Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said Wednesday that President Obama should be particularly wary of domestic spying, given the government’s history of eavesdropping on civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., injecting the issue of race into the contentious debate over surveillance. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/us/politics/rand-paul-speaks-at-berkeley.html?hp&_r=0
“I find it ironic that the first African-American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the N.S.A.,” Mr. Paul said in an address at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Certainly J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement should give us all pause,” he said. “Now if President Obama were here, he would say he’s not J. Edgar Hoover, which is certainly true. But power must be restrained because no one knows who will next hold that power.”
Mr. Paul’s remarks were part of his effort to bring his libertarian brand of conservatism to audiences in less friendly territory. Here at a campus that has been a wellspring of American liberalism, he tried to speak in an informal way, bluntly telling students he was a defender of the rights they hold dear. “I believe what you do on a cellphone is none of their damn business,” Mr. Paul said in one of the lines that drew the most applause.
His stopover here may have seemed like a wrong turn on Mr. Paul’s cross- country speaking tour, hardly the most orthodox place to rally support for a politician who won the presidential straw poll this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering of die-hard conservative activists.
But Mr. Paul knew his audience better than it may have appeared. The title of his speech, “The N.S.A. vs. Your Privacy,” was carefully tailored as the latest piece of a grander strategy by the senator to broaden his appeal to people — particularly younger ones — who have largely written the Republican Party off.
He seemed at ease, reclining in a chair on stage as he answered questions from a student moderator. Wearing baggy bluejeans, an oxford shirt with a red tie and cowboy boots, he was more dressed down than some of the Berkeley College Republicans who were there to welcome him.
He joked about Pink Floyd and even compared the Republican Party to bad pizza — that staple of college sustenance.
“Remember Domino’s finally admitted they had bad crust?” he asked, drawing chuckles as he tried to draft an analogy to how Republicans should adapt. “We need a different kind of party,” he said, noting that Republicans “have to either evolve, adapt or die.”
Saying the nation’s intelligence apparatus was “drunk with power,” he said that warrantless domestic surveillance should be a matter of concern to everyone.
“I’m not here to tell you what to be,” Mr. Paul told the crowd of several hundred, most of them students taking a break between classes. “But I am here to tell you, though, that your rights, especially your right to privacy, is under assault.” It was an attentive crowd. There were no disruptions or protesters with hectoring signs. At least one person was wearing a Ron Paul T-shirt. The speech was the latest test of Mr. Paul’s experiment to see whether a conservative Republican with a less rigid adherence to the party line can appeal more broadly.
More than most of those Republicans considering a run for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, Mr. Paul has spent a considerable amount of time courting African-Americans and Hispanics with a message of inclusion and an insistence that his party must drastically change or risk alienating minorities for a generation or more. He has also tested out his free-market economic policies on audiences in traditionally Democratic but economically depressed communities like Detroit. And some Republicans say he is targeting one of the party’s potential growth wings, that of younger, libertarian-leaning voters.
His appearance was another example of his willingness to embrace risk. Few college campuses are as associated with the American left as Berkeley is, and it has often been a caldron of liberal discontent, better known for featuring the anti-Vietnam speeches of Dick Gregory and Dr. Benjamin Spock than for hosting a man elected to the United States Senate on the energy of the Tea Party.
“It’s a bold choice,” Brendan Pinder, a junior who is president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said of Mr. Paul’s decision. “Coming to Berkeley does make a statement.”
Robert B. Reich, the former labor secretary in the Clinton administration who is now a professor of public policy at Berkeley, was walking around the auditorium before the speech and remarked that Mr. Paul had chosen a safe topic.
“He’s not in the lion’s den. He’s in a playroom of pussycats,” Mr. Reich said. “I’d like to see someone ask him about his position on gay rights and abortion.” But that did not happen. The moderator only selected questions that had been submitted on notecards before the speech.
As was clear from a number of Democrats like Mr. Reich who were there, Mr. Paul has become something of a political spectacle, drawing people who want to see what all the fuss is about.
“I’m a big Hillary person,” said Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor, gamely laughing off the idea that he was “a Paulite.” Hillary Rodham Clinton is his candidate, he assured a group of students and reporters who had surrounded him. “I’m interested in why this message has resonated, particularly with young people.”
It was at Berkeley that Ronald Reagan vowed to crack down on the university’s vocal and often unruly antiwar activists in the late 1960s. “Clean up the mess at Berkeley” became a campaign pledge during his run for governor of California.
In one infamous episode, Reagan sent in National Guard troops to break up a large protest, leading to an outbreak of violence that left one person dead.
Mr. Paul seemed amused by the incongruity of his appearance here and grinned as he discussed his reasons for accepting the school’s invitation. He said he liked the idea of the challenge. “I see it as a way to attract new people to the party,” he said in an interview before his speech, sponsored by the Berkeley Forum. The point of his visit, he said, was “hopefully showing that the message of a Republican with a libertarian twist may well be acceptable to people, even in Berkeley.”
This was not the first time Mr. Paul had set foot inside potentially hostile territory. Last year he visited Howard University, the historically black institution in Washington, in an attempt to try to show that the Republican Party was not as out of sync with young African-Americans as many of them might think.
But his tone at Howard — where he reminded students that the N.A.A.C.P. had been founded by Republicans and spent a good amount of his remarks on the history of civil rights — struck many in the crowd as somewhat patronizing. Some booed.
The Berkeley audience was enthusiastic, especially when he responded “maybe” to whether his outreach was part of a 2016 strategy. But he stayed away from discussing social issues.
Next up on his speaking calendar could be before another unexpected crowd: the N.A.A.C.P. The group has invited him to discuss his proposal for “economic freedom zones” in poor areas.