he is, Paul also said this: “If you think you have the right to healthcare, you are saying basically that I am your slave.” Sen. Paul is not just a conservative, he someone with a poor grasp of concepts like slavery. Healthcare providers are in fact paid under all systems of public and private insurance. They are also free to change professions, take a day off, set their own schedules, and do any number of things that are not associated with the practice of slavery.
Millennials need to know that medical care will be available when they need it. That’s not just something they want. It’s a right.
8. He wants to eliminate Roe v. Wade and have a woman’s right to choose decided by politicians at the state level.
Said Paul, “I would introduce and support legislation to send Roe v. Wade back to the states.”
Why? So that decisions about what a woman does with her body can be made by politicians like that guy in Virginia wanted mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds for any woman who wanted to terminate a pregnancy?
It may come as a surprise to Sen. Paul to learn that a great many millennials are, in fact, women.
The Supreme Court has established that a woman’s right to choose is constitutionally protected. Since then that right has been eroded in a thousand different ways at the state level. Rand Paul would remove this right forever, turning this fundamental principle of autonomy into a campaign issue to be decided by right-wing career politicians.
Way to go, “Mr. Civil Liberties.” And about that …
9. He’s not as strong an advocate for civil liberties as he seems.
At least Rand Paul is uncompromising in his defense of civil liberties, right? Well, not so much. Consider this quote:
“I’m not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they’ve been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after— they should be deported or put in prison.”
“It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic,” says Rand Paul. But it’s clear that he’s only talking about a certain kind of terrorism. A lot of Tea Party leaders have “threatened the violent overthrow of the government.” Does Rand Paul think “they should be deported or put in prison”? Or are his brand of civil liberties only for white conservatives?
10. He’s picked the wrong oppressor.
Rand Paul’s brand of libertarian believes that “liberty” is freedom from an oppressive government. But in a democracy the government is us. The real oppressors in today’s economic and political system are the corporations which increasingly dominate all aspects of our public and private lives.
Rand Paul doesn’t have much to say about that. We applaud his stand against drone murders by the US government, but where is his stand against the kind of espionage Amazon and other corporations could use through the use of unregulated drones in the United States? We admire his stand against the NSA, but where is an equally courageous stand against invasions of privacy by corporations like Google? (For more on that topic, see our interview with Yasha Levine.)
Rand Paul would have us turned against the “oppression” of the Democratic process, while turning us over to the real oppression of the Corporate State. That’s not fighting for liberty. It’s fighting for corporations.
Underneath all the freedom jargon, Rand Paul’s pushing the same kind of economic conservatism that has increasingly dominated our political discourse over the last 40 years. He’s resolutely opposed to all of the civil rights advances of the last 50 years, and to any of the government interventions that could make things better for millennials and other Americans now.
Rand Paul wants more of the same tax cuts we’ve already given to him billionaires and corporations. He wants more of the deregulation that ruined the economy in 2008 and has caused so much harm to the environment.
How’s that working out for you?
Feel free to admire Rand Paul’s stands on civil liberties and military action, as selective as those stands may be. Then look for politicians who represent the full spectrum of your moral and economic beliefs. Better yet, become those politicians. We need your talents and your energy, to make right what previous generations (in the Paul family and elsewhere) have gotten so tragically wrong.