Grace Wyler from Vice spent some time with Rand Paul on his trip to California and has some good things to report:
By most measures, the trip has been a big success for Paul. The Kentucky Republican was well-received by tech executives—Mark Zuckerberg even flew back early from his trip to Europe to attend their meeting—and Paul has made the kind of valuable relationships he needs if he ever decides to run for president, which, at this point, seems like the plan.
On Paul's first night out in California, I ran into Miles, a guy I knew in college, at a fundraiser for the Senator hosted by the Frederick Douglass Foundation, described on its website as the "largest Christ-centered, multiethnic, and Republican ministry in America."
Miles is a 24-year-old from San Francisco, and grew up with what he describes as a "liberal background." He spent the summer after his freshman year interning in then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office in Washington. But somewhere between his Capitol Hill internship and graduation, Miles had a political awakening.
"I didn't know what the word liberty meant—I just thought it meant generic freedom," Miles told me. "At the time, I was making phone calls for Obama, and after he won and I saw the continuation of many Bush policies, I realized that the person at the top can change, but that they're just going to keep signing the same bills."
Miles believes that the system is broken. He opposes what he sees as an excess of government spending, thinks the US should stop getting involved in foreign conflicts—"neocons are among the worst things to ever happen to this country"—and is particularly concerned with the Obama administration's infringement on civil liberties.
"This type of stuff is what gets under my skin," he said. "I wish more people would wake up to the fact that it is both parties carrying out authoritarian action like this."
Miles said that while he doesn't agree with Paul on everything, the Kentucky Senator "has done a good job of addressing the issues that I care about." Libertarianism, he added, "is really the only position you can take without tacitly endorsing the system."
As Paul's fundraiser was winding down, I met another potential Paul convert, Frank, a teacher from Oakland, California. Frank told me that he used to teach at Oakland's Fremont High School, but left after 12 years when one of his students was shot and killed and the funeral service was subsequently shot up by gang members.
"That was really just the last straw," said Frank, who now teaches at a private high school in Hayward, a tony Oakland suburb.
"The difference between the education that kids are getting at Fremont and kids are getting at this private school, it's just hurtful," he said. "The government is just pouring money into fixing these schools, but it's not working."
Frank, who described himself as a liberal, said that he was curious to meet Paul, and ended up getting into an extended conversation with the senator and his wife, Kelley Paul, about education policy.
"He's not like a normal politician," Frank said. "He was genuinely interested in what I had to say. And it sounds like he actually wants to do something to fix education."
It's not surprising that voters like Frank and Miles would be attracted to Paul. Their experience with politics and government has been fucked up. That's a common trend among young voters in particular—their political awareness began with the Supreme Court's Gore vs. Bush debacle, and since then they've experienced 9/11, two bloody wars (one of which was based on a lie), the meltdown of the financial system and subsequent bank bailout, ballooning student loan debt and home foreclosures, and the steady expansion of the national security state.
Amid this mess, Paul has emerged as a rare politician who is ideologically consistent, and who is at least trying to come up with solutions.
The fine line that Paul has to walk on social issues was clearly drawn when we arrived in California, where the Kentucky Senator and his family were greeted by a pit crew of social conservatives, including David Lane, the evangelical mastermind behind Rick Perry's "Response" prayer rally, and Rex Ellsass, an Ohio-based GOP operative who has made his reputation—and fortune—representing socially conservative politicians, including Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin of "legitimate rape" fame.
But Paul's message on social issues was remarkably consistent throughout his trip to California.
"I think on the cultural issues, I'm for agreeing to disagree," Paul told me in an interview. "I think some parts of the country are going to be more conservative than others, and I think we can accept that by bringing a federalist type of approach to these issues.
"There will be some states that will be more liberal and some states that will be more conservative, but what will unite most of us in the Republican Party will be that we want smaller government, less debt, more freedom to pursue the activities you want to pursue to succeed in life."
Surprisingly, social conservatives who encountered Paul seemed OK with that position.
"I don't feel like I am being suckered," said Rob McCoy, the pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel, where Paul spoke. "We disagree in some areas, but I can honestly say that he seeks to understand me—not necessarily to agree with me, but to understand me.
"I don't want a guy who is going to play to our camp—we've had that," McCoy added. "But I've seen him speak to a lot of groups, and he's always honest in his approach."