Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke to 400 students at the University of California-Berkeley for 40 minutes last Wednesday. He received a standing ovation when he finished.
It's difficult to say which is the more astonishing -- that a Republican would get a standing O at the most notoriously left wing university in the country, or that a Republican would speak at Berkeley in the first place.
Political parties grow by garnering support from people who agree on some things, but not others; by explaining to those who haven’t been supporters why they should be.
A distressingly large number of Republicans don’t get this. Mr. Paul isn’t the only one who does. But he’s the only prominent figure in the GOP who’s been walking the walk.
Berkeley wasn’t Rand Paul’s first foray “deep into Democratic terrain,” as Shane Goldmacher of the National Journal described it. He spoke about civil rights last year at historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C.; about enterprise zones to a predominantly black audience in Detroit.
Nor will it be his last. This summer Mr. Paul plans to speak to the National Urban League and the NAACP, to predominantly black audiences in Chicago and Milwaukee about school choice.
“For the Republican Party to win again, we need to go places we haven’t been going, and we need to attract people we haven’t been attracting,” he told Mr. Goldmacher. “Part of that is the message, but part of that is also showing up.”
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich marveled at how Mr. Paul could get standing ovations both at Berkeley and at the Conservative Political Action conference.
But if Mr. Paul “wants to get the youth vote, he has to change his position on abortion and gay marriage,” Mr. Reich told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 support gay marriage, according to a recent poll. Mr. Paul supports traditional marriage, but says this is an issue on which Republicans must “agree to disagree.”
Mr. Reich hasn’t kept up with what “the kids” today think about abortion. A majority supports a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, polls indicate.
The students at Berkeley welcomed Mr. Paul’s condemnation of spying on Americans by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The week before he spoke, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of illegally searching her committee’s computers. CIA Director John Brennan denied the charges.
“I look into the eyes of senators and I think I see real fear,” Mr. Paul said. “I think I perceive fear of an intelligence community drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power.”
The government’s history of eavesdropping on civil rights leaders should have made President Barack Obama more wary of domestic spying, he said.
“I find it ironic that the first African-American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power,” Mr. Paul said.
Conservatives wary of his views on national security policy joined Democrats in noting Mr. Paul didn’t raise with the students issues on which they were likely to disagree.
This was prudence, not pandering. You achieve outreach by emphasizing points of convergence, not friction. Rand Paul doesn’t back away from his strong libertarian principles, even in hostile forae. In his Howard University speech, he contrasted at length the Republican record on civil rights with that of the party of slavery and segregation, the New York Times noted, sourly.
Playwright Roger Simon is reluctant to support Mr. Paul for president, for fear his views on national defense may be too close to those of his non-interventionist father, former Rep. Ron Paul. But Rand Paul’s outreach efforts should be applauded and emulated, he said.
Young people were Barack Obama’s strongest supporters in 2008, but the way they’re being hurt by Obamacare makes many ripe for plucking, Mr. Simon said.
And “when, since the end of Jim Crow, have (blacks) done worse than under the Obama administration?” he asked.
Republicans, the party of Lincoln, “should be in black communities talking to them about it,” Mr. Simon said. But essentially only Mr. Paul is.
I share Mr. Simon’s qualms about Rand Paul’s views on national security policy. But there’s nothing he’s said about domestic surveillance I disagree with.
“I think we need to do a little more spying on the Russians and a lot less spying on Americans,” Mr. Paul told Blaze radio the day before his Berkeley speech.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Pittsburgh Press and the Blade of Toledo, Ohio.