Contrary to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s notion that he is the only Republican to go into the lion’s den of a college campus, conservatives have been going to U.C. Berkeley since the 1980s when both Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Jeane Kirkpatrick came. (While a student there, I also heard then-Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Benjamin Netanyahu face down an angry audience.) Kemp’s appearance, in particular, vividly demonstrates what an actual courageous conservative does in unfriendly territory.
Unlike Paul, Kemp dressed in a jacket and tie (with his tell-tale collar bar), not baggy jeans. He was a U.S. congressman and wasn’t going to insult students by pretending to be an undergrad who’d just rolled out of bed.
Unlike Paul, he did not tell the crowd how his party colleagues were old and unlikable.
Unlike Paul, Kemp talked mainly about the promise of free market conservatism, the dignity of work and the blessings of private property ownership. He went to the core of conservatism, defended it and explained why students and the whole society should embrace it.
Unlike Paul, Kemp did not revel in students’ anti-government, paranoid visions. He was sunny and optimistic, as he almost invariably was.
Unlike Paul, Kemp did not select questions gathered in advance. He took all comers.
In short, when Jack Kemp went to Berkeley 30 years ago, he did not promote himself at the expense of conservatism or his party, nor did he talk about only the issues about which he knew students already agreed with him. True intellectual integrity comes in telling audiences what you believe in order to enlighten and persuade, not to try to ingratiate oneself by concealing the views that might turn off a particular audience. It’s hard to talk to kids about pot legalization one day and Christian conservatives about opposition to gay marriage the next without both audiences sensing you are hiding the ball.
Paul made a trip to Israel last year, for example, but over the months that followed he reverted to his true isolationist views (e.g. containment of Iran, bashing evangelical Zionists); pro-Israel conservatives knew enough to sense when he was being sincere. He’d like to claim (to conservative critics) he’s a Reagan conservative on foreign policy, but his aversion to military spending, sympathy for despots and desire to “nation build at home” (all of which he might want to sell to college kids) is decidedly un-Reagan-like. And he was wary of criticizing Vladimir Putin — until conservatives complained.
Paul’s lack of forthrightness about conservative policies and solutions when it might prove uncomfortable — the desire to be something very different than what he’ll be in Iowa or New Hampshire — is what is deeply troubling (as is his poppycock about the National Security Agency and his excessive concern for terrorists at cafes). In the ’70s and ’80s, Ronald Reagan and Kemp went about the hard work of convincing habitual Democrat voters that conservatism might be in their interests. In contrast, Paul seems to be affirming bad impulses on the hard left and suggesting that conservatism is all about aversion to national security.
At least Paul’s father was candid about what he believed (which meant he wouldn’t be president) without sizing up what his audience wanted to hear. (Rand Paul, in this regard, is more like Hillary Clinton, who is happy to cater to the whims of each audience — be it filled with liberal feminists or hedge fund tycoons. She can be anti-war or pro-defense, whatever you’d like.)
No wonder the mainstream media eats this up. Paul is simultaneously playing to the hard left’s anti-defense sentiments (although it is not clear if he still thinks Edward Snowden is today’s Martin Luther King Jr.) while trying to discredit mainstream Republicans. In fact, if he keeps this up he’ll have his own MSNBC show.