Back When I Thought the GOP Would Nominate Rand Paul…

Published: The Good Men Project (September 20, 2016)

Roughly one year ago, I participated in the group conference call for one of the publications where I freelance. Both I and the other writers were asked to figure out which Republican presidential candidate we thought would be nominated in 2016, under the presumption that we could then cover that individuals campaign if he or she was indeed tapped to be the nominee.

While this plan didn’t pan out for a number of reasons, I still marvel at who I chose and why: Much to my retroactive chagrin, I believed Senator Rand Paul was going to be the Republican presidential candidate this year.

I made this mistake for two reasons. First, I saw Paul reaching out to groups that have by and large been disaffected from the Republican Party – particularly racial minorities andyoung voters – and believed that, because the GOP will need to be more diverse if it is to remain politically viable in the future, this tactic would work in his favor. In addition, I thought Paul’s libertarianism was a refreshing departure from the neoconservative consensus that has prevailed within the American right for the last half century.

Boy was I wrong.

Looking back at my failed prediction one year later, I realize that I overestimated the Republican Party. Perhaps with great naïveté, I assumed that they would care more about being relevant in the future then pandering to the basest prejudices within their own rank-and-file. While I’m not a Paul supporter and wouldn’t have voted for him this year, I believe his broader appeal and bolder ideology would have made him the ideal foil to Hillary Clinton in this election. The problem, I suspect, isn’t that my reasoning was flawed, but that I assumed reason would prevail within the modern GOP.

The fact that it didn’t really speaks volumes about this election cycle. A party which can nominate a man like Donald Trump over not just Paul, but the many other Republican candidates who aren’t flagrantly bigoted, is a party that has cast its lot with the darkest forces at play in this chapter of our history. If Paul had indeed in the Republican nominee this year, I may have a very well found myself writing an article about the downsides of the impending Democratic defeat. This would have been worse for my party, to be sure… But without question, it also would’ve been better for America.

Tired of Democrats vs. Republicans? Here’s how to fix it

Published: Salon (August 23, 2016)

I’ve been second to none among progressive pundits urging the sane world to unify behind Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. I’m not going to repeat those arguments here. (If you’re reading this article, the chances are you know them anyway.) But it’s time to acknowledge the major logical flaw in any lesser-of-two-evils position:

If we progressives want meaningful change in our society and the larger world, how can we achieve it when both major parties are so flawed?

“We’re the only political party in this country dedicated to the idea that every American has a right to pursue happiness in any way they choose, so long as they don’t hurt other people or take their stuff,” explained Nicholas Sarwark, chair of the Libertarian National Committee. “That’s a message that’s resonating with more and more voters as the old parties self-destruct.” The Libertarian Party’s candidate for president, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, is running on a platform that consistently opposes government power in every walk of life. As such, he supports positions as ideologically disparate (at least by the traditional left-right ideological paradigm) as low taxes, LGBTQ rights, staying out of war and legalizing marijuana.

The other notable third-party challenge comes from the Green Party, whose presidential nominee is Dr. Jill Stein. The Green Party’s ideology is staunchly left-wing, focusing on issues like income inequality, racial discrimination, regulating big business and protecting the environment. Considering that Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” gave Clinton a run for her money in the Democratic primary, one might assume that the Green Party would pose a serious threat to her White House bid. (Indeed, I’ve been quite concerned about that possibility myself.)

Instead, the Green Party candidate consistently ranks last in polls including the four principal presidential contenders: If the election were held today, she’d place last after Clinton, Trump and Johnson, in that order.

I usually hear supporters of third-party candidates chime in with “How are we going to change that if we keep voting for candidates from the two major parties?” My response has been that, while I agree we need to break free from our rigid two-party system, the time to make that change is long before we reach a new presidential election cycle. By the time both major parties have nominated their candidates, the machinery that guarantees one of them a victory has already been set in motion – unless groundwork has been laid well in advance for a viable third-party alternative.

How can voters make this happen? “A third party – or even an organized faction within one of the existing major parties – is most likely to gain influence by winning at lower levels first,” explained Mark Lindeman, adjunct assistant professor of political science at Columbia University.

Citizens “should try to organize and build power wherever they are,”  Lindeman said. “It will tend to weed out any illusions they may have about what their fellow citizens think and want – and to find the most sustainable basis for a movement.”

