Many young people and progressives who are wary of a Clinton presidency are seeking potential alternatives, even outside the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, much of the attention of voters seeking an alternative to mainstream candidates of both parties has focused on Rand Paul. This is no accident: Rand Paul has carefully positioned himself as "the most interesting man in Washington" for supposedly being a different kind of Republican, hip and able to connect with younger voters. Paul has made it his mission to bring more of the increasingly progressive youth vote back to the GOP fold, and polling shows that Paul does have greater support among younger voters than older ones. Paul has also mounted the most aggressive social media campaign of the GOP hopefuls for president, again partly in an effort to reach younger voters.
But Paul's delicately crafted maverick image is far from the reality. Here are six things younger and more progressive voters need to know about Rand Paul.
1. Rand Paul wants more military spending and more war in the Middle East. Rand Paul has grown a reputation for anti-interventionism over the years partly by association with his stridently anti-interventionist father Ron Paul, and partly on account of statements he made during his early years as a senator. To be fair, he has staked out a slightly less rabid position on Iran than some other GOP presidential hopefuls, though that's not saying much. As with all politicians, the key is not to watch what they say but what they actually propose and vote for.
On March 25, Rand Paul introduced a budget amendment calling for a whopping $190 billion increase to military spending. The United States already spends more on war and military expenses than almost the entire rest of the world combined. Paul hasn't yet clarified what he thinks that $190 billion would be spent on, if not to facilitate more wars abroad. To pay for it, he calls for drastic cuts to climate change research, education, housing assistance, and foreign aid.
Rand Paul was even more hawkish than his Republican colleagues on dealing with ISIS, proposing a full-scale military assault that would almost certainly have demanded a resurgence of American troops on the ground in Iraq. No matter what one thinks of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy, it's difficult to argue that Rand Paul would be any kind of improvement from an anti-interventionist perspective.
2. Rand Paul would be even worse for students and the middle class than other Republicans. Rand Paul's proposed budget is cruel and shortsighted even by Republican standards, constituting a massive giveaway to the extremely wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Paul's budget would entirely eliminate funding for the Department of Education The worst case scenario there would be the elimination of funding for public schools entirely, while the best case would be allowing block grants to states to spend education money as they see fit. So if Alabama wanted to make education funding dependent on teaching students that dinosaurs lived alongside humans before missing Noah's ark, they would be allowed to do that in Rand Paul's perfect world without pesky oversight from the federal government.
But that's not all. Elementary students would lose school lunches, as well as children's health insurance programs and other food assistance. Paul made a splash with his proposal to allow students to deduct their tuition over the course of their working career, but that itself is a wolf in sheep's clothing: the plan would do little to help students burdened by student loans who cannot find a job after college, and it would further starve the government of the revenues it needs for programs like education, which Paul plans to cut. But Rand Paul didn't have any difficulty in placing the interests of big banks over those of students by voting against Elizabeth Warren's proposal to allow students to borrow money from the government at the same low rate that banks do. Meanwhile, Rand Paul also supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, including its provision that allows Americans under 26 to remain on their parents' health plans.
And it's not just students and young adults who would suffer under Rand Paul. He would eliminate the Housing and Urban Development and Energy departments, crucial instruments for improving blighted neighborhoods, helping working Americans achieve middle-class stability, and moving the country toward a renewable energy future.
Last but not least, his budget also calls for privatizing Medicare and Social Security, slashing Medicaid, and dramatically cutting taxes on the obscenely wealthy during a period of record income and wealth inequality. He also wants to repeal even the modest constraints placed on Wall Street in the wake of the Great Recession. His flat tax plan would dramatically decrease taxes on the super-rich, and raise them on the poor and middle class. In short, Rand Paul's economic policies are a betrayal of the poor and middle class, further enriching the 1% and Wall Street at the expense of everyone else. On these issues alone the glaring difference between Rand Paul and even the most conservative Democrat could not be more stark. Paul would be an utter disaster on core, bread-and-butter economic issues not only for students but Americans of all ages and backgrounds.
