As science fiction turns to fact, many college students are noticing the striking resemblance that the modern era has begun to bear to George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” The technological world continues to evolve, presenting new challenges to some of the oldest tenets of American government, and the youngest among the American people are rising up in force to confront them. Skepticism has moved from conspiracy theorists’ basements to the walls of Facebook, the halls of universities, and recently, thanks to Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the floor of the Senate.
Mr. Paul succeeded; the alarm has been sounded coast to coast and citizens are standing up to say the Constitution is important and their right to trial by jury is precious. “Don’t drone me, bro!” as one enthusiastic attendee at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference phrased it, has become the rallying cry of a new generation of Republicans.
As members of the liberty movement gain the legitimacy they’ve longed for, they face opposition not only from outsiders, but also from within their own ranks. There is a fine line between a libertarian and a conspiracy theorist, and if the opponents of drones act heedlessly, they will run the risk of landing on the wrong side of that line and, in doing so, forfeiting all they have worked for.
Two mantras need to be kept in mind when college students discuss drone policy: Ideas have consequences, and policies set precedent. When debating drone policy, the possibility of using drones to execute an American citizen on American soil should not be the focus, regardless of the key role it played in bringing the issue to light. When youthful fury pushes the discussion over that line, the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist is too great. The mainstream liberty movement does not hold the view that President Obama might start using drones to assassinate political dissidents, regardless of what acolytes of Infowars.com’s Alex Jones might lead the public to think. Policies set precedents, and even entertaining the idea of drone usage without warrant for the purpose of search or attack is a dangerous encroachment on a reasonable expectation of privacy, regardless of the administration in power. For this reason, laws must be examined in such a way as to account for the effects of their usage under any incumbent, not only those we may not have voted for.
College students support drone reform, not because they have something to hide or because they dislike the president (although many do), but because they have grown weary of the inherently public nature of their lives. From red-light cameras to bar photographers, the world outside their home and backyard has become increasingly public. The last thing they want is for their last zone of privacy to be taken away by surveillance drones. “Don’t drone me, bro!” is a plea for privacy, and an overwhelming call for government to remember whom it serves.
The “establishment” that libertarians so openly dread should seize this golden opportunity to take back the nation’s youth. Failure to do so is to disregard a chance to capitalize on a demographic that is passionate about limiting government, if for now only in one area. Limiting drone usage resonates among students, whether they affiliate with the College Democrats or College Republicans. Liberty, when properly branded, unites across the aisle, and privacy is self-branding.
If college students of the liberty movement can get their rhetoric right, they will have the chance to play a major part in rebranding the Grand Old Party in such a way as to charge valiantly into the future. Doing so will, however, require a major change in the culture of the liberty movement. Being a “Tumblr-tarian” or a book-club policy wonk is not enough to make a lasting impression on history. Activism needs to become the foundation of college libertarians and conservatives alike.
Two-thousand tweets a minute on a filibuster might make world news, but 2,000 emails a minute to legislators demanding drone reform would have made a world of difference. As longtime Virginia conservative activist Morton Blackwell says, “You owe it to your philosophy to know how to win.” Liberty doesn’t just deserve to win; for the sake of the republic, it has to.
Jennings DePriest, 19, is a freshman at Florida State University, where he is a member of the College Republicans and the acting president of Young Americans for Liberty.