Why Rand Paul stands out

tags: Rand Paul

Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow. He is the author of the new book "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society."

Sen. Rand Paul, who is expected to announceon April 7 that he will be running for the presidency, is garnering a great deal of attention as he travels around the country promoting his brand of libertarian conservatism.

The Kentucky senator's widely publicized appearance this month at the South by Southwest festival at Austin, Texas, was one opportunity he used to appeal to a tech-savvy audience. His particular blend of ideas -- a combination of libertarianism and Republican conservatism -- stands out from the rest of the pack. Younger Republicans, the much-desired millennial vote, seem attracted by what they are hearing. 

What accounts for his appeal? In an era when so many Americans seem frustrated with shallow, personality-based politics, there seems to be genuine interest in a candidate who is fighting for a set of ideas. For many disaffected younger Republicans, Paul offers a version of the conservative agenda that seems foreign to the modern GOP.

For almost half a century, "big government conservatism" has ruled the party. Although conservatism is theoretically about limited government, the historical reality has been much different. On national defense, the hawks of the GOP have been victorious.

Even while railing against the dangers of a big federal government, Republicans have lined up to support higher defense spending and a massive military-industrial complex. Though the GOP has little tolerance for many social safety net programs, the party has accepted sizable government support to industry, such as the financial bailout known as TARP in 2008 and subsidies for certain economic interests. ...

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