Sarwark echoed this view, urging those who share libertarian values, “Join the Libertarian Party and get active at the local level. Vote Libertarian in as many elections as possible, to send a clear signal to the old parties that you are tired of their expanding government control over your life.”

Scott McLarty, media director for the Green Party, went even further with his suggestions: “Citizens can protest – even walk out – whenever they attend a ‘nonpartisan’ candidates forum that excludes alternative-party candidates. Citizens can refuse to participate in polls and surveys that artificially limit the choice to two major-party candidates, and complain to reporters and editors who publish such misleading polls.”

McLarty added that people can also push for instant runoff voting, which “enables voters to rank their choices, guarantees that the winner has the support of a majority and eliminates the alleged spoiler effect,” as well as “urge legislators to overturn ballot-access rules that were designed to privilege Democratic and Republican candidates and make access difficult for alternative-party and independent candidates.”

This last point is especially important since it goes to the heart of why most Americans think their only choices are to vote for Clinton or Trump. “The problem for third parties is compounded by restrictive ballot access laws and other barriers that the major parties have erected to protect their de facto monopoly,” wroteBruce Bartlett in Forbes. “Single-member congressional districts and first-past-the-post election rules also tend to favor the two-party system.”

Because each state has very distinct and usually complex laws for candidate eligibility, any contenders outside the Democratic and Republican establishments will have an extremely tough time making it onto the ballot. Unless ordinary citizens start a grassroots movement demanding that this change, third-party candidates will find it virtually impossible to realistically compete for the presidency and only slightly easier to do so in state and local races.

What we can’t do, though, is ignore the hard truths about our choice in 2016 simply because we want things to be better down the road. Right now the Democratic presidential candidate, for all of her flaws, is a smart woman with extensive government experience who supports a moderate (that is, center-left) platform. Her Republican opponent, by comparison, was nominated by pandering to America’s basest racist and sexist impulses, displays temperamental problems (including aterrifyingly blasé attitude toward the prospect of using nuclear weapons) and has no experience except that of running failed business after failed business after failed business.

I agree with McLarty and Sarwark that the nation needs strong third-parties — Libertarian, Green, you name it — to counter the power of the Democratic and Republican establishments, which have had a lock on national power for more than 150 years. This is proved by the fact that the Democratic and Republican nominees are the most unpopular in recorded history. And yet it’s still unlikely that any third-party alternative will poll at 15 percent, the minimum necessary to appear in the presidential debates. (This is something else that voters should demand be changed.) If we don’t change the system soon, we will raise a generation that believes it isn’t even worth fighting for.

That said, one doesn’t effectively fight for it by casting an futile vote in this election, neglecting this problem for four years and then throwing away another ballot during the next presidential contest. If those who are thinking of voting for a third-party candidate want to act like good citizens, they will make sure that the non-racist, non-incompetent contender wins this time around — for the safety not just of America but the world — and then get off their duffs and participate in empowering their preferred third party all year round. If millions of Americans do this in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Clinton can be held accountable in 2020 should she fail in her duties as president — and not just by a Republican.

For that to happen, though, we need to start giving a damn, long before the next presidential election is underway.

How Gary Johnson can win my liberal vote

Published: The Huffington Post (June 9, 2016), The Good Men Project (June 4, 2016)

I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, but in the likely event that the Democrats don’t nominate him, I will most likely cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.

That said, I have my reservations.

Foremost among them is Clinton’s long trail of scandals, which lead me to worry that she might not make it through her first term without being impeached. Aside from that, though, I’d prefer a president who would radically transform our nation – curb the unseemly influence of lobbyists, end the war on drugs, protect the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, and roll back America’s military adventurism overseas.

Do you know who would do these things, though? The Libertarian candidate for president, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Normally a vote for Johnson would be a vote thrown away, but considering that Johnson polls at ten percent right now (an astonishingly high number for a third-party candidate right out of the gate) and both Clinton and Donald Trump are more unpopular than any major party nominees in recorded history, it is quite possible that Johnson will emerge a viable candidate in his own right.

Johnson must listen to the inner-city minority who is being targeted by the police and feels stigmatized in the job market. He must listen to the single mother who works at a breakneck pace in order to support herself and her children. He must listen to the college student with high hopes who is willing to work hard but is saddled with debt. He must listen to what ails these individuals, and countless others who find themselves on the wrong side of America’s economic dream, and come up with policy solutions that they find convincing.

