On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. It was a historic moment. The United States of America had elected its first black President. I remember listening to the president’s inaugural speech on the radio. (I was driving from the Lake Tahoe area to Santa Cruz, officially moving to the Monterey Bay along with my girlfriend at the time, who had been accepted into UC Santa Cruz while we were in Ghana.) I got chills that ran down my spine. My nipples got hard. The hair on my arm stood up, revealing goosebumps.
I had enough respect for the republic’s history to know that I was listening to one of its greatest triumphs. A member of an ethnic minority, and a group that had been viciously oppressed at that, had been elected to the republic’s highest-ranking democratic office. American society was evolving in a way that made me proud. It was cool, but my elation was tampered due to a different evolution that was going on in my own way of thinking. My thoughts about how societies worked had been radically altered thanks to the presidential candidacy of a little-known Republican Congressman from Texas: Ron Paul.
I came across Ron Paul via YouTube videos that had been shared on MySpace. I was a product of the California public school system. The public school system has two tiers: a good one for rich people and an awful one for the rest of us. I came from a single parent household. My mother had a college degree and was part of the California public school system, but we were still in the “poor” category. In California’s public schools, a binary way of thinking about civics is introduced and hammered home from the age of 5 to the age of 18. Democrats are liberals who prefer higher taxes, listen to scientists, and believe in change, while Republicans are conservatives who prefer lower taxes, listen to Protestant ministers, and believe in maintaining the status quo. This is not a caricature. I believe this is how most Americans viewed civics up until the moment Ron Paul arrived on the national scene via his back-and-forth with Rudy Guilliani.
In short, I was uneducated but enthusiastic about reading and especially history. I had no career at that point in time (I was an informal carpenter’s apprentice from March through November, and a sandwich maker during the rainy holiday season). I became obsessed with Ron Paul videos online. I watched them over and over. I had never heard arguments like his before. I had no idea that you could be a Republican and be against wars on terrorism and drugs. I had no idea Democrats could be so “pragmatic” when it came to these wars. I watched Ron Paul over and over again. Instead of trying to soundbyte his message, he spoke of responsibility and hard money and corporations taking advantage of regulations to enrich themselves at the expense of everybody else. Never had I heard such ideas before!
I was slow to follow up on his reading suggestions, though. I went almost immediately to the websites of Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute but what I found there was too radical for me. It was too straightforward. They were speaking of things that I considered, due to my public schooling and religious background, to be taboo. There was a hint of racism in some of the articles I saw at these sights. Perhaps because of the cruddy schooling I got in California, I was at the time of Ron Paul’s revolution a left-wing conspiracist of sorts. I marched against the invasion of Iraq in San Francisco. I marched in 2003 and 2004, when opposition was its zenith. I shared Immortal Technique’s music videos on MySpace (you know the ones). I proudly spouted socialist views online and at parties. Republicans were conservatives, and therefore racists and religious bigots. The whole of the American Right was thus unfit for my company.
Yet, slowly and surely, I kept visiting these two sites. The site I visited most often, though, was Campaign for Liberty, run by Anthony Gregory. It served as Ron Paul’s official campaign website and continued to drum up support and solidarity months after Obama had already been sworn into office. The authors on this site kept imploring me to check out this ‘n’ that from the Mises Institute or lewrockwell.com or Jacob Hornberger’s Future of Freedom Foundation. It was a long, slow process. Some of the things said on these sites never sat well with me. Yet, there were also articles on Native American reservations, anti-war movements in the American past, how property rights could save the environment, and how to bring down big corporations.
I gave in. Once the intellectual floodgates were opened, I found FEE, the Independent Institute, Cato, Reason, Cafe Hayek, EconLog, and Liberty. I read libertarian thought every day. I checked Campaign for Liberty when I woke up. During this time I decided to enroll in college. I enrolled at Cabrillo College near Santa Cruz. Cabrillo is located on the beach. It attracts PhDs. My professors there had doctorates from schools like Columbia, Cal and UCLA, UC San Diego, Washington University in Saint Louis, and a plethora of other good second-tier public universities. Ron Paul inspired me to learn, to think for myself.
Next: A libertarian’s education