Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will give a speech on Wednesday night at UC Berkeley, hoping that his intentionally dramatic anti-surveillance message resonates with the school's voters. Standing in one of the most Democratic parts of the country, Paul will also criticize President Obama for embracing tools that were turned against the civil rights movement. Say what you will about Paul, but he's not shy.
The New York Times got a look at a draft of the speech. "The first African-American president ought to be a little more conscious of the fact of what has happened with the abuses of domestic spying," Paul plans to say, according to the paper. "Martin Luther King was spied upon, civil rights leaders were spied upon, Muhammad Ali was spied upon, antiwar protesters were spied upon. The possibility for abuse in this is incredible." Paul, who in the past has offered what could be described as unusual attitudes toward race, is no doubt sincere in his concern. That analogy, though, will raise eyebrows. As it already has.
He'll go further than that, according to Politico. Government surveillance could spur "dystopian nightmares," Paul will warn. The recent tension between the Senate and the CIA has made his colleagues afraid, he suggests. "I look into the eyes of senators and I think I see real fear. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think I perceive FEAR of an intelligence community drunk with power, unrepentant, and uninclined to relinquish power."
His goal is an obvious one. Paul wants to leverage the same enthusiasm from libertarian-minded young people that propelled his father's two presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. He's using the tried and true technique of establishing something scary that he has consistently fought against, in the same way that his father railed against the country's economic system. The Times calls the Berkeley visit "the latest piece of a carefully constructed plan by Mr. Paul and his political operation to try to broaden his appeal beyond the Republican Party."
He won't have to worry about preaching to the Republican choir in Berkeley. While the university's registered voter population differs from the city, Berkeley is one of the most liberal places in America. The city's voter pool is 64.6 percent Democratic and only 4.2 percent Republican. Libertarians comprise only 0.5 percent of all voters. Data on the student body is harder to come by, but a 2005 study by researchers from George Mason and Santa Clara Universities found students were nearly 10-to-1 Democratic — and "zero percent" libertarian. But that was before the Ron Paul rEVOLution, of course. But even in the 2012 primaries, Ron Paul received only one vote for every eight Romney votes in Alameda County.
Voter registration in Berkeley, California
What Paul gets out of this isn't only a chance to speak to an audience that isn't his normal constituency. He gets the opportunity to project an image to the country at large of the sort of guy who's not afraid to head to the school that epitomizes liberal education to talk trash about the policies of the president that school overwhelmingly supported (60 percent to 37 percent in 2012). Two things you can say about Paul, then. He's not shy, and he's not stupid.