Rand Paul Slams Surveillance State ‘Drunk With Power’

A harsh speech wins over the UC Berkeley crowd but the Republican senator glides past social issues.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during the Berkeley Forum on the UC Berkeley campus on March 19, 2014 in Berkeley, California. Paul addressed the Berkeley Forum on the importance of privacy and curtailing domestic government surveillance.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
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Shane Goldmacher
March 19, 2014, 5:24 p.m.

BERKE­LEY, Cal­if. — Sen. Rand Paul de­livered a blis­ter­ing cri­tique of Amer­ica’s spy agen­cies on Wed­nes­day, liken­ing the sur­veil­lance state to the “dysto­pi­an night­mares” of lit­er­at­ure and ar­guing that a grow­ing num­ber of his col­leagues on Cap­it­ol Hill now fear an in­tel­li­gence ap­par­at­us that is “drunk with power.”

“If you have a cell phone, you are un­der sur­veil­lance,” Paul warned an aud­it­or­i­um of more than 350 at the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (Berke­ley), adding, “I be­lieve what you do on your cell phone is none of their damned busi­ness.”

He de­man­ded stronger over­sight, call­ing for a new, bi­par­tis­an se­lect com­mit­tee to mon­it­or the na­tion’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. “It should watch the watch­ers,” he said.

Paul said the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency and the Cent­ral In­tel­li­gence Agency have run amok. The in­tel­li­gence world, he said, had wrongly in­ter­preted that “equal pro­tec­tion means Amer­ic­ans should be spied upon equally.”

“I op­pose this ab­use of power with every ounce of en­ergy I have,” Paul de­clared.

His sharp de­nun­ci­ations re­ceived a warm wel­come from stu­dents and oth­ers gathered. Des­pite the uni­versity’s fam­ously lib­er­al bent, Paul faced a friendly crowd that in­cluded many col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans. They greeted him with a stand­ing ova­tion be­fore he spoke and in­ter­rup­ted his speech re­peatedly with ap­plause.

Paul in­voked the mis­deeds of Amer­ica’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies dur­ing the civil-rights move­ment to make his case for re­straint today.

“I find it iron­ic that the first Afric­an-Amer­ic­an pres­id­ent has, without com­punc­tion, al­lowed this vast ex­er­cise of raw power from the NSA,” Paul said. “Cer­tainly, J. Edgar Hoover’s il­leg­al spy­ing on Mar­tin Luth­er King and oth­ers in the civil-rights move­ment should give us all pause.”

Paul’s ad­dress brought some big-name Demo­crats in­to the crowd, in­clud­ing former Clin­ton Labor Sec­ret­ary Robert Reich and Cali­for­nia Lt. Gov. Gav­in New­s­om. “I’m in­ter­ested in who he is and why his mes­sage has res­on­ated with young people,” New­s­om said after speech.

Ry­an Sabouni, a Berke­ley fresh­man, came to hear from a can­did­ate who he thought might be on the bal­lot when he votes for pres­id­ent for the first time in 2016. Sabouni said he was open to Paul’s mes­sage of curb­ing sur­veil­lance prac­tices but said the Re­pub­lic­an Party would have to shift on so­cial is­sues in the fu­ture. “Their stand­ards are go­ing out of style,” he said.

“That’s where Rand Paul comes in,” chimed in Daniel Cave­ney, a fel­low fresh­man.

Paul, per­haps more than any oth­er ex­pec­ted 2016 Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, has fo­cused on ap­peal­ing to young­er voters. He com­bines a folksy and cas­u­al style, liber­tari­an views, and sharp ac­cus­a­tions against the NSA to make his case.

His stop in lib­er­al Berke­ley is just one in a string he has planned to ex­pand his and the Re­pub­lic­an brand in­to tra­di­tion­ally hos­tile polit­ic­al ter­rit­ory. Asked dur­ing the event if that is the ground­work for a 2016 pres­id­en­tial run, Paul replied with a single word.

“Maybe.”

Still, when he seeks out young­er voters, Paul does not typ­ic­ally fo­cus on so­cial is­sues, such as gay mar­riage, that di­vide him, and his party’s plat­form, from the views of many young­er voters.

“He’s ob­vi­ously not go­ing to talk about his po­s­i­tions on gay mar­riage and abor­tion,” said Reich, now a Berke­ley pro­fess­or, who said that many stu­dents pre­sume Paul to be more so­cially lib­er­al than he is. “He’s go­ing to ride the coat­tails of that as­sump­tion — which is totally er­ro­neous.”

Paul said after the event that he didn’t sidestep so­cial is­sues as much as fo­cus on the more press­ing cur­rent top­ic of over­reach­ing spy agen­cies. “I don’t think it was ne­ces­sar­ily an avoid­ance,” he said.

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