From campus, caucus results look disappointing

4 01 2012

Between UM’s nail-biting BCS battle against Virginia Tech and the Iowa caucus, tonight was an eventful start to the new semester. I managed to watch both events at once: the former on the big screen and the latter on the much smaller screen of my smartphone. Everyone thought I was glued to ESPN’s website. I didn’t feel the need to correct them.

While the Wolverines were able to pull off an exciting overtime victory, however, my GOP candidate of choice didn’t fare so well. Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s third place showing is likely to be overshadowed by the Santorum-Romney photo-finish.

Romney’s Iowa success comes as no surprise. Despite professed anti-RINO sentiment, voters seem comfortable with him; principles be damned, they feel he can beat Obama. Santorum’s showing isn’t hard to explain, either, even if it comes as a bit of a shock. He is, after all, the safe, staunchly socially conservative alternative to Romney, with comfortable foreign policy positions and no scary newsletters in the closet.

Pundits will quickly spin Paul’s loss into another reason to discount him as a fringe candidate with rabid but shallow support. Some already have. But to dismiss Paul so readily is a mistake–in the long run, at least. I’ve written before about the youth shift towards libertarianism, a trend that I’ve seen intensify over the past two or three years.

The hundreds of students I’ve met at conferences and seminars over the past several years aren’t potheads with a flower-power vision of foreign policy. They are budding intellectuals seeking real solutions to serious problems – problems that politicians from right to left seem entirely unwilling to address.

Iowa’s two apparent victors, Romney and Santorum, represent everything this next generation of liberty-minded activists despises about the GOP, and indeed, politics in general. One is seen as a smooth-talking sellout who will say anything to get elected; the other stands on a socially conservative platform that we increasingly view as irrelevant (the issue of gay marriage, for example, seems entirely insignificant to a generation that has already been saddled with a $15 trillion national debt).

Don’t write off Paul, or the controversy he has spurred, because of his showing in Iowa. I’ll readily acknowledge that many of Paul’s policy stances make traditional conservatives uncomfortable. Debate his ideas rather than dismiss them offhand. Those of us who are young and politically aware have many solid reasons for supporting Paul; the political establishment ignores us at its own peril.

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