Have you noticed that the oldest candidate has the youngest following? It’s no mystery why Ron Paul’s message resonates with young people. Congressman Paul himself put the going explanation most succinctly, in what has to be one of the dumbest comments made all campaign season: “They know what freedom means.”
The “freedom” young people know about is freedom from responsibility. Once student loan payments start coming due, jobs have to be found, and significant others start to want to get married and have families – in other words, once the weight of the world starts pressing down – young people begin to yearn for their relatively irresponsible student days of “freedom,” when they could exercise their constitutional rights to stay up all night drinking and smoking pot on someone else’s dime.
In general, and almost by definition, young people are relatively ignorant. They don’t know much. They don’t know what “freedom” really means, or much of anything else about the real world (not to mention the important difference between freedom and liberty). It’s only natural: the longer we live the more we learn. That doesn’t mean we necessarily achieve wisdom, but as we get older we at least have more opportunity to gather a measure of that rare metal.
The real reason young people respond to Ron Paul is Ron Paul. He’s the only major candidate running for President this year (and this includes Barack Obama) who conveys the impression that he says what he means and means what he says. For a young person newly exposed to the obfuscatory world of politics, it’s incredibly refreshing to hear a politician talk in such an honest way.
Paul’s opposition to anti-drug laws and costly foreign wars doesn’t hurt, of course. But his young supporters wouldn’t even be aware of those positions if the libertarian Congressman spoke like a typical politician.
After these 20-somethings put a few more notches on their belts they’ll understand more clearly that in our political system, telling the unadulterated truth diverts you from the path to power. Politicians who stay in the game do so in large part because of the power that comes with elected office. And you can’t hold onto power if you go shooting your mouth off about what’s really in your head.
Ron Paul’s honesty about the issues doesn’t extend to his pronouncements about his own political support. “Young people are very principled, they like people to stand firm,” he says. Sure, that’s true – in Paul-speak. For “principled,” read “lacking in the nuanced understanding that can come with age.” For “stand firm,” read “consistently say what you mean,” which we’ve already noted won’t fly in the higher realms of power.
And for “freedom,” as noted above, read “lack of responsibility.” Or, less charitably, “ignorance.” And if you’re reading this and you’re young and feel insulted, I sympathize. I’ve been there. That’s why I know better.