Despite a sustained campaign by the Washington media and political establishment to marginalize him, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is still a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. That has a lot to do with the support he’s receiving from young voters. In almost every survey and activist straw poll, Paul draws big numbers from voters between the ages of 18 and 29.
The laziest way to explain the counterintuitive phenomenon of youth rallying around the GOP’s oldest candidate is to insist that it’s about kids’ silly college fling with unrealistic libertarianism or that it’s about kids’ affinity for drug use — and more specifically, Paul’s support for legislation that would let states legalize marijuana. This degrading mythology ignores the possibility that young people support Paul’s libertarianism for its overall critique of our government’s civil liberties transgressions (transgressions, by the way, now being openly waged against young people), nor does the narrative address the possibility that young people support Paul’s drug stance not because they want to smoke weed, but because they see the War on Drugs as a colossal waste of resources. Instead, Paul is presented as merely a fringe protest candidate, and the young people who support him are depicted as just dumb idealists, hedonistic pot smokers or both.
One problem with this fantastical tale, of course, is that it insults the intelligence and motivation of young voters. But another, even more troubling facet of this tale is how it uses speculative apocrypha and stereotyping about ideology and drugs to suppress concrete social survey data about the far-more-likely foreign policy motivations of young Ron Paul supporters.