3. Rand Paul voted against reforming the NSA. One of Paul's supposed differences with the Washington establishment is his stated opposition to the surveillance state and his support for privacy rights. Rand Paul is indeed vocal in his opposition to the renewal of the Patriot Act, but the devil is in the details. When Paul had a real opportunity to curtail the NSA's power in November of last year, he infuriated civil liberties advocates by voting against a bill that would have dramatically scaled back NSA operations on the grounds that the reforms would be part of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act might be modified when it comes up for renewable, but it's very unlikely to be scrapped entirely. So civil liberties advocates know that the best chance at reforming the NSA will come by making alterations to the law. Which means that when Rand Paul opposes NSA reform on a hardline stance against renewing the Patriot Act, he gets to have his cake and eat it, too: he wins support from privacy-minded voters while ensuring that the establishment knows he's not a real threat to make even minor changes to how the security state does business.
Meanwhile, despite her reputation as an establishment friend of the security state, Hillary Clinton herself joined with NSA critic Mark Udall in voicing support for the need to makes changes to surveillance law to defend privacy. If Ms. Clinton were to accept restrictions to the NSA as part of a Patriot Act renewal or other related vote, she would do far more to defend privacy than Rand Paul has ever done.
4. Rand Paul opposes marriage equality and reproductive choice.Despite styling himself as a libertarian who favors privacy rights, Rand Paul stridently opposes both abortion rights and gay marriage, sticking the government in your womb and in your bedroom. On abortion Rand Paul goes further than even many of his Republican colleagues, opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Using the federal government's power to force a 13-year-old to carry her father's baby to term is hardly the portrait of freedom. When challenged, he tried to dodge the question by saying the issue wasn't worth talking about. As if that weren't bad enough, Rand Paul also took the extraordinary step of voting against the Violence Against Women Act.
On marriage equality, Rand Paul continue to take an archaic stance against the rights of LGBT Americans to marry and strengthen household stability, despite blaming the weakening of marriage for increased poverty among straight Americans.
5. Rand Paul advocates for discriminatory laws. Paul famously opposed the Civil Rights Act, including its provisions demanding that all Americans be treated equally regardless of race. He then attempted to backtrack on that statement by claiming that civil rights provisions should be left up to the states to decide, but that's an obvious dodge, given that the Civil Rights Act was passed at the federal level precisely because intransigent, mostly former Confederate states adamantly refused to integrate schools or force businesses to serve blacks as well as whites at the lunch counter.
If civil rights were left entirely up to states to decide, many states would still be stuck in the Jim Crow era. Which is precisely how conservative politicians like Rand Paul who advocate for "state's rights" in the realm of civil liberties want it. Paul's antiquated views on civil liberties match up with his support for discriminatory voter ID laws on their merits (if not on their politics), and his steadfast opposition to gay rights.
6. Rand Paul does not support decriminalizing drugs.As we've seen, Rand Paul often pretends to be something he is not on many issues, not least of which is drug policy. While his father, Ron Paul, is a strong advocate of drug decriminalization, the son has not followed in his father's footsteps. In fact, he has gone out of his way to distance himself from his father on the issue to reassure the GOP base. He has publicly assured conservative evangelicals that he disagrees with drug decriminalization, and that his father's views on the subject should not be attributed to him. Paul's stance even on marijuana, much less harder drugs, isn't "live and let live," but rather just more of the same "just say no."
It's true that Rand Paul advocates sentencing reforms for nonviolent drug offenses, but so do many Democrats, including President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Not that drug policy really matters much at the presidential level, since Congress is unlikely to put any sort of decriminalization bill on the president's desk. On that front, the real work is happening in the states, where Democrats are leading the push for relaxation of drug laws over strident Republican opposition.
In short, younger voters and other progressives should take a good, hard look at Rand Paul before considering him an alternative to Hillary Clinton, or any other Democratic presidential candidate. On economic issues Paul is a dangerous and heartless right-wing radical. On social issues he's as reactionary as the worst Republican theocrat. Even on drugs and foreign policy, it's not at all clear that Paul would be an improvement. When it comes to the interests of all but the obscenely wealthy, Rand Paul is a wolf in sheep's clothing.