Via Dan Foster of NRO and James Poulos of Forbes comes word of Sen. Rand Paul's recent trip to New Hampshire to spread a much-needed message of inclusion to Republicans. As this appearance and recent showings in Iowa and elsewhere attest, Paul is openly testing the waters for a presidential run in 2016.
From the USA Today account of the Kentucky Republican's spiel:
"The main thing is not to talk about me so much but about how to grow the party," the senator told a press conference before the dinner.
And that is what he focused on at the podium.
"We need to be like the rest of America," Paul told the gathering. "We need to grow bigger. If you want to be the party of white people, we're winning all the white vote."
"But we're a diverse nation," he said, to a crowd that was almost entirely white. "We're going to win when we look like America. We need to be white, we need to be brown, we need to be black, we need to with tattoos, without tattoos, with pony tails, without pony tails, with beards, without."
While I've been critical of some of Paul's recent comments to an audience of Christian conservatives in Iowa, there's little question in my mind that he is potentially the most transformative national politician on the scene. Between his glorious filibuster, his foreign policy speech at Heritage, his dialogue with students at historically black colleges such as Howard in D.C. and Simmons in Louisville, and his great "free minds and free markets" speech at CPAC, no figure in either party is laying down a generally consistent and principled case for libertarian policies at the federal level.
That he is openly exhorting the Republican party to open itself up to tattoo-wearing, ponytail-rocking, multi-ethnic folks is all to the good. As I noted after Glenn Beck's September 2010 rally, the crowd there looked like the America that shops at Walmart—and that's not a dig. Tattoos, piercings, and skulls are worn with American flag pins and shirts and ultra-casual fashions everywhere. If the GOP can't embrace not just the ethnicizing of America but the gothicizing and ZZ-Topification of America, it's done.
On a political and ideological level, the Rand Pauls and Justin Amashes and Tom Massies of the Republican Party are at their most powerful when they envision a federal government that does less in economic and social life. They are not nihilists but radical decentralists who think that classical liberal and libertarian ideals are all about creating a basic framework in which different people and groups can peaceably get on with the business of living the good life as they define it (this of course was precisely the message that underwrote Ron Paul's immense appeal, especially among younger people). The ideal America under such a plan is one in which people are constantly running their own experiments in living and learning and adapting from one another. Top-down controls and uniform appearance in style and skin are equally incompatible in such a world.
Forbes' Poulos makes some very interesting and funny points about what he dubs semi-ironically as Rand Paul's "crash hipster outreach project." Read the whole thing, but here's the conclusion, which speaks to how a looser, more explicitly libertarian GOP is a legitimately interesting undertaking:
…it's not very surprising to me that the hipster outreach pitch is being made by the son of the guy whose most ardent supporters are still unironically calling for a Love Revolution. You can laugh at the "Paultards" all you want, but I tell you this: America could use a lot more citizens calling unironically for a radical infusion of love into our public dealings. And if Republicans don't figure out how to get on board with that project, they'll find that in short order they're feeling very little love indeed.
Democrats and their partisans in the press have been digging the intra-party fighting among Republicans of late—the Angry Birds vs. the Wacko Birds dust-up between establishment pols and the more-libertarian wing of the GOP. That's understandable, because it plays into a comforting narrative of the Party of Lincoln as practically about to go out of business. I prefer to read the in-fighting as a sign that the Republican Party still might have a future (especially if it embraces a libertarian outlook). And at the very least, at the Republicans are talking about what they stand for in a meaningful way. What is the Democrats' game plan after Obama, who has been just a big disaster for his party as George W. Bush was for his? Who are the next generation of Democratic leaders, either in statehouses or at the national level? The GOP may not be particularly vital, but compared to the Democrats, you can easily pick out a dozen figures who have a pulse and are under 60 years old. You turn to the Democrats and there's nobody that comes to mind.