Fewer than 45 minutes after Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987, Senator Ted Kennedy stormed onto the floor of the Senate and gave one of the more passionate speeches of his career. Kennedy’s speech, forever known as “Robert Bork’s America,” discussed an America in which Robert Bork was a Supreme Court Justice. Kennedy said,
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“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.” Four months later, the Senate rejected Bork’s nomination by a vote of 58–42.0
After Paul’s strong performances in both Iowa and New Hampshire, I am not moved to write by passion, as Kennedy was, but by fear. Ron Paul’s America would be a country I would not be proud to call home. But strangely, the same cannot be said for thousands and thousands of college students nationwide.
College-age Americans support Ron Paul in droves. According to exit polls from the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary, nearly 50 percent of 18-29 year olds say they support Paul. Even in a place as ostensibly liberal as Yale, in just an hour of random polling, I encountered seven students — out of 76 interviewed — who claimed to support Ron Paul. All declined to comment.
Why do young people support Paul? Is it his pledge to legalize marijuana? Is it his plans to fundamentally change student loans (though not eliminate them entirely, he insists)? Or is it just the fact that he is so, so ideologically different from every other candidate seeking the GOP nomination?
Young people are among those most likely to feel disconnected from the political process, and they are also among those most likely to support Ron Paul. Perhaps those two feelings are connected. Ron Paul represents an utter break from the normal political scheme, so those looking for something radically different rally behind him.
For this very reason — his completely unorthodox views — Ron Paul is almost certainly not going to win the GOP nomination. But the fact that he has any support at all — particularly among the youth — gives me pause. Those youth who support Ron Paul apparently envision an America quite different from the one that I hope for.
Paul sees a role for the federal government in national security, some very limited regulation, appointments and not a whole lot else. President Paul would be restricted by the letter of the Constitution, with no room at all for what might be considered completely reasonable and necessary interpretation.
Paul’s consistency and candor are admirable. But there is a dark side to his true ideological purity: a federal government that is so limited that it can hardly do anything at all.
Ron Paul’s America is a land in which the federal government cannot ensure civil rights in public schools — because Paul would eliminate the Department of Education. In the 1960s, had the federal government left educating solely to the states and municipalities, many Southern schools would still not be integrated. Brown v. Board of Education was a Supreme Court decision, but it took a strong executive to enforce it. Federal marshals were sent in to literally enforce federal policy. In Ron Paul’s America, the federal government would never go so far. It is shocking to me that young people — students — support someone with this view.
Ron Paul’s America is a land in which poor immigrants die before they can attain medical care because he would end mandated hospital emergency treatment for illegal aliens. This idea sounds appealing enough in theory; it could be seen as preserving American healthcare for Americans. But what of the desperately ill immigrant child? Should emergency rooms really be allowed to turn that child away? Should localities really be allowed to make that decision? If the legislatures from Arizona to Alabama are any indication, the federal government must mandate, as it currently does, that all direly ill individuals get treatment.
The federal government is not our enemy. We should not blindly trust the government, but neither should we indiscriminately dismiss its attempts to better our lives. In Ron Paul’s America, the federal government’s ability to help its citizens would be hopelessly limited.
Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.