That said, like most liberals, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Johnson for one reason – namely, his stances on economic issues. Like most libertarians, Johnson believes that the government shouldn’t get involved in economic matters – even though, by remaining neutral, it gives advantage to the strong (big business, the wealthy in general) and disadvantages the weak (working class Americans everywhere). From a libertarian point-of-view, unnecessary taxes of any kind inherently limit human freedom. From a left-wing perspective, however, taxes that provide social welfare to the poor, create jobs, protect labor unions, and build infrastructure are necessary.

♦◊♦

After all, freedom isn’t only political in nature, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously pointed out in his Economic Bill of Rights:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

♦◊♦

This isn’t to say that Johnson could never win my support, mind you. He has made it clear that he hopes to win over disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters like myself, and once he that demonstrates a vote for him won’t help elect Trump, I am open to considering that option. That said, he cannot win my support without acknowledging Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights because, until those rights are assured, all the talk of political freedom means nothing to Sanders supporters like myself.

How can Johnson do this? First, he needs to do something that neither Clinton nor Trump have excelled at – he needs to listen. Johnson must listen to the inner-city minority who is being targeted by the police and feels stigmatized in the job market. He must listen to the single mother who works at a breakneck pace in order to support herself and her children. He must listen to the college student with high hopes who is willing to work hard but is saddled with debt. He must listen to what ails these individuals, and countless others who find themselves on the wrong side of America’s economic dream, and come up with policy solutions that they find convincing.

[Johnson] cannot win my support without acknowledging Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights because, until those rights are assured, all the talk of political freedom means nothing to Sanders supporters like myself.

This brings me to the second part of what Johnson must do, and that is find a creative approach to governing. He cannot answer the questions posed by those who have been denied their economic bill of rights by prattling on about the free market and claiming that unfettered capitalism will solve their woes. If you’ll notice, the first thing that FDR pointed to after listing our economic rights was the importance of “security.” For Johnson to convince us that he cares about our economic interests, we must feel secure in the knowledge that his policies will provide jobs to those who are willing to work, and an income capable of supporting individuals or families at a decent standard of living. We need facts, not theories, and if Johnson can’t provide the former, he will come across as no more hopeful than Trump on economic matters – and my vote, along with those of many (though by no means all) Sanders supporters, will go to Clinton.

There isn’t much else to say right now. Johnson’s candidacy is young, and this election has barely started. As I’ve explained before, I don’t think Clinton is far enough removed from Sanders to justify electing Trump as an alternative, so Johnson will need to at least start placing a strong second for me to feel comfortable risking my vote on him. Should he do that, however, I will keep an open mind… assuming, of course, that he does likewise.

 

The Danger of Ideologues

Published: The Good Men Project (March 26, 2016)

“The only index by which to judge a government or a way of life is by the quality of the people it acts upon. No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion—it is an evil government.”
– Eric Hoffer

I posted this quote not only because I agree with its contents, but because it perfectly encapsulates my reason for not considering myself to be an ideologue, either liberal or conservative. Ideologues on both sides are prone to making a terrible mistake – i.e., they start to care less about whether their policies are adequately serving important human needs than they do about the strictness with which those policies are hewing to a set of abstract philosophical concepts.

The problem with the two major ideological movements in this country is that both tend to jettison this goal as soon as they conflict with their preexisting partisan belief systems. My affiliation as a liberal derives from the fact that the left seems less inclined to do this. For all of their faults, modern progressives tend to sympathize with the poor instead of seeking ways to blame them for their own misfortune; to seek equality for marginalized groups instead of profiting off their oppression; and to embrace science and intellectual progress instead of clinging to blind faith. By contrast, we live in a society where the primary conservative political institution (i.e., the Republican Party) has become so obsessed with implementing a puritanically right-wing economic agenda – not only for the purpose of pleasing its wealthy backers, but also in the name of adhering to a dogma that simplistically demonizes all state economic intervenionism – that it will minimize, dismiss, misrepresent, and even justify the existence of widespread economic suffering (e.g., unemployment, working poverty, sub-par quality of life for the socioeconomically disadvantaged in areas such as housing and health care, inequitable access to means of socioeconomic mobility including affordable and decent education, etc.) What’s more, the growing power of cultural reactionaries within the right-wing has caused conservative thinkers to violate many of their own avowed principles in order to violate the civil liberties of individuals who run afoul of their prejudices (e.g., Mexicans, Muslims, women, homosexuals, inner-city minorities).

