Another article about Ron Paul in a college newspaper won’t surprise anyone, because it’s no secret that the net-savvy 72-year-old’s meteoric rise is due in good part to students. What should be concerning to the broader electorate, however, is what it indicates for the country as a whole that young voters would embrace the most conservative candidate in the race.

There’s no question that many people, wary of an increasingly intrusive bent even in the traditionally individual-rights party, now simply dislike government. Poring through campaign finance records, I found a handful of people who refused to provide their occupation and employer (which forms request and campaigns are supposed to try to find out), instead answering “not a parasite,” “human/taxpayer,” “slave,” “wizard” and, in the case of one man who gave the maximum allowed amount, “street performer”- presumably because they didn’t feel comfortable sharing personal information with the federal government. And while they weren’t the only ones to deflect the question with humor, not coincidentally, all of those were donating to Paul.

More overarching, Ron Paul’s success makes it clear that the Democrats didn’t win in ’06 – the Republicans just lost. The Bush Administration screwed up so badly, and people were so disgusted, that they didn’t just turn away from the Republican Party – they turned away from the federal government as a whole.

Young people are uniquely positioned indicators of this phenomenon. George Bush has been president for more than a third of the average college student’s life, and while students’ memories of the first two-thirds might be intact when it comes to recalling the theme songs of “Ninja Turtles” or “Boy Meets World,” their political consciousness during the era was probably less astute. Now, when they hear the words “U.S. government,” they associate that with governance of the George Bush variety.

And while they’re too young to recall most of Paul’s 10 terms in Congress – much less Barry Goldwater – they’ve been paying attention long enough to realize that even as Hillary sells out to the right before she’s so much as secured the Democratic nomination, and even as Romney transitions before our eyes from apparent conservative pandering to Massachusetts’s left to apparent liberal pandering to middle America’s right, Paul’s message is grounded in principle, not concocted for the 2008 campaign. It may be that young people now yearn for principle so badly that they’ll take any principle – regardless of what it is – because they can’t recall the last time it reigned on Capitol Hill. They weren’t alive for Camelot, after all, and what have Democrats done for them lately, besides cutting and running on their pledge to end the war purely out of fear of being called the party that “cuts and runs?”

If Paul, who broke a single-day online fundraising record on Nov. 5 – a date celebrating an attempted assassination of the British king in 1605 – could squeeze that kind of money out of an obscure reference to regicide, it is clear that there is a desire to do something bolder than make the traditional choice of the lesser of two evils. It seems people, young people especially, now subscribe to the view that government in general has done more harm than good.

Parts of Ron Paul’s message do resonate specifically with young people – notably his vows to end the war on drugs and the war in Iraq, which are fought overwhelmingly against and by the young, respectively. He also eschews Republicans’ increasingly restrictive social measures – whereas the GOP used to tell people what they could do (own a gun) while Democrats would tell them what they must do (affirmative action), it has begun telling them what they can’t do (marry a member of the same sex). It is also true that none of the first-tier Democratic candidates appears ready to immediately end the war in Iraq. But unless support for one of those issues has come to a head enough to make the presidential vote a single-issue one, or unless college students are less informed than I’d like to give them credit for, they understand that Paul differs from the other candidates on much, much more than those hot-button issues.

Yet some of the most liberal-minded UR students I know, who spent their underclassman years arguing fervently for the rights of all to government-provided health care and a higher minimum wage, have now expressed support for Ron Paul, despite that he’d cut nearly all services provided by the federal government.

Even beyond the images of Berkeley protesters in the 1960s, colleges are unsurpassed vestiges of liberalism for good reason – students, who have lived their entire lives as dependents without a steady stream of earned income, have every reason to prefer a more socialized system that provides them with a safety net than are their wealthy parents, who through income taxes bear the brunt of providing for such slackers. With Paul, whether knowingly or ignorantly, they’d be forgoing all those government-provided benefits, preferring instead an almost nonexistent federal government. The GOP has, through a defense policy that’d be more accurately termed an offense policy when it comes to monetary cost as well as individual liberties, surrendered entirely the low-spending, small-government mantle. But something bigger is afoot when students reject them not by turning to the Democrats, but by rejecting strong government itself.

The Republican Party, having in the last seven years decimated every morsel of credibility, is on its way out, but not without a bang – an Improvised Explosive Device, if you will. Like the suicide bombings its policies have inspired, it’s taking an innocent victim out with it – in this case, confidence in a national leadership that’s well-intentioned as well as informed, the kind of faith that’s required to support collectivism; in short, the compassion and foresight that sow the seeds of liberalism.

If that was indeed Bush’s plan all along, well then, “Mission Accomplished.”

Rosiak is a member of the class of 2008.

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