This is not to say that liberalism is free of comparable offenses against common sense and decency. By far the worst among these is a knee-jerk antipathy against America, one that causes many on the left to not only support distorted and contextually myopic interpretations of our nation’s history and legacy, but also to blatantly sympathize with our country’s enemies, even ones whose actions violate basic humanitarian precepts (e.g., the sympathy and/or support among many leftists for Joseph Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s, Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War, Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the Bush Era, and Hugo Chavez today). While the radical leftists who hold such views are hardly as influential within the Democratic Party as the far right remains among Republicans, they can still be seen peddling their doctrine among fringe politicians, throughout the media, and on college campuses.

There are many reasons why this problem exists within ideological movements: Egos can become so invested in an ideology’s correctness that, even after an idea has been discredited, steadfastness becomes an emotional need based on pride rather than an intelligent opinion based on reason. Political battles can reach such a fevered pitch that partisans lose sight of larger issues and bigger pictures. Hatreds and irrational biases that cannot be openly expressed without receiving widespread condemnation take on more socially respectable forms and integrate themselves into mainstream belief systems. People can make honest mistakes.

Regardless of why it happens, however, there are two simple questions you can ask yourself to determine when it is happening. Would a given ideology, if implemented, promote the welfare and guarantee the rights of all people, support common decency, and value the inherent integrity of every human being? Does it work to avoid breeding irrational suspicion, prejudice, and maliciousness? I am under no illusions as to the fact that any ideological movement can ever honestly answer each of those questions in the affirmative, but this is one of those unattainable goals toward which all should nevertheless strive. Until the unlikely day arrives when one of them reaches it, I will maintain a healthy skepticism not merely toward all ideologies, but toward all ideologues.

Why Rand Paul can win

Published: Daily Dot (May 27, 2015)

While Rand Paul’s name often appears on lists of leading Republican presidential nominees, his well-known libertarian streak is often cited as a prime reason why he most likely won’t be nominated. His National Security Agency opposition might make him popular on the Internet, but he’s the definition of a wild card.

Make no mistake about it: If history serves as a reliable precedent, the nomination won’t go to Paul. Indeed, the last non-establishment candidate to head the Republican national ticket was Barry Goldwater, whose upset over Nelson Rockefeller occurred more than 50 years ago (in the 1964 election). That said, there is a plausible path to victory that lies ahead for Paul, and it is worth exploring.

We can start with the fact that Paul, if not quite a libertarian himself, has long been described as “libertarian-ish” —and the Internet has long been a hotbed for libertarian activity. Back in 2007, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), father of Rand, shocked the political world by raising more than $6 million in a 24-hour period using an Internet-based fundraising tactic known as a “moneybomb,” wherein his campaign tapped into a nationwide network of grassroots supporters who shared his outspoken libertarian ideals. Despite minimal mainstream news coverage, this groundswell of online libertarianism was good enough to net Paul Sr. more than 1.2 million votes in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries. By 2012, that number had risen to more than 2.1 million.

In addition to helping him inherit some (if not all) of his father’s base of libertarian true believers, Rand Paul’s libertarian-ish stances on ending domestic spying, reforming the criminal justice system, and legalizing medical marijuana have made him one of the Republican Party’s most attractive candidates for Internet-savvy young people. Back in 2013, the Wall Street Journal characterized Paul’s 13-hour filibuster on the military’s drone program as an attempt to “fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms,” an assumption that Paul gleefully embraced in a subsequent editorial for the millennial news site Mic (where this author was working at the time) that proudly proclaimed, “I believe a Republican Party that is more tolerant and dedicated to keeping the government out of people’s lives as much as possible would be more appealing to the rising generation.”

For Paul to be nominated in 2016, he would need to maintain his bedrock of support among libertarian-leaning conservatives and young Republicans, even as he simultaneously makes sufficient inroads among traditional conservatives dissatisfied with the other candidates to pull off majorities in the early primary states—a tricky feat, no doubt, but hardly an impossible one. After all, his father placed a close third in the Iowa caucus last election, and Paul himself is currently leading in New Hampshire among Republicans under the age of 45. If mainstream Republican voters find themselves unable to unite behind a single establishment candidate by early 2016—and polls have consistently found them split between the likes of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker—then Paul’s clear edge among libertarians, and potential advantage among young voters, could be enough to propel him to the top of the GOP ticket next year.

“I believe a Republican Party that is more tolerant and dedicated to keeping the government out of people’s lives as much as possible would be more appealing to the rising generation.”

From there, of course, the challenge for Paul is getting elected.

This would also not be inconceivable, particularly to anyone familiar with the working-class voters who abandoned their traditionally Democratic Party allegiance to vote Republican in the 1980s, the so-called Reagan Democrats. “Resenting both the rich, who they believed to be virtually tax exempt, and the poor, who received welfare,” writes James Pontuso in the conservative Web journal First Principles, “many middle-class workers believed that the Democratic Party no longer represented them and so cast their votes for Reagan, whose pro-family and limited government policies appealed to their sense of values.” In light of Hillary Clinton’s well-known weakness with this demographic, Paul could win over these voters through his unique ability to be convincingly anti-Wall Street (which tends to support Clinton) while maintaining his party’s traditional conservative attitude on issues like affirmative action and welfare.

Paul could also pose a threat to Clinton from a quarter that has heretofore been unshakably Democratic—the black vote. On the surface, Clinton would seem to have insurmountable advantages with the African-American community: No Republican has won more than 15 percent of the black vote since 1964 (when the GOP nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater, who opposed that year’s landmark Civil Rights Act), and her husband Bill Clinton has long been especially beloved within the black community. At the same time, she has not benefited from the same enthusiasm that tends to greet her husband, while Paul has taken a host of positions specifically tailored to earn their support. He was outspoken in opposing police brutality in Ferguson, Mo., calling for America to “demilitarize the police,” and has condemned America’s prison system (which has the largest incarcerated population in the world) for being “full of black and brown kids because they don’t get a good attorney, they live in poverty, it’s easier to arrest them than to go to the suburbs.” As recently as last week Paul scathingly condemned the Clintons for supporting draconian anti-crime legislation that had put “a generation of black men in prison.” As Rev. Al Sharpton noted, “if [Paul] becomes the candidate… and if you don’t get a huge black turnout saying ‘We’re afraid [of him],’ that could be a pitfall for Democrats.”

Of course, none of these arguments are meant to be definitive. It is entirely possible that the Republican Party will follow tradition and nominate Bush, Walker, Rubio, or another neoconservative candidate with “safe” conservative stances on the major economic, social, and foreign policy questions of our time. Despite being held in suspicion by large portions of the grassroots base, quintessential establishmentarians like John McCain and Mitt Romney were nominated in the last two election cycles, and it is entirely possible that the same thing could happen again in 2016.

At the same time, the prospect of a Paul nomination—and with it, a Paul election—is not so outlandish as to be safely disregarded entirely. By speaking to a wing in his own party that has yet to produce its own nominee, and reaching out to voting blocs that haven’t supported a Republican in years, Paul has significant advantages that could ultimately put him over the top.

If nothing else, 2016 will shape up to a very interesting election year.

The Rand Revolution is already here

Published: MSNBC (April 8, 2015)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul doesn’t need to win the presidency to revolutionize the Republican Party. He just needs to get nominated.

More than fifty years have passed since the GOP chose a non-establishment candidate to lead its national ticket. Even when their base could only muster tepid enthusiasm for its standard-bearer (see Mitt Romney), the primaries have had a way of weeding out iconoclasts and only leaving “safe” candidates standing. Yet Rand Paul, despite his attempts to smooth the edges off his libertarian image, represents a fundamental break from the Republican consensus. With his vocal opposition to military adventurism and the war on drugs, and his calls to reform the Federal Reserve and the criminal justice system, Paul’s nomination would force American voters to reevaluate the GOP brand.

That brand has remained remarkably unchanged since 1968 – a fact that has given the party two inestimable advantages. First, it has provided Republicans with a litany of nominees who, though occasionally lackluster, are non-controversial enough to be electable (hence their victories in seven of the 10 national contests between 1968 and 2004). Beyond that, it has guaranteed that Americans of all ideological stripes tend to have a consistent, concrete idea of what a “Republican” actually is.

This last fact, though perhaps harder to quantify, is one of the most important realities in contemporary American politics. Although the Republican Party is inextricably identified with conservatism today, its national image has evolved considerably throughout its history. For the thirty years prior to the 1964 presidential election, GOP presidential candidates had been moderate liberals who, though critical of the welfare state constructed by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, promised only to modify progressive economic and social programs instead of doing away with them altogether. The last major Republican statesman to openly oppose Cold War interventionism was Sen. Robert Taft, whose ideas lost their credibility after his defeat at the hands of Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 Republican National Convention.

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 4/7/15, 10:41 PM ET

Conservative PAC attacks Rand Paul

The 1964 election changed everything. By leading a grassroots conservative insurgency against the party’s moderate liberal establishment, Sen. Barry Goldwater won the Republican presidential nomination and, in the process, pulled off one of the great political upsets of modern history. Unlike his predecessors, Goldwater had a reputation as an unapologetic right-wing extremist, particularly on economic issues (he called for the complete dismantling of the post-FDR welfare state), civil rights (he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as an infringement on states’ rights), and foreign policy (he favored a more vigorous prosecution of the Cold War).

Many of the party’s leaders refused to endorse him, opting instead to either sit the election out or actively back the Democratic nominee, President Lyndon Johnson. On Election Day, Goldwater found himself on the losing end of one of the most one-sided popular landslide in American history, garnering only 38.5% of the vote to Johnson’s 61.1%.

After Goldwater’s defeat, Republican leaders learned that internal divisions could not be allowed to manifest themselves on the national political level. Even as the party drifted from the centrism of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to the conservatism of Ronald Reagan and his successors, the GOP establishment made sure no dark horse candidates could ever foist an unpleasant surprise on them again. It is telling that the Reagan Revolution, despite being driven by the same ideological premises that tanked Goldwater’s candidacy, succeeded precisely because Reagan was widely considered the frontrunner when he sought the party’s nomination in 1980.

Although Paul has already pivoted somewhat to his party’s center, it will be impossible to fully reconcile his platform with the philosophy widely associated with Reagan Republicanism. Indeed, even though Paul was elected as part of the anti-establishment Tea Party wave in 2010, many of his libertarian views are outside of the mainstream for that movement as well. His outspoken criticism of American interventionism overseas runs against the grain of neoconservatism; his belief that the drug wars need to be curbed and our prison-industrial complex scaled back, though potentially appealing to minorities, are likewise anathema to the party’s traditionally reactionary “law and order” voters. Even his economic proposals, though conservative in many ways, threaten institutions that most Republicans either support or know little about – specifically the Federal Reserve.

In short, if Paul gets the nomination, the simple fact that he will be the face of the Republican Party during the 2016 election would constitute a major transformation. If nothing else, it would demonstrate that the GOP is no longer able to effectively stifle internal divisions, a problem that has grown during Obama’s presidency. His nomination would also constitute a generational passing of the torch to younger Republicans, who lean increasingly libertarian – in that way, the Rand revolution is already very real. At most, it could push the party consensus toward a more libertarian view, just as Goldwater’s nomination in 1964 moved the party mainstream toward today’s conservatism.

Either way, political junkies should buckle up. They’re in for quite a show.

How Ayn Rand became an Internet superstar

Published: Daily Dot (November 17, 2014), Salon (November 18, 2014), MediaREDEF (November 18, 2014)

Ayn Rand is not a feminist icon, but it speaks volumes about the Internet that some are implicitly characterizing her that way, so much so that she’s even become a ubiquitous force on the meme circuit.

Last week, Maureen O’Connor of The Cut wrote a piece about a popular shirt called the Unstoppable Muscle Tee, which features the quote: “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”

As The Quote Investigator determined, this was actually a distortion of a well-known passage from one of Rand’s better-known novels, The Fountainhead:

“Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”

“Yes.”

“My dear fellow, who will let you?”

“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

Ironically, Rand not only isn’t responsible for this trendy girl power mantra, but was actually an avowed enemy of feminism. As The Atlas Society explains in their article about feminism in the philosophy of Objectivism (Rand’s main ideological legacy), Randians may have supported certain political and social freedoms for women—the right to have an abortion, the ability to rise to the head of business based on individual merit—but they subscribed fiercely to cultural gender biases. Referring to herself as a “male chauvinist,” Rand argued that sexually healthy women should feel a sense of “hero worship” for the men in their life, expressed disgust at the idea that any woman would want to be president, and deplored progressive identity-based activist movements as inherently collectivist in nature.

How did Rand get so big on the Internet, which has become a popular place for progressive memory? A Pew Research study from 2005 discovered that: “the percentage of both men and women who go online increases with the amount of household income,” and while both genders are equally likely to engage in heavy Internet use, white men statistically outnumber white women. This is important because Rand, despite iconoclastic eschewing ideological labels herself, is especially popular among libertarians, who are attracted to her pro-business, anti-government, and avowedly individualistic ideology. Self-identified libertarians and libertarian-minded conservatives, in turn, were found by a Pew Research study from 2011 to be disproportionately white, male, and affluent. Indeed, the sub-sect of the conservative movement that Pew determined was most likely to identify with the libertarian label were so-called “Business Conservatives,” who are “the only group in which a majority (67 percent) believes the economic system is fair to most Americans rather than unfairly tilted in favor of the powerful.” They are also very favorably inclined toward the potential presidential candidacy of Rep. Paul Ryan (79 percent), who is well-known within the Beltway as an admirer of Rand’s work (once telling The Weekly Standard that “I give out Atlas Shrugged [by Ayn Rand] as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.”).

Rand’s fans, in other words, are one of the most visible forces on the Internet, and ideally situated to distribute her ideology. Rand’s online popularity is the result of this fortuitous intersection of power and interests among frequent Internet users. If one date can be established as the turning point for the flourishing of Internet libertarianism, it would most likely be May 16, 2007, when footage of former Rep. Ron Paul’s sharp non-interventionist rebuttal to Rudy Giuliani in that night’s Republican presidential debate became a viral hit. Ron Paul’s place in the ideological/cultural milieu that encompasses Randism is undeniable, as evidenced by exposes on their joint influence on college campuses and Paul’s upcoming cameo in the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 3. During his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Paul attracted considerable attention for his remarkable ability to raise money through the Internet, and to this day he continues to root his cause in cyberspace through a titular online political opinion channel—while his son, Sen. Rand Paul, has made no secret of his hope to tap into his father’s base for his own likely presidential campaign in 2016. Even though the Pauls don’t share Rand’s views on many issues, the self-identified libertarians that infused energy and cash into their national campaigns are part of the same Internet phenomenon as the growth of Randism.

As the Unstoppable Muscle Tee hiccup makes clear, however, Rand’s Internet fashionability isn’t always tied to libertarianism or Objectivism (the name she gave her own ideology). It also has a great deal to do with the psychology of meme culture. In the words of Annalee Newitz, a writer who frequently comments on the cultural effects of science and technology:

To share a story is in part to take ownership of it, especially because you are often able to comment on a story that you are sharing on social media. If you can share a piece of information that’s an absolute truth—whether that’s how to uninstall apps on your phone, or what the NSA is really doing—you too become a truth teller. And that feels good. Just as good as it does to be the person who has the cutest cat picture on the Internet.

If there is one quality in Rand’s writing that was evident even to her early critics, it was the tone of absolute certainty that dripped from her prose, which manifests itself in the quotes appearing in memes such as “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” or “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others” and “The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.” Another Rand meme revolves around the popular quote: “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on Earth is the individual).”

What’s particularly noteworthy about these observations, aside from their definitiveness, is the fact that virtually no one adhering to a mainstream Western political ideology would disagree with them. Could you conceive of anyone on the left, right, or middle arguing that they’d accept being forced to live for another’s sake or want another to live solely for their own? Or that their ambitions are not driven by a desire to beat others? Or that they don’t think success comes from seizing on opportunities? Or that they think majorities should be able to vote away the rights of minorities?

These statements are platitudes, compellingly worded rhetorical catch-alls with inspiring messages that are unlikely to be contested when taken solely at face value. Like the erroneously attributed “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me,” they can mean whatever the user wishes for them to mean. Conservatives can and will be found who claim that only they adhere to those values while liberals do not, many liberals will say the same thing about conservatives, and, of course, Rand wrote each of these statements with her own distinctly Objectivist contexts in mind. Because each one contains a generally accepted “absolute truth” (at least insofar as the strict text itself is concerned), they are perfect fodder for those who spread memes through pictures, GIFs, and online merchandise—people who wish to be “truth tellers.”

Future historians may marvel at the perfect storm of cultural conditions that allowed this Rand boom to take place. After all, there is nothing about the rise of Internet libertarianism that automatically guarantees the rise of meming as a trend, or vice versa. In retrospect, however, the fact that both libertarianism and meming are distinct products of the Internet age—one for demographic reasons, the other for psychological ones—made the explosion of Randisms virtually inevitable. Even if they’re destined to be used by movements with which she’d want no part, Ayn Rand isn’t going to fade away from cyberspace anytime soon.